Salt is the most crucial mineral required by horses and often overlooked in the equine diet. Despite providing a salt block, the vast majority of equine diets do not provide sufficient sodium.
Salt supplementation is required for optimum health - regardless of the season. It is imperative to: 1) Ensure the minimum requirements are consumed daily in feed; 2) Provide an ample supply of fresh water; and 3) Offer an additional free choice supply of either loose salt or a white salt block. Read on to learn why, when and how much.
Why Horses Need Salt
Why You Shouldn’t Rely Solely on Salt Blocks
Free-Choice Minerals - Another Mystery Calculation
If you offer free-choice minerals free choice (vs top dress them), your horse's consumption can vary. Some horses needing salt may consume a lot initially - and taper off. Salt is the only mineral horses have an identifiable craving for; therefore, most free-choice minerals use salt as their base or the majority of their base. Some horses will not eat free choice minerals at all. Either way, it's difficult to monitor consumption.
If you top-dress free choice minerals, you will need to calculate how much actual sodium is being provided.
When & How to Feed Salt
Salt should be fed at least twice a day to ensure proper thirst response and body water equilibrium (electrolytes and hydration).
The most convenient method is to include it in daily supplements (bucket feed) with enough of the carrier to achieve palatability. I prefer soaked hay pellets with no binders as a carrier for supplements.
Whether idle or working, free choice loose salt or white salt blocks should be available at all times to allow the horse to compensate for additional needs.
A Note on Perspiration:
How to Calculate the Amount of Salt in the Current Diet
You can skip this step if your horse's diet consists of baled hay or pasture and a supplement with no sodium added. In that case, you must supplement to meet your horse's minimum requirements.
Converting Feed & Supplement Labels
Nutritional analyses are listed by using a variety of measurements: grams, parts per million (ppm) and percentages (%). If I could be granted one wish in the feed industry - it would be standardizing the measurement to grams on all labels.
To recap - for an 1100 pound idle horse - the minimum amount of salt to be fed is 36 grams (1 ounce), which provides approximately 14 (elemental) grams of sodium and 22 (elemental) grams of chloride.
If the analysis provides ppm or percentages you need to convert the amount to grams. You can do so by using these links:
The above converters calculate the number of grams per kilogram. The basics of gram measurements:
Calculate Complete Feeds Based on the Amount You Feed ...
Complete feeds are formulated to replace forage entirely, hence the term complete feed. If the recommended daily amount to be fed according to body weight is 15 pounds per day and you are only feeding 1 pound per day (7% of the nutrients provided if fed according to body weight) - take that into consideration when calculating the amount of sodium and chloride in the current diet.
All too often, guardians are under the impression that by feeding small amounts of a complete feed, their horse’s daily sodium, vitamin and mineral requirements are being met. Pay close attention to the nutritional analysis PER pound.
Salt - An Inexpensive Insurance Policy
Considering salt is the most essential mineral required by equines, ensuring adequate consumption may prevent a host of common equine health challenges. Formulating the equine diet can be challenging, but feeding sufficient salt is an inexpensive easy nutrient to calculate and provide. Always consult with your veterinarian prior to making changes in your horses diet.
Helpful How To Resources
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About the Author:
Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.
Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition and digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, Horse Back Magazine, The Horse's Hoof, and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.
References:Kentucky Equine Research Staff. (2014, August 6) Checking for Dehydration in Horses. Retrieved from https://ker.com/equinews/checking-dehydration-horses/
Kellon, E. (2012, August 21). Equine Electrolytes, Exercise, and the Heat. Retrieved from https://thehorse.com/118025/equine-electrolytes-exercise-and-the-heat/
Layton, C. (2020, January 17) Feed Your Horse Salt. Retrieved from https://balancedequine.com.au/feed-salt/
Woodbury-Kuvik, P. (2012, April 21). Measure Salt. Retrieved from: http://www.desertequinebalance.com/system/app/pages/search?scope=search-site&q=salt+measurement
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