The importance of electrolytes

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are important for maintaining osmotic pressure, fluid balance, and nerve and muscle activity.

Electrolytes are chemical compounds that form ions when dissolved to produce an electrically conductive medium. Chloride, sodium, and potassium are the minerals that are most thought of when the term ‘electrolyte’ is used, but other minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also important in their roles as electrolytes.

Electrolytes and dehydration

Horses rely on sweating to remove excess heat from the body. Sweat not only contains water but is also made up of large quantities of electrolytes. During exercise sodium, potassium and chloride are lost in large quantities with smaller amounts of magnesium and calcium. The combination of water and electrolyte loss will lead to dehydration.

A 500kg horse has around 300 litres of water in its body and a loss of only 3 litres of sweat would be enough to result in a 10% reduction in performance.

Loss of water and electrolytes leads to fatigue and muscle weakness and decreases the thirst response. Typical symptoms of a severely dehydrated horse will include:

  • A dull, depressed expression
  • Glazed eyes,
  • Dry mucous membrane and gums

It is vitally important that a performance horse starts a competition with optimal levels of fluids and electrolytes and that these are replaced throughout prolonged exercise.

Top tip: monitor how much your horse is drinking daily, as travelling and competing will not only increase your horse’s water requirements but can also put him off drinking thereby increasing his risk of dehydration.

Sweat losses

In the uk typical temperatures are between 10 – 20oc and, under these conditions, a horse in moderate work will lose between 5 - 10 litres of sweat per hour. During higher intensity exercise and increased temperature, sweat losses can reach as high as 15 litres per hour.

Don’t forget: it is essential that horses have continual access to plenty of fresh, clean water. Withholding water even for a short period of time will result in loss of bodyweight and reduction in health and performance.

Electrolyte requirements

Salt is the only mineral for which horses have an indisputable appetite for and if it is available, most horses will consume enough to meet their needs. Horses at rest will normally consume around 50g of salt per day from a salt lick. However, some horses do not reliably use a salt block so you may need to add some salt to your horses feed.

  • Light work = 30g salt no electrolyte supplementation
  • Moderate work = 30g salt 60g electrolyte supplement per hour of work

Re-covery mash contains a blend of 'super-fibres' plus a source of electrolytes to aid re-hydration. The super fibres help to ‘top up’ the performance horse’s fibre and water intake and, together with electrolytes, helps to maintain optimum hydration and thirst response, during periods of travel, warm weather, sweating, intensive training, and exertion.

Restore sr contains a proprietary slow-release mechanism that allows sodium to be released gradually into the gastrointestinal tract for sustained absorption. Restore sr helps horses to retain the electrolytes provided so they can replenish their reserves in the most optimal manner.


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