Salt for Horses in High Temps

High temperatures and high humidity in much of the U.S. have created higher stress conditions for people and for horses.  I have been judging some horse shows recently in outdoor arenas with temperatures well in the 90’s with heat index values 100+ and I can see the impact on the horses as the show progresses.

Horses do require about 1-2 ounces of salt per day to provide help meet their requirement for sodium and chloride under normal temperature conditions.  This requirement can increase to 4-6 ounces of salt per day in hot climates or under exercise where losses in sweat increase greatly.  Inadequate salt in the diet can result in abnormal eating behavior such as licking or chewing objects which have salt on them (fork handles etc.) or licking/eating dirt.  Water intake may also decrease, increasing the risk of impaction colic. In more extreme cases, horses will stop eating and may experience muscle incoordination.

A good option to maintain year around salt intake is to offer loose salt available free choice, either in stalls or in a covered mineral feeder.  Salt intake from loose salt has been observed to be higher than from salt blocks due to the ease of consumption.  It is a challenge for a horse to lick enough salt off a salt block to consume the higher levels required during high heat and humidity. 

If horses are salt starved, it may be a good idea to limit the amount of salt put out for them initially until they have adjusted their intake.  It is absolutely essential that fresh water at an appropriate temperature be available at all times as well.  Horses tend to consume less water if the water temperature is too high, even if they should be drinking more water in the warm, humid conditions.

Commercial feeds normally contain 0.5-1.0% salt, so horses on this type of feed will typically consume less free choice salt than horses not receiving salt in their feed.  They may still benefit from having loose salt available free choice.  A salt block is better than not having any salt available free choice, but may not be as effective in maintaining salt intake when high intakes are required in hot, humid weather.

Providing salt free choice is a good management tool that can help your horse eat and drink well all year long!

4 Replies to “Salt for Horses in High Temps”

  1. I would love if my horse would take a salt block or mineral block but she doesn’t. So I substitute it with electrolyte pellets in her grain in the AM and PM. I can tell a difference in her by the way she acts, moves etc when she consumes them. How could I get her use to the blocks? If I put it in her feed tub she won’t eat at all and walks away from it. I have tried many things but nothing seems to work. Does anyone have any thoughts on this. Thanks

    1. Hello Valena,

      Using electrolyte pellets is a workable solution as they also contain some type of sugar for palatability. Recommendation would be to offer loose salt available free choice in a separate feeder. Many horses do not like blocks as horse tongues are not efficient and comfortable licking block as say ruminant tongues.

      Good luck!

  2. We tried free choice loose salt and our diabolically psychotic mare Friday ate it like candy (which put an end to free choice). So we added a teaspoon to each feed bucket, which worked fine. Can you give me better guidelines for quantity to use and comment on using pink salt or sea salt, please?

    1. Hi SmartysMom,

      Your mare Friday may have been indicating that she had a cumulative salt deficiency and was over consuming when presented with free choice salt. This can be disconcerting, but is generally not a problem if ample fresh water is available. Over consumption is generally self limiting once the body has adjusted, but urine output will also increase in the process.

      Under normal conditions, a horse will require about 2 ounces of salt per head per day. One teaspoon of table salt equals 0.22 ounces, so 9 teaspoon-fulls will accomodate that. Hot and humid conditions or exercise may increase that to 4-6 ounces per head per day. For those of us who use a salt shaker, this will seem like a great deal of salt, but we need to adjust for the size difference as well and realize that hay contains very little salt, unlike much of our prepared human food. You can measure it out and offer free choice each day to check consumption. 2-6 ounces of salt will look like a pretty good pile of salt!

      A horse that has another mineral deficiency, such as phosphorus, may also develop unusual eating behavior, including consuming excess salt or eating dirt. You can check this and/or offer a loose mineral.

      Sea salt of various forms, sources and colors is OK for horses. May be more expensive than regular salt, but if it is OK for you, should be OK for your horse. I have 3 or 4 types of sea salt in my kitchen!

      Thank you,
      Roy J.

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