The heat is on! During Summer, extremes in temperature and humidity can be harmful to horses. For performance horses in particular, a demanding training and competition regime can result in rapid water and electrolyte loss.
In this new series, we discuss the essential electrolytes that power performance and the steps you can take to reduce the risk of dehydration, heat stress and heat exhaustion.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that are imperative for heathy bodily function.
Of the electrolytes found in horse sweat, sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium are the most well known. However, following intense exercise, a number of other important trace minerals may also be lost, including phosphorus, manganese and copper.
While many horse owners understand that lost electrolytes must be replaced, it’s important to also understand the role of each major electrolyte within the body.
In Summer, electrolyte loss is only worsened by high heat and humidity. As such, rehydration will be paramount in protecting your horse’s health, wellbeing and performance this season.
In Part 1, we began with sodium and chloride. Let’s continue with potassium.
Like sodium and chloride, potassium will be lost at a faster rate, as a result of sweating, than the electrolytes calcium and magnesium.
Inside the body, potassium regulates the sensitivity of nerves and muscles, including both skeletal and heart muscles, to ensure they contract normally.
This is achieved by maintaining a near constant balance between potassium and sodium. As such, understanding the importance of potassium also means understanding its interaction with sodium.
Together, the major electrolytes potassium and sodium are crucial to athletic performance.
Replenishing potassium loss
The challenge with potassium is not so much about replenishing lost potassium, but ensuring potassium levels remain in the normal range.
In fact, the dangers associated with excess potassium are more important for discussion here when considering feeding electrolytes.
There are a number of common horse feeds that contain high levels of potassium, including:
- Lucerne hay
- Herbs, such as garlic
- High protein horse feeds may contain high potassium
- Some horse supplements may contain high potassium
When determining your horse’s requirement for potassium, it’s critical that you evaluate their diet.
In Australia, pasture and hay is often sufficient in potassium. For many horses consuming a forage-first diet that provides 2% of their bodyweight in pasture and hay per day, they may not require supplemental potassium, unless intensive exercise exceeds two hours or more.
The key consideration when supplementing potassium in the form of electrolytes is maintaining a careful balance with sodium. While potassium is often reduced in horses stressed by heat, low blood potassium is best remedied by increasing sodium levels.
For two extra tips on adding sodium in the diet, click here.
Following intense exercise, an electrolyte replacer can be given to your horse to rebalance any deficiencies in potassium. However, at all times, ensure your horse also has access to fresh, clean drinking water.
At Running Cool, we genuinely care about your horse’s health and wellbeing. Our superior horse feed range supports your horse at every stage of life with well-balanced vitamins, minerals and protein for pleasure and performance. Click here to learn more.