Are Elec­trolytes Im­por­tant for My Per­for­mance Horse?

Dressage Today - - Q & A -

I live in the South­east where the sum­mer months can be aw­fully hot and hu­mid. Should I be pre­pared to give my horse elec­trolytes on the days I com­pete? Name with­held by re­quest

MERED­ITH MITCHELL HUS­TLER, DVM

The typ­i­cally hot cli­mates where horse shows are com­monly held lead to in­creased sweat­ing and an in­crease in sym­pa­thetic tone, which am­pli­fies over­all wa­ter and elec­trolyte loss, re­sult­ing in de­hy­dra­tion.

The horse’s body is a com­plex and care­fully bal­anced sys­tem com­prised of dif­fer­ent types of cells, tis­sues and flu­ids that con­tin­u­ously di­rect an ar­ray of elec­tri­cal im­pulses. The fuel for this fun­da­men­tal life process lies within the elec­trolyte. When you think of a happy, healthy horse, he is one who is eat­ing, drink­ing and pass­ing ma­nure ap­pro­pri­ately. Elec­trolytes are es­sen­tial to achieve and main­tain this. The main elec­trolytes found in the horse’s body are sodium (Na), chlo­ride (Cl), potas­sium (K), mag­ne­sium (Mg), cal­cium (Ca), hy­dro­gen phos­phate (HPO42) and hy­dro­gen car­bon­ate (HCO3).

Elec­trolytes are chem­i­cals that when dis­solved in a po­lar sol­vent such as wa­ter, form elec­tri­cally charged par­ti­cles called ions. An av­er­age, 1,000-pound horse is made of 65 per­cent wa­ter, mak­ing it the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for the elec­trolyte to per­form its phys­i­o­logic du­ties. Some of the phys­i­o­logic func­tions elec­trolytes play a part in in­clude, but are not lim­ited to, tem­per­a­ture con­trol, fluid trans­port across cell mem­branes, muscle and heart con­trac­tion, res­pi­ra­tion, di­ges­tion, ion trans­port, re­nal func­tion, neu­ro­log­i­cal func­tion, sig­nal trans­duc­tion, thought and mem­ory pro­cesses, en­ergy pro­duc­tion, glu­cose me­tab­o­lism and all the senses—both gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion and then trans­port­ing that mes­sage to the brain and to the mus­cles, en­abling ev­ery­day func­tion and the in­nate fight or flight re­sponses of the horse.

With all these de­tails in mind, the ul­ti­mate goal of main­tain­ing your per­for­mance horse is achiev­ing a bal­ance. When there are im­bal­ances, we run into trou­ble. Elec­trolytes are nat­u­rally lost daily through sweat­ing, fe­ces and urine. Some signs you can look out for

that your horse may be de­fi­cient in elec­trolytes are poor per­for­mance, de­pres­sion, dull hair coat, sunken eyes, eat­ing dirt or other horses’ fe­ces, ty­ing up, weight loss or even ul­cers. Com­mon causes of elec­trolyte im­bal­ance are de­hy­dra­tion, diar­rhea, sweat­ing, stren­u­ous ex­er­cise and in­suf­fi­cient con­sump­tion of bio-avail­able min­er­als.

Elec­trolyte bal­ance is of­ten achiev­able by of­fer­ing goodqual­ity for­ages and a bal­anced com­mer­cial feed, which are both high in elec­trolytes. With a proper diet alone, the ma­jor­ity of nor­mal horses are able to eas­ily re­plen­ish their rou­tine losses. This does not hold true for the per­for­mance horse. A per­for­mance horse who is train­ing six days out of the week on av­er­age nat­u­rally sweats more than the av­er­age horse. If he is sweat­ing more, he is los­ing more elec­trolytes, which can­not be re­placed by diet alone, mak­ing elec­trolyte sup­ple­men­ta­tion an im­per­a­tive com­po­nent of your horse’s suc­cess. Re­mem­ber, one of the main func­tions of elec­trolytes is to reg­u­late nerve and muscle func­tion by car­ry­ing elec­tri­cal im­pulses. Op­ti­mal muscle health and neu­rons com­mu­ni­cat­ing ap­pro­pri­ately in­crease the per­for­mance po­ten­tial of any horse. Ad­di­tion­ally, pro­vid­ing a free-choice salt block al­lows horses to nat­u­rally bal­ance them­selves.

Horses are crea­tures of habit and thrive on con­sis­tency. Ide­ally, when sup­ple­ment­ing elec­trolytes, you should give the same amount of pow­der or paste orally on a daily ba­sis. This en­ables the horse to uti­lize what he needs to main­tain home­osta­sis, and what is not needed will nat­u­rally be ex­creted. Elec­trolytes should never be “loaded,” as you may cre­ate an ex­ces­sive im­bal­ance and will in­ad­ver­tently cre­ate an os­motic pull of wa­ter in the body to “go the wrong way,” caus­ing de­hy­dra­tion. This prin­ci­ple of the os­motic pulling of flu­ids is why it is im­per­a­tive to al­ways give elec­trolytes with wa­ter and pro­vide your horse with free-choice wa­ter.

Elec­trolyte sup­ple­ments are an easy and cost-ef­fec­tive way to pro­vide bal­ance within the body. When choos­ing a sup­ple­ment, se­lect one that con­tains the es­sen­tial elec­trolytes, and has low su­gar con­tent. The value and im­pact elec­trolytes have on your horse’s health and po­ten­tial for peak per­for­mance are huge—and of­ten missed—de­tails that should not be over­looked in the fu­ture.

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