Updated: Aug 3, 2020
A big issue which is more prominent in the summer heat, although important year round, is sodium deficiency. The typical domestic horse’s diet is low in sodium, but horses need a good supply of sodium for optimum health and performance. Signs of sodium deficiency can include licking things that might have sweat on them such as hands or muck fork handles, as well as a reduced rate of eating and reduced water intake. An average sized horse needs at least 1 ounce of salt a day just to meet baseline sodium needs, and those needs shoot up to 2, 4, or even 6 ounces a day with heat, exercise, and sweating for any reason.
A salt block is a good place to start, but be aware that an average sized horse would have to go through a 2 pound block per month to meet baseline sodium needs and many horses will simply not be able to get enough salt from their salt blocks since the equine tongue isn’t as rough as the bovine tongue for which they were originally designed. So beyond leaving out a white salt block at all times, it is best to add two Tablespoons a day of iodized table salt directly into their feed dish. If the horse is in work or the weather is very hot, the sodium need is roughly double that amount, so add more salt to compensate. Since the horse’s health and performance can suffer from sodium deficiency and any excess sodium is excreted anyway, it’s good insurance to add salt directly to the meal as well as leave out free choice salt blocks. Feeding adequate salt is important and inexpensive, can be purchased in 25 pound bags at Costco or Smart and Final.
Obviously adequate water intake is absolutely crucial to the horse’s health and survival. Horses need approximately 5L per 100 kg of body weight per day, so an 1100 pound horse consumes approximately 6.5 gallons of water a day. Horses tend to drink just 2 to 8 times a day, generally while eating and after exercise, and consume a large volume in relatively brief episodes of 10 to 60 seconds each. Any number of things can influence the amount of water a horse takes in. To encourage optimum intake, it is best to provide fresh, clean, uncontaminated water. We try to keep our water troughs looking clean enough that we would feel comfortable sipping from them ourselves. Studies have shown that horses also drink a significantly larger volume of water when they have buckets or troughs that they can plunge their noses into than when they have small shallow cups. Another consideration is that the horse’s esophagus is evolved for eating and drinking from ground level. So the bottom line is, make sure to have lots of fresh clean water available, in buckets or troughs, preferably low to the ground, during the summer and year round!
By Miranda Fior
Miranda started trimming in 2002 to help her own laminitic mare, and has been trimming professionally since 2004. She is a founding member of the PHCP (Progressive Hoof Care Practitioners) and has a special interest in laminitis/founder rehabilitation, and equine nutrition.