Using Electrolytes for Horses in Winter

You Can Lead a Horse to Water – and Help Him Stay Hydrated with Electrolytes. 

Guest Post By Bonnie Jeter. 

The start of the new year has been a particularly cold one, even for southernmost states typically used to moderate winter temperatures. While most horse owners classify electrolytes as seasonal supplements, connecting the need for including them in their horse’s daily feed with hot summer riding, horses can require electrolyte supplementation even during the winter. Whether or not to offer your horse electrolytes depends on the amount of work and associated sweat loss, and not on a particular season, so for certain horses supplementation is important year ‘round.

Your current post-ride routine may not include time in the wash rack and a big cool-down in front of a fan, but your horse still needs to replenish the vital minerals lost through exercise, and keep up adequate water intake during a season when he is less likely to want to drink. Electrolytes are an excellent tool to encourage water consumption, so it is important to give the minerals he loses through exercise, like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride.

An average 1,000-pound horse typically requires a minimum of five gallons of fresh, palatable water daily to remain hydrated and avoid the risk of colic. Basic daily fluid requirements don’t change much just because the temperature drops, and adding electrolytes, as well as providing warm as opposed to freezing cold water, can encourage a horse to drink. And in the absence of regular grazing–fresh pasture as a forage source has a greater water content than hay–your horse needs to acquire his water from the trough or buckets you provide.

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*Introduce electrolytes slowly. Occasionally, a horse will refuse an electrolyte in feed because of the saltiness, especially if it is not mixed thoroughly or if he does not receive much concentrate. For picky eaters, divide a day’s worth of electrolytes between the morning and evening feeding.

*Add a dissolvable electrolyte product to your horse’s drinking water. This is a safe and easy way to make sure a horse always has access to extra electrolytes. Provide two water buckets: though, one with plain water and one with electrolytes added.

*Check the label and analyze ingredients before buying. Some commercial electrolyte products contain added dextrose and other sugars or fillers that your horse doesn’t need.

*Monitor shelf life. Make sure the electrolytes you were feeding last summer can be kept for several months without harm to their potency and are safe to feed this winter. Read and follow storage recommendations.

*For quick relief, consider an electrolyte product in gel or paste form. They are easy to administer and typically match the powdered products in composition, assuming they are well formulated.

As with any change to your horse’s care plan, consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about adding electrolytes to your daily feeding regime, or if your horse currently has any heath issues that could be complicated by the addition of electrolytes. Changes in your horse’s normal consumption of water may indicate other health issues that should be mentioned to your veterinarian.

Bonnie Jeter is an amateur dressage rider and a freelance writer/photographer who lives in Central Texas. When she is not clacking away on her computer or seeking out interesting locales for taking photos, she enjoys spending time with the one important equine member of the family, her 15-year-old Trakehner gelding.

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