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The importance of electrolyte supplements for competitive horses

competitive horses

Electrolytes are one of the most abundant compounds in the horse’s body, so electrolyte supplements are essential for competitive horses. Here is exactly what you need to know about horses and electrolytes: 

The most important facts you need to know about electrolytes:
 

  • Electrolytes are the second most abundant compounds in the horse’s body. Water takes first place.
  • Three major electrolytes includes sodium (Na), potassium (K), chloride (CI) and calcium (Ca).
  • An endurance horse loses up to 10 litres of sweat per hour on a hot day at a competitive pace.
  • One litre of sweat contains approximately 3.5g of sodium, 1.2g or potassium and 0.1g of calcium, so: 
  • Your horse can lose up to a kilogram of electrolytes on a day or racing.

Electrolytes are fed to horses in supplements in the form of compounds, such as sodium chloride (salt; chemical formula NaCl) or potassium chloride (KCl) or calcium carbonate (CaCO3).

Electrolytes are present in many things that horses eat including grass and hay, and all compound feeds contain some form of electrolytes. Horses lose electrolytes through urine, droppings, breath and mostly through sweat during exercise. The harder a horse works and the hotter he gets causes him to sweat more, losing more electrolytes.

The electrolytes taken in during feeding may be adequate for horses at pasture, but race or endurance horses will need electrolyte supplements. When horses do not perform to expectations, a lack of or diet without sufficient electrolytes is often the cause.

If horses lack sufficient electrolytes, especially during intensive training and long races, they become susceptible to:

 

  •  Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, otherwise known as thumps
  • Forms of muscle problems like rhabdomyolysis or “tying-up”
  • Weakened bones and a greater risk of fractures due lack of calcium over an extended period of time.

When a horse is dehydrated, it cannot rehydrate on its alone; water can’t be held in the body and the kidney will try to remove as much of the extra water as possible. If it water is taken in with electrolyte supplements either mixed the in feed, given by syringe or dissolved in the water, the water can then be held in the body and the horse will rehydrate.

Some believe that electrolytes should only be fed in training and not during competition, while others believe that horses should only be fed supplemental electrolytes immediately before, and during competition. The golden rules are:

1. If a horse is put off its feed during competition because of a large intake of electrolytes, then it would be better not to give them supplements at all, as feed is important.
2. The sweetness of electrolyte products (either in feed or water) can repulse some horses. If you feed enough electrolytes during training you might not have to give the horse supplements during competition, however you will have to feed electrolytes during endurance racing specifically.
3. If a horse is electrolyte supplements only during competitions and not in training the effects could be dangerous. Since binge-intake is bad, rather give your horse small intakes of extra electrolytes during training and have a scale of consistency.
4. Your horse does not need electrolyte supplements during rest and recovery.

It can take months to restore a horse’s body to the normal electrolyte level after serious training or hard competing so it is better to give the correct supplements from the start to optimise your horse’s performance and keep it in good health.