The importance of salt for working horses |

The importance of salt for working horses

Kathy Anderson
PhD, Equine Extension Specialist, UNL

Ever notice your horse trying to lick your hands? Your horsemay be telling you it is in need of salt. If the craving for salt is not met, you also might begin to notice your horse eating less feed and drinking less water. Next, your horse may begin to lose weight and become dehydrated. However, this is something easily corrected. A non-working horse's total diet should contain at least 0.1 percent sodium (0.25 percent common salt), but a sweating, working horse needs 0.3 percent sodium (0.75 percent common salt). Most feeds naturally contain very low levels of salt; therefore it must be supplemented. Commercially prepared feeds often contain 0.5-1 percent salt.

However it is generally recommended that additional, free choice salt is also available at all times. When your horse begins to sweat, the salt requirement will increase. A horse's salt requirement is proportional to the amount of sweating. A working horse can lose as much as 35 grams of salt when sweating. This increased loss of salt due to work in not commonly replaced by the amount of NaCl in commercially prepared feeds. Therefore, it is suggested salt also be made available for free choice consumption. Salt has been found to be the one mineral supplement in which horses will consume only as much as needed. Sodium is the only mineral found which horses have a specific appetite for and will self limit the amount they consume.

Free choice salt can be provided either as block or a loose form. Horses will tend to consume higher levels of the loose salt than salt provided in blocks. Providing either loose or block salt is simple. Stall feeders for loose salt are available at many feed or tackstores and are easily mounted in most stalls. Blocks can be placed in mounted feeders or ifon the ground, should also be placed in some type of on-the-ground feeder.

Supplemental salt is available as either common salt (NaCl) or trace mineralized salt. Trace mineralized salt can assist in providing some additional trace minerals requiredby horses. Common trace mineralized salt typically contains sodium chloride (98 percent), zinc (.1to .35 percent), manganese ((.2 to .28 percent), iron (.15 to .35), copper (.02 to .04 percent), cobalt (.05to .007), and iodine (.007 to .04 percent). Specialized trace mineralize salt varieties may containvarious levels of specific minerals formulated to meet the needs of lactating mares, growing foals, or other known mineral deficiencies. However, none of these salt mixtures containcalcium or phosphorous. Trace-mineralized salt is generally a blue-grey or dark reddish-brown color and plain salt is white. However, the label should always be checked as the colors may vary.

Even though a horse's needs for salt increases with sweat, this supplemental salt should be provided year round. This will ensure your horse always has sufficient opportunity to consume the required amount. It has been found; horses have a wide variety of the amount of salt consumed. Furthermore, intake will increase during hot, humid weather-with or without exercise.

–University of Nebraska Lincoln