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Electrolytes

High grain/low roughage diets that help to reduce waste heat may be deficient in many electrolytes. Body salt needs are influenced by the speed and duration of exercise, sweat loss and climatic conditions.
Horse sweat contains higher amounts of sodium, potassium and chloride than human sweat, as well as protein and trace amounts of iron, magnesium, calcium, selenium and B complex vitamins.

Did You Know...the blood reserve of electrolytes, such as potassium, can be quickly depleted by heavy sweating, with losses of sodium, chloride, magnesium and calcium becoming significant in horses sweating more than 20 litres daily.

Once the blood level is depleted, electrolyte transfer in and out of muscle and nerve cells may be impaired, leading to symptoms of fatigue, poor exercise tolerance and reduced performance. Affected horses often start to blow after exercise for 10 minutes or more (referred to as 'thick windedness' or 'fat inside'), as well as develop spookiness, shadow jumping, and chronic dehydration. The low blood chloride reading and increase in bicarbonate can be confirmed in a blood test taken early in the morning before feeding or work.

Although electrolytes are contained in the normal feed a horse consumes each day, the uptake of these electrolytes from the small bowel, where primary absorption of calcium, potassium and magnesium occurs for example, may lag behind loss, due to the slow release of these salts from dry feeds. More complete digestion occurs in the large bowel where fibrous foods are fermented, but the uptake of electrolytes, from the large bowel is less efficient.

Did You Know...that water is retained in the fibrous mass within the large bowel? Fluid trapped in the fibrous mass can be used as a reservoir to top-up and maintain blood fluid levels. This provides a store of fluid to counteract dehydration as horses sweat

If the large bowel reservoir of water is depleted, the gut volume decreases, giving a 'tucked up' appearance under the belly and hollowing of the flank, which are common signs of dehydration.

Electrolytes in plasma and sweat

Why Supplement with Specialised Electrolyte Replacers

Provision of up to 60g (3 tablespoons) of salt (sodium chloride) is often recommended during hot weather, and replaces sodium and chloride, and encourages horses to drink water to correct minor dehydration. An adequate supply of cool water must be provided at all times when supplementing with salt or electrolyte replacers. However, once horses sweat regularly during daily workouts, sodium chloride alone is not sufficient to replace and maintain blood levels of salts such as potassium and magnesium. Depletion of these salts can lead to risk of nervousness, tying up, muscle fatigue and stiffness.

Ideally, electrolyte supplements given in the feed should be formulated to replace body salts in proportion to sweat loss, with extra trace minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and selenium provided in other supplements for hard working, heavily sweating horses during the summer months.

Electrolyte supplements and oral rehydration fluids, are formulated specifically to replace electrolytes depleted by sweating. Electrolytes mixed into the feed will increase the body salt concentration in the blood once absorbed from the small bowel, and desire to drink.

SUMMER CHECKLIST

Locate Feeders in a Shady Place

Supply Cool, Clean Water

Maintain a Short Hair coat

Flavour Water for Poor Drinkers Poor drinkers may be tempted by flavouring the water with 100ml molasses per 25 litres (mix with warm water to dissolve initially) or 10 drops of vanilla essence or lemon juice per 25 litres.

 

Exercise early in the Morning or in the Evening
Horses need to quickly lose heat generated during exercise. Body temperature normally takes up to 4 hours to return to normal after exercise as horses cool-down by sweating and other heat loss mechanisms. Under hot conditions, especially with high humidity, efficiency of heat loss is reduced.
Exercising a horse early in the cool of the morning allows the majority of heat exchange to occur soon after exercise.

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