Should I feed my horse salt?

Credit: Valentina Storti @ Flickr
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Feeding horses salt is something which seems to confuse a lot of horse owners with many not knowing what to do for the best. Especially if your horse is on rest or only does light work. It can be hard to know when you should be adding salt to your horse’s diet and if a salt lick is enough. This is something I have been thinking about recently with Scottie so I have been doing a little bit of research.

Why do horses need salt?

Salt, or more specifically the two major components of salt; sodium and chloride, is vital for a horse to function. Sodium is used within the central nervous system as well as glucose (energy) transport and cell fluid “health.” Chlorine is important for digestion, being an essential ingredient for hydrochloric acid.

Where do horses get salt from?

Forage such as grass and hay will contain both sodium and chloride. Many manufactured feeds we give our horses also contain these minerals. However, without regularly testing them, it is hard to know if they are getting enough salt in their diet. This is why many nutritionists will recommend adding salt to your horse’s diet if they are in work, especially over the summer.

How much salt does a horse need?

All horses are different. But the average 500kg horse will need 10 grams of sodium and 40 grams of chloride a day if they are not working. If they start working, or if it’s a warm day, they will need more salt. This is because they lose these minerals in their sweat. So the more they sweat, the more salt they need.

However, while giving your horse too much salt isn’t an issue as long as they have access to plenty of water. Most horses only need a teaspoon of table salt a day added to their feeds. If your horse is in harder work, up to 3 teaspoons a day should cover their basic salt needs.

What about salt licks?

Many horses have access to a salt lick. These are great to have but aren’t as effective as we would like. The average horse would need to consume 1kg of salt lick a month in order to get all they need and I don’t think many horses get through it that quickly. Scottie has easily had his lick for 2 years if not longer!

Can I feed salt instead of electrolytes?

If you are just looking to make sure your horse gets his daily requirements and is in light work and doesn’t sweat too much, then table salt is fine. However, if your horse does get quite sweaty, he will be losing other electrolytes such as; potassium, magnesium and calcium. These are not found in table salt, so you might want to add an electrolyte supplement to their diet if they are sweating regularly. But bare in mind that many electrolyte supplements are low in sodium, so they aren’t really suitable for ensuring your horse gets their daily requirements.

Salt for Scottie

I started doing all this research as while Scottie is out of work, he is a hot horse who does get sweaty on a hot day, even just chilling out ion the field. I also notice that while he does show an interest in his salt lick, he also licks the floor which is a sign of perhaps needing more salt. So after my research and having a chat with Baileys Horse Feeds, I have decided to start adding table salt to his daily feeds to help with his daily requirements of salt. I will also look at different electrolytes available. While I won’t be feeding them daily, when we are having hotter weather and when he is back in work and getting sweaty, I will add it to his feed to make sure he isn’t lacking in anything.

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