Horse Health

Water and Electrolytes

July 11, 2013

These are key ingredients for horse health in hot weather.

Horse drinking water

Your horse can easily become dehydrated during the warm summer months. Know your horse’s vital signs and monitor how much water they are drinking during the day. Clues like these will help you know if your horse is in trouble. Journal photo.

By Richard G. Godbee, Ph.D., for AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam

Dehydration has a profound and immediate impact on the well-being of a horse, more so than the lack of any other nutrient. To put it in context, the body can lose nearly all of its fat and more than half of its protein content and survive, but a loss of just 1/10th of the body’s water can result in serious consequences.

Feeding large amounts of hay or grain usually increases water needs. Conversely, horses grazing on lush, green pastures may meet most of their water requirements from the grass, as it may contain 60 to 80 percent water.

Exercise increases the amount of heat the horse must dissipate in order to function. Horses dissipate heat load primarily through evaporative cooling. Air movement also helps with evaporative cooling. While the horse will still lose heat via evaporative cooling at ambient temperatures greater than body temperature, high humidity severely depresses the evaporative efficiency.

To find out if your horse is at risk, add the outdoor temperature to the relative humidity. If the total is more than 150, there is a potential for overheating, and extra caution should be observed.

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Signs of dehydration include a slow capillary refill time and a decrease in skin elasticity. To measure the capillary refill time, press your finger on the horse’s gums, then release your finger and determine how long it takes for color to return. Normal capillary refill time is 1.5 to 2 seconds.

Monitor the hydration status of your horse. Know his normal temperature, pulse and respiration. Remember that each horse is an individual.

Guidelines

  • Provide free access to palatable water. Cool water is preferred because the stomach empties faster.
  • During exercise, allow the horse to drink as often as possible.
  • After exercise, a hot horse should be cooled before being allowed free access to water.
  • Use running water to cool your horse during hot weather, especially if his sweat is thin or watery.
  • Provide salt to encourage adequate water consumption and help maintain electrolyte balance. If pastured, one to two ounces per day is good.
  • A powdered electrolyte is a good choice to use when adding electrolytes to the feed. If a quality electrolyte is not available, a mixture of table salt and lite salt in equal amounts may be used.
  • Give your horse free access to salt even when using electrolytes.
  • It cannot be over-emphasized to supply sufficient water any time you give electrolytes.

Supplying sufficient water, judiciously using electrolytes and using common sense during hot weather will maximize the performance of your horse while ensuring his safety.

Dehydration, cuts, colic, infection and thrown shoes are all very real threats when you are out on a trail ride. Experts on three different areas of trail riding offer tips and advice on how to better enjoy trail riding while keeping your horse’s health and the environment in mind. Download your free copy of Trail Ride Safety Tips today.