Importance of salt in your horses diet

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Importance of salt in your horses diet

Importance of feeding extra salt

Adding salt to feeds is one of the most inexpensive but most important supplements for Horses (in SEQ, all year-round – especially during the hotter months)

Salt – Sodium Chloride (NaCl-) is not to be confused with Epsom Salts – Magnesium Sulphate (MgSo4-). It is one of the Macro-mineral groups – so needed in larger quantities (as opposed to the Micro-mineral groups). They are 2 of the major electrolytes (or minerals dissolved in blood that carry an electrical charge across the cell walls – so affect everything in the body). They are also important at nutrient absorption at the cellular level – lack of salt can also affect the uptake of all the other minerals that may be fed in the correct qty’s – but may not be absorbed at the cellular level and gets excreted as very mineralised manure (which the gardner’s will love; but not your hip pocket! Nor your horse or vet bills that may present when other metabolic issues arise!!)

Salt Lick’s are beneficial but not enough to supply Horses daily requirements alone – Daily salt supplementation is needed. Work on 10gms/100kgs body weight per day – so for a 500kg Horse 50gms / Day (~2 heaped tablespoons) or for a 300kg Pony 30gms per day. If you imagine licking 50gms of Salt per day on a salt lick – then you would probably get a “Burnt” tongue. Salt Licks are great as a “back up” if they need more – especially in our current heat & humidity during Summer in SEQ.

Potassium is much more easily consumed and easily found in Lucerne, Protein Meals (in most pre-mix horse feeds), molasses, especially short, higher water content spring grasses, and many herbs; however these feed components do not become higher in Salt (Sodium). Legumes such as Lucerne – our most common hay in SEQ – and Clover– tend to store salt at the root zone & higher levels of potassium in the leafy part.

Table Salt sometimes contains iodine which most likely will be too much or too little – depending on what is already being fed / supplemented; and a little pricey to purchase in the quantities required. Coarse Salt or Olsson’s Macrobiotic Salt, are both great and inexpensive to supplement our horses with in a small daily feed, with the emphasis on small feeds for the easy keeper’s. Himalayan salt has some oxides in it that may or may not be required (depending on what you feed and the soil profile).

Horses can lose a minimum of 20gms / Salt per day via Urine, Manure, Sweat and that can be just standing around in the paddock – they can loose much higher levels during hot weather, when working or if over-rugged. If they are not getting enough salt there can be a shortfall!! They can also have an innate drive to seek it out – licking, chewing

Horses Kidney’s are amazing at maintaining the Sodium balance by drinking enough water or excreting the excess to maintain the right blood concentration levels. Low salt levels create a host of metabolic issues that cascade and affect the whole body. Horses that excessively sweat or don’t sweat at all (Anhydrosis) need more salt as they are at a much higher risk. When sodium levels are high – Horses drink more water.

So do not forget to provide CLEAN, FRESH WATER at all times (not some algae, bug or bird poo infested, puddle at the bottom of their containers that is already at blood temperature or above!!)

How to check horses dehydration status

Try the pinch test on their neck and see how quickly the skin retracts back. Skin that is slow to return indicates dehydration has/is occurring. Add water and Salt. Supply alternative water supplies (in case dominant horses keep the lower pecking ones away from the water source) – or if the primary water source fails. Below are two simple tests you can perform to see if your horse is hydrated

Other symptoms of lack of sodium (or excess potassium) can include:- Loss of appetite, lack of topline, weight-loss; dry coat;  no forward or “Go”; Excessive sweating at rest, sweating in odd places, or not sweating at all (Anhydrosis – need to seek urgent veterinary attention and education to manage this condition); stiff, uneven, bunny hopping movements, swapping leads behind at the canter; general apathy, unable to back up or walk downhill, appearance of saddle fit issues ; Socking, filling or puffy lower legs; Laminitic tendencies; head shaking symptoms; wobbly in the hind end; chewing wood, licking skin, etc.

As humans we can get a bit of a mental block about giving too much salt – as in our situation we can eat a lot of processed foods already containing hidden salt, then add extra for taste but not consume enough leafy greens, so our sodium levels can be in a higher proportion to our potassium levels – hence the mantra “cut back on salt” – for horses they do not head to the supermarket but eat what we provide – hopefully a roughage rich diet – pasture or hay. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for our next horse blog!


If you would like any further advice on how to correctly supplement your horses, please call us on (07) 3390 1433 and speak to our knowledgeable staff over in the Saddlery or pop down for a chat face to face at 3247 Old Cleveland road, Chandler 4155.

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