Best Salt Licks for Horses
Many people nowadays give their horses all manners of supplements for all manner of problems, some real and some whose sole purpose is to appease the owner. Some competition horses truly do need different amounts of micronutrients to keep up with the demands of a more rigorous athletic schedule, while more minimalist owners argue that such measures do more harm than good. There is one micronutrient, however, that all mammals need, including horses. One of the most basic micronutrients and supplements that any horse needs, whether they are glorified lawnmowers or world champions under saddle, is salt. There are a variety of things that salt does, and most horses need it as a supplement at least in some capacity. Today’s article will investigate exactly what salt does in the body, and how to ensure that your horse gets enough of it.
WHAT SALT DOES IN THE BODY
Can you imagine a mammal living without a heart that beats properly? Or living with blood that is full of toxins from the body processes like breathing, drinking, exercising, and digesting? Or a horse whose digestive system cannot process its food correctly? All of these body processes require salt!
Salt is a word in chemistry that describes a positive and negative ion that are joined together in the strongest possible chemical bond. For non-chemists, we are most familiar with the most common salt used in mammals’ bodies: sodium chloride. We may recognize it as the white crystals which are on pretzels, in table shakers, and fortunately for the pranksters amongst us, looks just like white sugar! But on a molecular level, salt is one of the most important electrolytes in just about everything that happens in a mammal’s body. Sodium is used to signal the cells of the heart to move, causing the heart to beat and power the circulatory system. In the same way, sodium and chlorine control the cell movements in the intestines of the horse, controlling the absorption of nutrients and the movement of the bowels that moves food through the digestive system. Additionally, salt is used by the kidneys and liver to filter out toxins from the blood in order to keep the body healthy. Salt is also a factor in muscle movement and motor function for the horse’s daily movements in their stalls, fields, and exercise. Ensuring that horses eat enough salt is also essential to making sure that they drink enough, minimizing the risk of impaction colic and dehydration. And these are just the most basic things that salt does in the body!
A horse that does not have enough salt in its body may act lethargic (often interpreted as acting overly lazy or not willing to go), have blotchy sweat patches on its neck and haunches, or have a lack of appetite or weight loss. If your horse is showing any of these signs, it may be a sign of dehydration as related to a lack of salt.
Horses, like humans, regulate their body temperature by sweating or shivering. When horses sweat, they lose a lot of the salt that their bodies need to regulate their heartbeat, digestion, and kidney function. In this case, the salt must be replaced, and the easiest way to do that is through the diet. They need 1-2 ounces of salt per day in mild to cold weather, and up to 6 ounces (about 30 grams) per day in hot weather. So what are the best ways to ensure that your horse is getting enough salt?
HOW TO PUT MORE SALT INTO YOUR HORSE’S DIET
As with most things, it is best to start simple if possible. See if your horse will take just regular white salt. While there are a number of mineral licks on the market, experts generally discourage the purchase of these blocks for several reasons. While the trace minerals are also important for horses to have, their presence in the blocks means that the concentration of salt is often lower. This means that as the horse licks the block, he still may not be getting the amount of sodium he needs every day. Most experts still recommend starting out with purchasing a block of basic white salt and seeing if your horse will eat it on his own. If your horse doesn’t seem interested in licking the block, you can buy loose salt to measure out into your horse’s feed, or simply buy iodized salt from the grocery store to add to his feed. You can also try breaking up the salt block into smaller pieces (that worked for my horse).
Another strategy is to try offering your horse a different kind of salt. Some horses prefer Himalayan salt or rock salt. Experts agree that these forms of salt do not really offer anything additional to the horse’s health, rather their main impact is on the pocketbook of the horse owner. But some horses do seem to prefer the taste of these other sorts of gourmet salts, and if it is a question of getting enough salt or not, it may be worth it to invest in a luxury salt lick. Himalayan salt blocks are available in sizes up to 10 pounds. To make sure that the salt lick doesn’t get covered in manure and bedding, consider investing in a salt block holder that can be mounted up on a higher surface. Some salt blocks can also be purchased in different flavors, such the peppermint-flavored block to encourage your finicky eater to consume more salt.
Whether you have a four-legged lawnmower or a four-legged multi-million dollar champion, your horse needs salt. There are different ways to get this crucial nutrient into your horse’s body, and you can mix different methods to find a way that works best for your horse. You can also offer your horse a mineral lick and a salt lick to make sure that he is getting all the micronutrients his body needs.
What method for upping your horse’s salt intake appeals to you the most?