Many horse owners do not fully appreciate the significance of providing adequate salt to their equine companion.  In terms of cost to benefit ratio, it would be hard to think of another nutrient with such a low cost that provides the benefits of salt.  This can not be emphasized enough, your horse will not consume too much salt.  To my knowledge, no horse has ever been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) from excessive salt intake.  The larger problem is the lack of salt intake.

The fact is, many horses are sodium/salt deficient.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is a vital component of the equine diet and serves in many functions in the horse’s body. As an electrolyte, it supports healthy nerve and muscle function and encourages your horse to drink so that it doesn’t get dehydrated or develop intestinal discomfort.

Some signs of salt deficiency can include abnormal licking of soil or other objects, anorexia, lethargy, unsteady gait or loss of skin vitality.

Knowing how important salt is for your horse, why is it that most horses aren’t receiving enough salt in their diets? Let’s delve more into why this could be…

How Much Salt Does a Horse Need Daily?

A 500 kg horse at maintenance on a cool day doing no work requires about 10 grams of sodium and 40 grams of chloride (1). Feeding 30 grams of salt a day will provide around 11 grams of sodium, which is enough to meet the maintenance needs of a 500 kg horse. This is around 2 tablespoons.  The rest of the chloride will be supplied by the hay.

With an increase in work level and environmental temperature comes an increase in sweat production, which is responsible for large changes in an exercising horse’s salt requirements. Maintenance requirements can easily double or triple when exercise levels and temperature conditions increase.

Therefore, salt supplementation should be done in reference to sweat production and environmental temperature.

Isn’t my Hay and Grain Supplying Enough Salt?

Feeding hay and grain on their own will not supply your horse with the salt it needs to thrive. In fact, hay and grass contain very little sodium and most commercial grains do not contain enough salt to meet basal maintenance requirements, and so the addition of it either as a top-dress in feed or offered free-choice is essential.

The only way to know exactly how much sodium and chloride are contained in your hay and grain is to get a hay analysis done and read the guaranteed analysis on all commercial feeds and supplements. Commercial feeds normally contain around 0.5-1.0% salt.

If you are top-dressing salt in your horse’s ration for the first time, it’s likely that your horse will need time to get used to it. Some horses will not eat their feed if it’s too salty. A good suggestion is to start with 1 teaspoon per kilogram of feed and then gradually increase the amount to reach your horse’s maintenance requirement.

Is a Salt Block Good Enough?

Many horse owners rely on a salt block for their horse’s supply of salt, but there are some disadvantages of offering only a salt block to your horse for its salt requirements.  It’s better than nothing but it is not the recommended mode of supplementation.

For one, salt blocks were originally designed for the rough tongues of cattle, who can easily lick a salt block and get the salt that they need. Horses, on the other hand, have softer tongues, which can sometimes get sore from licking the block and therefore cause insufficient intake.

If your horse starts biting on the block, it could be a sign that it is not getting enough salt from licking the block alone, and so you may want to look at providing salt in other ways.

In addition, it has been observed that salt intake is higher when given to horses in a loose form compared to block form due to the ease of consumption. When offering loose salt free-choice, there are a few ways that you can do it.

If your horse lives outdoors, a free-choice, loose salt feeder is easy to install; you just need to ensure that it is out of the weather and safe from being pushed over and/or played with. Free-choice loose salt feeders can be constructed easily and cheaply using PVC piping.

If a free-choice loose salt feeder won’t work for your situation, providing a regular, white salt block will provide sufficient salt intake along with your horse’s maintenance requirement of salt added to your horse’s ration each day as a top-dress.

What Kind of Salt?

There really is no need to seek out fancy salts for your horse, such as Himalayan salt or salt from some ancient dried up seabed, when regular, iodized table salt or stock salt will provide exactly what your horse needs, which is sodium and chloride. The additional iodine in iodized salt can also be helpful for most horses, unless your horse consumes any products that contain kelp. Kelp itself is already very high in iodine.  Blue salt (cobalt salt) can be used but is not necessary.

More Salt = Less Worry

After reading this article, we hope that you are now prepared with the tools to provide your horse with the right amount of salt for its needs and do it in a way that is best for you and your horse.

By looking at your horse’s daily salt requirements, analyzing the labels of what feeds your horse is consuming and providing the right type of salt for your situation, you can ensure that your horse gets what it needs to be happy and healthy! Doing so will avoid any health problems that arise from insufficient salt intake.

As per usual, when giving any type of salt or electrolytes, make sure to always have fresh, clean water available to your horse at all times.

Are you interested in seeing how your horse’s diet measures up? At Mad Barn, we offer diet evaluations and nutrition advice for all types of horses. Contact Mad Barn to set up a consultation today.

References

  1. National Research Council. Nutrient requirements for horses, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., USA, 2007