Winter Horse Management: Don’t Forget Electrolytes

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Horse owners often associate electrolyte supplementation with warm weather, however, this actually has nothing to do with seasons. The provision of electrolytes depends entirely on the amount of work and sweat loss taking place, so for certain horses supplementation is important every season.

If you’re new to buying electrolytes, take a close look at the ingredients. Electrolyte supplements that contain sugar, sometimes described as sucrose or dextrose, as a primary ingredient likely do not contain sufficient minerals to replace losses and should be avoided.

For the most effective electrolyte supplement, look for products that contain sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in levels that are comparable to losses. Feeding instructions on electrolyte products often contain an intake range based on workload and level of sweating to ensure adequate supplementation is provided.

Feeding a concentrated electrolyte dose causes a surge in blood electrolyte levels, flushing out electrolytes just fed and shortchanging the horse of vital supplementation. When sodium is delivered slowly over a period of time, more is retained and utilized by the body. Advanced equine electrolyte technology led to the introduction of a product that contains slow-release sodium. The product, called Restore SR, allows sodium to be released gradually into the gastrointestinal tract for sustained absorption.

While many electrolyte products are powdered and therefore added directly to feed or water, many come as pastes, which typically match the powdered products in composition, assuming they are well-formulated, and are easy to administer. Electrolyte pastes sometimes contain buffers to diminish any gastric irritation the salts in the paste might cause. Try Restore Paste when a buffering agent or convenience is needed.

Note that water should be offered frequently to any horse that has been given an electrolyte. If an electrolyte is to be given in a bucket of water, always provide a second bucket of water with no electrolyte added to ensure optimal hydration.

Kentucky Equine Research (KER) is an international equine nutrition, research and consultation company serving both the horse producer and the feed industry. Its goal is to advance the industry's knowledge of equine nutrition and exercise physiology and apply this knowledge to produce healthier, more athletic horses. For more information, see www.ker.com or call 888-873-1988.