Just like us, horses need certain minerals in their diets to ensure their nervous, circulatory, digestive, lymphatic, and excretory systems are functioning properly. Essential minerals, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride, are classified as electrolytes, which are vital because they help balance the amount of water in the body. Ensuring that your horse obtains the right amount of minerals, especially salt, can feel a little overwhelming. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to incorporate salt into your horse’s daily life, keeping them healthy and relaxed.

Why do Horses Need Salt?

Salt is fundamental to life. It is a key nutrient composed of two elements: sodium and chloride. The first element helps absorb nutrients in your horse's small intestine, while the latter element works to maintain your horse’s blood pH, which boosts the transportation of carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.

Most grass, hay, and feed do not naturally contain enough salt, so horses often need this mineral added to their diets to promote water intake. Some horses have difficulty drinking enough water on their own, particularly at shows, where they might sweat more, which causes sodium and other electrolytes to leave the body. As a result, it is imperative that they have access to electrolytes, like salt, that will trigger their desire for water. Without a healthy amount of water in their systems, horses may not feel well and will be at significant risk for colic.

The Benefits of Salt for Horses

Along with a balanced diet, salt is a great necessity for horses. Most importantly, it encourages your horse to drink water, which leads to additional benefits among the digestive and nervous systems as well as overall improvement in well-being.

  1. Healthy digestion: since salt is used by the body to absorb nutrients and break down food during digestion, it can also prevent abdominal cramps and colic.
  2. Maintenance of body tissues and growth: the right combination of salt and water intake allows your horse’s muscles to contract and recover while enhancing blood flow.
  3. Better well-being and state of mind: if your horse feels healthy, they are more likely to be a willing partner on the ground and under saddle. Plus, they might feel calm or relaxed while licking a salt block - a great option to reduce anxiety in certain horses.

What are the Symptoms of a Salt Deficiency in Horses?

While most horses have the innate ability to self-regulate salt in their diets, there are noticeable signs of salt deficiency. Some symptoms can be a result of deeper health issues, so it is best to consult your veterinarian whether your horse needs more salt or additional treatments.

  1. Decreased water intake: your horse may become less interested in drinking water, which can lead to dehydration and greater health concerns.
  2. Lethargy: because salt plays a key role in maintaining proper nerve and muscle function, your horse may seem tired, weak, or sluggish.
  3. Reduced appetite: horses with low salt levels may lose their appetites or become picky eaters.
  4. Weight loss: salt helps maintain a horse's fluid balance. Without it, your horse can lose weight due to dehydration.
  5. Dull coat or dry skin: your horse may also develop a dull coat or dry, flaky skin.
  6. Muscle cramps or spasms: since salt helps maintain proper muscle function and keeps horses drinking water throughout the day, your horse may experience muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors.
  7. Increased heart rate: salt is crucial for maintaining proper heart function, so without the appropriate amount, your horse may have an increased heart rate or irregular heartbeat.

How much salt does your horse need

How Much Salt Does Your Horse Need?

The recommended daily salt intake for horses varies on their size, activity level, and temperature of the environment. An 1100 Ib. sedentary horse will require an average of 15-30 grams (about one ounce) of salt per day, which is approximately two tablespoons. If a horse’s workload intensifies and or the temperature rises, leading to more sweat and a greater need for water, their salt requirement may increase to as much as 200 grams (about seven ounces) per day.

Signs of Overconsumption of Salt

Horses do not typically overconsume salt in their diets since they manage their consumption pretty well, but there are signs to look for, which can indicate underlying health concerns in case they overindulge.

  1. Increased thirst: horses with salt toxicity may become excessively thirsty and drink large amounts of water.
  2. Excessive urination: due to increased water intake, your horse may also urinate more frequently than usual.
  3. Diarrhea or loose stools: salt toxicity can also cause gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea or loose stools.
  4. Lethargy: too much salt can cause your horse to feel tired or lethargic, and they may not be interested in food or water.
  5. Muscle twitching or tremors: your horse may experience muscle twitching, tremors, or seizures.
  6. Respiratory distress: in severe cases, high salt levels can cause respiratory distress, including difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, or coughing.

How do you Give Your Horse Salt?

Nowadays, there are various ways to provide your horse with salt. You can easily add it to their feed or water or set up a salt block they can lick from. For quicker rehydration, there are special electrolyte pastes as well.

  1. Adding salt to feed: loose salt supplemented to your horse’s feed in precise amounts is a great method to control the exact amount of salt your horse consumes, ensuring they get the serving they need. If your horse is picky, though, they may turn up their nose at grain with salt in it.
  2. Adding salt to water: some electrolytes can easily be mixed into your horse’s water, verifying exact measurements and aiding in water intake. If your horse does not finish their water or is a messy drinker, some of the electrolytes might be wasted.
  3. Salt block: this option is commonly found in barns because it gives horses free access to salt. They simply lick the block in their stall or pasture whenever they feel their salt levels are too low. Although salt blocks or licks are convenient, some horses will try to bite or chew on them, which is hard on the teeth and jaws. Biting and chewing off the block can also be a sign that your horse is bored or their salt levels are concerningly low.
  4. Electrolyte paste: administer an electrolyte paste to match the proportion of electrolytes lost in your horse’s sweat. This approach assures accurate balance and absorption while providing rapid rehydration, perfect for usage at shows or during extreme weather changes.

Different Type of Salt Supplements

What are the Different Types of Salt for Horses?

There are several different types of salt that are safe for horses. Depending on the form, you can find loose salt or blocks of salt. You might need to experiment with each type of salt to determine which one tastes the best for your horse and optimally meets their needs.

  • White table salt
  • Sea salt
  • Red mineralized salt
  • Himalayan salt

Loose Salt versus Salt Blocks for Horses

The most significant advantage of loose salt is that you can easily measure the exact amount of salt your horse consumes. You can check their feed to see if they finished it and know that the minerals reached their system. There is a risk of overfeeding loose salt, though. A salt block allows your horse consistent free access, so they will lick it whenever they need more salt. With loose salt, your horse does not have the option to consume extra minerals on their own, considering that they will likely eat it at the same time as their grain.

One of the disadvantages of salt blocks is that they can become too cold and hard in the wintertime. As a result, your horse may feel reluctant to lick or bite them. If your horse has sensitive teeth, loose salt might be a safer option for them. You do not want to let salt blocks get soaked from saliva or water, either, so be careful not to place them in your horse’s feed or water buckets, where the minerals can break down too quickly. Plus, some horses might find that salt blocks are overly rough on their smooth tongues.

Depending on your horse’s needs, which salt block you purchase, where you want to put it, and if their friends have access, you can sometimes hang the block by the rope it comes with, like a toy. This option is usually for Himalayan salt and can relieve boredom and stress, but not every horse cares for the taste or choice of entertainment. Plenty of horses prefer the classic red mineralized salt block attached or placed near their feed for easier consumption in between meals. If you want to offer salt for multiple horses at once, a couple of large blocks spaced out from each other is best to ensure everyone receives their share.

Table Salt

White Table Salt for Horses

White table salt is the most basic type of salt and includes a small amount of iodine, which helps your horse’s metabolism and thyroid function properly. Be sure to check your horse’s feed for iodine levels, though. If they eat too much iodine, their thyroid gland can be negatively impacted. Other plain white salt is pure and solely contains sodium chloride. While white table salt is a basic electrolyte that does not offer additional minerals, it is easy to measure and add to your horse’s feed.

Sea Salt

Sea Salt for Horses

Some horses prefer the taste of loose sea salt over regular table salt. Even though sea salt is usually minimally processed, the minerals associated with it, like potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium, are only evident in trace amounts. It does not offer superior nutritional benefits for horses compared to other forms of sodium. Like white table salt, sea salt can be conveniently measured and dumped into your horse’s grain, but it can be more expensive.

Red Salt

Red Mineralized Salt for Horses

Red mineralized salt generally consists of trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, iron, and iodine, as well as sodium chloride - all nutrients your horse needs to thrive and remain hydrated. This classic form of horse-safe salt is often found as a square or rectangular block that can be attached to your horse’s stall or run-in shed. A typical small salt block should last a single horse for about one-two months. Red mineral salt can also be made as large, round blocks that are suitable for multiple horse usage or will last longer for one horse.

Himalayan Salt

Himalayan Salt for Horses

Some riders regard this “pink rock” salt as one of the purest salts available since it is not heavily processed, leaving the natural minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and iron, intact. If your horse dislikes the taste of other salt forms, try hanging up or setting out a block of Himalayan salt for them.

Although Himalayan salt for horses can be pricey, it is typically weather resistant and will hold up if left exposed outside, perfect for use in pastures.

The process of finding the right electrolytes and form of salt for your horse can be full of trial and error. It might take some time to discover which type of salt your horse prefers the taste of and which fits best in their diet. Too much or too little of a good thing is not good at all, so as long as your horse consumes salt regularly and does not reveal signs of salt deficiency or toxicosis, rest assured that your horse likely feels happy and healthy, with little help from us!