Take 5 things- Important points for feeding electrolytes
Updated: Jun 27
Welcome to this weeks edition of Take 5 Things, this week we have Lizzy Dury, Equine Nutritionist and adviser for Saracen Feed taking us about the importance of electrolytes, what are they used for, when and how much we need to feed.
I have worked as an equine nutritionist for 20 years and am one of a few Registered Nutritionists in the UK. My work is really varied, and I spend a lot of time on the road and travelling abroad to Europe and the Middle East.
During my work you could find me either visiting clients at their yard, sitting writing some presentations or features or standing up and lecturing to some students or end users. I enjoy the variety of what I do and that I am able to work with all types of horses and ponies and get lots of satisfaction in helping horse owners get the best from their horses and most of all getting to enjoy them. I like to keep equine nutrition simple and practical and trying to ensure that the research that we learn can be applied practically and is easy for people to understand.
My career highlights have been working with the British Dressage Team and enjoying watching their many medal successes as well as being able to say that I have advised and fed one of the world’s most famous dressage horses, Valegro, since he was 2 years old.
1. Electrolytes are essential for body function. A horses body needs electrolytes for almost all bodily functions, such as there regulation of nerve and muscle function, fluid regulation and balance and digestion. Common electrolytes are Sodium and Chloride, Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium. Sodium is considered the principle electrolyte and is the main regulator of thirst. 2. Each horse is different. The amount, and type of electrolytes your horse needs varies from horse to horse, the amount and type they need depends on how much they loose. Horses loss electrolytes through sweating and the amount they sweat depends on on the duration and intensity of work undertaken, the prevailing environmental conditions (for example, hot and humid conditions or cool conditions) and the horse’s diet. Research has shown far greater sweat losses in humid conditions compared to cooler conditions. (Does fitness come into it?)
3. Calculating Sweat Loss. Researchers in Germany developed a novel sweat scoring system to help owners and trainers estimate sweat losses.
Sweat Score of 1: The area under the saddle is partly dry, partly dark, sticky, and moist. The throat area is sticky, and the flanks are darker than normal. Total sweat loss: 1-4 litres.
Sweat Score of 2: The area under the saddle and the throat are both wet, there are small white areas at the edges of the saddle corners, and foaming may occur at sites of friction between the throat and reins and between the limbs. Total sweat loss: 4-7 litres.
Sweat Score of 3: There is foam on the back of the bridle and noseband, the flanks are clearly wet, and the area under the saddle and girth are consistently wet. Total sweat loss: 7-9 litres.
Sweat Score of 4: The throat and flanks are completely wet, above the eyes are moist and have dark wrinkles, and there is pronounced foaming between the limbs. Total sweat loss: 9-12 litres.
Sweat Score of 5: The horse is actually dripping fluid above the eyes and under the belly. Total sweat loss: 12-18 litres.
4. Electrolyte Loss: 1Kg loss in body weight equates to 1L fluid loss. A weighbridge would be required before and after exercise to provide a sufficiently accurate assessment. This is usually not practical during exercise at home but the facility is usually provided at top competitions and you should be encouraged to use them.
Top Tip Using a weightape whilst not providing an accurate BW in horses does measure the change in kg due to body weight losses as validated by a weighbridge which equate to fluid loss
5. Electrolyte Replacement:
The most basic supplement, NaCl, common salt should be added at approximately 50g daily if the horse is in light and regular work
· If horses are eating adequate forage, they will always be eating excess potassium relative to requirements
· Harder working horses, and those who may be training and competing in hot and humid conditions for example, could be producing up to 10 litres of sweat per hour, which means they will be losing substantial amounts of the 3 main electrolytes: sodium, chloride and potassium and smaller amounts of calcium and magnesium. These horses will need a supply of electrolytes to keep them hydrated and speed up recovery from training and competitions. 1 teaspoon of salt weighs 6g and contains 3.6g chloride and 2.4g sodium- you would need to feed 3 teaspoons of salt to balance the electrolyte loss of 10l of sweat or ½ dose of a well formulated electrolyte supplement.
· When choosing an electrolyte supplement be sure to not only look at the percentage electrolyte inclusion but also the feeding rate. Although two supplements may appear to provide the same or similar level of electrolyte supplementation, one may have a higher feeding rate and will therefore provide a higher level of electrolytes. It is also important to ensure that the electrolyte supplement you are advising does not contain high levels of sugar (usually seen as dextrose on the label) at the detriment of electrolyte content.
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