(All) horses sweat

When I was a working student in Europe, we took a lorry-load of green horses to a local schooling event to give them some show miles. My favourite, a hard-headed and massive five-year-old chestnut mare, was predictably unruly while waiting her turn. Four horses deep, she smashed and bashed against the dividers in the lorry. With not enough hands to unload and reload the horses, I and the other groom had to try our best (unsuccessfully) to calm her by talking quietly through the window.

When we got back to the barn, the mare was in sorry shape. She was haggard, soaked with sweat and bleeding, with rub marks and swelling. I led her up to the scale for the routine post-show weigh in, close to tears. From the time we weighed her twelve hours before, she had lost thirty kilos. Thirty kilos – that’s sixty-six pounds. Through sweating. From stress.

This is an extreme example of how dehydrated a lower-level horse can get. While most riders do not have the luxury of being able to weigh their horses twice a day, seeing the serious amount of fluids a horse can lose in one day was astonishing.

Sweat, and electrolytes

With such loss of fluids comes electrolyte imbalances. When a horse sweats, they also lose these minerals. But here’s the kicker – the more electrolytes a horse loses, the harder it is for them to sweat, which in turn makes them overheated.

Electrolytes are electrically charged mineral salts that are an integral component of a horse’s muscle and nerve health and functioning. While I was raised using electrolytes only at shows, hot and humid days at home or stressful situations can lower a horse’s electrolyte levels, even without strenuous riding. Horses don’t store electrolytes for future use like they can fat, so keeping up to date is vital.

How to feed electrolytes

Quality forage (such as Standlee’s) naturally contains electrolytes. Giving your horse free access to a salt block helps them maintain their electrolyte levels independently. Supplemental electrolytes are ideally fed right after whatever activity is making them sweat, whether it be riding, trailering, or just standing out in the sun for long periods of time.

As the hottest months of the year draw close, keep this cautionary tale and advice in your mind. Whether your horse is sweating from exercise, stress or just heat, keeping those electrolytes at a healthy level is more important than you think.