Is your horse hydrated?
Written by Nia O’Malley
Is your horse drinking enough?
It seems like an obvious thing to point out but always make sure your horse is drinking enough. A poorly hydrated horse will have reduced energy levels and will be slow to recover.
Always ensure the working horse is supplemented with electrolytes and sufficiently hydrated. When we supplement with electrolytes, we are replenishing the sodium levels in the body and bringing on a thirst response so that the horse drinks and keeps hydrated. Supplementing the performance horse with electrolytes is critical, especially when working in a hot humid environment.
A horse’s thirst response is relative to their sodium status. Low sodium status equals low thirst response. When your horse works, he loses a lot of body water in his sweat along with a lot of sodium, and other salts, which greatly brings down body sodium levels, and in turn switches off the horse’s thirst response. For the most part this sodium is restored through the diet – feed and hay, and the horse will rehydrate in time, and will be ready for work again.
However, when we add in a hot humid environment which has the horse sweating profusely, sometimes even when at a standstill, the body does not necessarily get a chance to restore sodium levels or rehydrate sufficiently, and the horse can very quickly become dehydrated.
Effects of Dehydration
An even slightly dehydrated horse will be sluggish in his work and will recover poorly. Blood is composed predominantly of water, if dehydrated the blood is thicker and moves slower through the vessels, so there is less oxygen and nutrients being carried to the working muscles and less waste product being carried away from the working muscle, in turn work is affected, recovery is affected, and serious damage could occur to the working muscle, eg tying up.
Dehydration will also cause overheating, as blood flow helps cool down working muscles carrying the heat produced to the skins surface for evaporation, a warmer horse means more sweating which means more water and sodium loss which means further dehydration. Always ensure to supplement the working horse with electrolytes.
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Link to ‘Electrolyte Loss, Heat Stress and Dehydration’ (FE)