5 ways to Check Your Horse’s Hydration Status:
- Check heart rate: Normally a horse has a resting heart rate of 32-42 beats per minute. If your horse has a resting heart rate of more than 60 bpm it could be a sign of dehydration.
- Check respiration rate: A normal resting respiration rate is 8-12 breaths per minute. Elevated respiration rate can signal dehydration.
- Eyes and Gums: These should be moist and shiny. If the gums feel tacky or dry and the color is red it may be a sign of dehydration. If the eyes appear dry and red this also could be a sign
- Capillary Refill Time: This is checked by gently pressing on the gum causing the color to change from pink to white. Once the pressure is off the color should return within 2 seconds. Longer than that can indicate that your horse is dehydrated.
- Skin Tenting: If you pinch/fold a section of skin in the lower neck/shoulder area, it should spring back to normal quickly. If it stays in a ridge or goes back to normal very slowly, your horse likely is dehydrated.
- Urine Color: Horses should have a strong stream of urine that is clear and has no color to light yellow indicating good hydration. If it is dark in color it may be a sign of dehydration or even early tying up.
If your horse shows symptoms of dehydration based on the above checks, particularly with a change in attitude or behavior please contact your veterinarian. Dehydration can lead to poor performance, colic, tying up, kidney and heart damage.
Regardless of how much water the horse drinks, it will not be able to retain a normal amount of water in the body without adequate Sodium, or salt. So the first thing to do is make sure they are getting adequate salt.
But I strongly recommend against the basic white and red salt blocks. Here’s why: Regular salt is usually heavily refined removing the natural trace minerals, bleaching it with chemicals and mixing with anti-caking agents (the main one containing aluminum). The usual trace mineral block takes the bleached white salt and adds a tiny bit of trace minerals in an inorganic form in amounts too small to be of much benefit.
So What Salt Is Good for Your Horse?
The salt that I have found to be the most palatable and in a natural usable form is Redmond salt. Redmond salt contains approximately 93% sodium and chloride (versus 98% of regular salt) and the remaining 7% trace minerals. It is of no coincidence that our blood serum has the same concentrations! That is significant! It is important to note that these natural salts are crystalline in form. They are highly available to the body, even better than chelated ones.
It comes in a ‘Rock’, Crushed, or Bulk. I like having the Rocks by the water trough and using the ground form when one of our horses is not drinking enough or tends to sweat more than the others.
For most horses Redmond salt is enough to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. There is some potassium in Redmond salt but it is also in sufficient quantities in hay for sedentary horses and horses in light work even in the heat.
Should You Give Electrolytes?
It depends….sometimes….but no horse should be given them on a daily basis. This can actually be detrimental to their health in creating imbalances in electrolytes and gastric ulcers. Most electrolyte products are irritating to the gut if there is not enough food in the stomach. If horses are worked more than 2 hours a day in the heat then electrolytes are recommended.
Which electrolytes? Since it is popular to feed electrolytes there are several products out there.
Most electrolytes on the market contain dyes (yes – dyes! so it looks cool) along with lots of sugar and artificial flavors to get the horse to willingly take them. Persevere and Endura-Max keep their ingredients simple. Persevere has prebiotics which can be helpful for the gut. All electrolytes are best given with food or at the least mixed in a syringe with yogurt and/or applesauce for palatability and to help prevent irritation to the gut. If a horse is prone to ulcers or being treated for them then extra caution should be used in making sure there is food in the stomach first if at all possible.
You Can Lead a Horse to Water….
you know the rest! But there are products on the market that do cause horses to drink. Here is the one I have tested on my horse that was a poor drinker and it worked! I could get her to drink up to 3 gallons with a serving of it.
But that was also before I discovered Equiwinner™ patches. These work! Our horses drink when they need to on our endurance rides and consume electrolytes and salt when they need it. It’s not about feeding more electrolytes. It’s about making them work properly. Equiwinner is a patented, non-transdermal patch. The body does not absorb anything from the patch. It serves as a natural electrolyte-balancing system through cell signal technology. Since electrolytes are involved in every physiological process in the body, proper electrolyte activity will keep horses hydrated and improve performance and health generally.
When the patch is placed on or near to the skin of the horse, the skin cells, at a microscopic level, recognize the electrolytes in the patch and generate electrical signals which pass to all other cells in the body. This “artificial” generation of signals is sufficient to switch off the inappropriate conservation of electrolytes throughout the body, when a fresh patch is used on different spots on the skin of the horse each day for ten days to re-program the body.
We still offer our horses salt and electrolytes when appropriate but this turns on their natural homeostatic mechanism to work properly to know when they need them and to utilize them properly at the cellular level.
Keep Them Hydrated – The Plan
To avoid dehydration, make sure you are providing fresh, clean troughs or buckets at all time. Check these areas often and thoroughly as some horses will refuse to drink if the water is full of debris, smells bad or is too warm. Some horses are more finicky than others. A horse’s water intake can double in the warmer months so make sure that the amount of water available to them is adequate.
Here’s our Plan:
- Use Equiwinner patches for 10 days, 1-2 times a year. Also put them on during times of travel stress and at endurance competitions.
- Keep a Redmond Rock at the water trough year round.
- Add 1-2 Tablespoons loose salt to their Thrive Feed in hot weather prior to a hard work out or for our poor drinkers.
- Have a Redmond Rock or Loose salt available free choice at endurance competitions.
- Offer loose salt and electrolytes regularly during endurance competitions. Usually they will lick it out of our hand.
- Give electrolytes by syringe at a competition only if a horse shows signs of fatigue and is not ingesting salt/electrolytes on their own, prior to showing signs of dehydration.
- We clean our trough in the turnout more often in summer as it gets nasty faster. Usually twice a week. Any horse in a stall gets their water container cleaned every other day.
- We monitor hydration mostly through observation of urine color and manure moisture content. After a workout we check the 5 parameters mentioned at the beginning of this article.
If you have any questions related to maintaining your horse’s hydration then consult with your veterinarian or feel free to Contact Us.