At PB, we work hard to ensure our horses daily needs are met and one of those needs is dietary salt. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of salt but providing salt is important to your horse's health, especially so if they're ‘grass affected’ – a term originally coined by Jenny Paterson www.calmhealthyhorses.com (CHH).
We work with Jenny and Sue Dawson, the UK CCH representative, from time to time and Jenny explains that there are many ways a salt deficiency in horses can present itself, including, loss of appetite and weight loss, chewing wood, tails and licking hands, allergies, excessive yawning and sweating with little exertion. Horses need to have access to salt regularly and whilst providing salt licks is important, horse's tongues are smooth and cannot lick nearly enough salt to cover their body's requirements. Additionally, if a horse is on a high potassium diet, the body doesn't always register the need for a higher salt intake, hence the need for other sources of salt.
Horses grazing green, growing, over-grazed or otherwise stressed grass can be ingesting many times the amount of potassium and nitrogen per day than required. As grasses become higher in potassium and nitrogen, they do not correspondingly become high in sodium. Lucerne (alfa) and clover, being legumes, store sodium in their root nodules while the leafy part is very high in both. In addition to this, spring grass has a much higher water content which exacerbates the lack of sodium.
Can you feed too much salt?
Absolutely, but it is hard to force a horse to eat too much and it is equally harmful and very easy to feed too little. According to the latest “Nutrient Requirements of horses”, a 500kg horse at rest requires 50gms (that is the 10gms per 100kg Live-Weight that CHH recommend). Lactating mares and horses in heavy work need more. Dr Julia Getty an eminent equine vet recommends 2oz/day, this is the equivalent of 56 gms.
At PB, we do the following –
We keep our horses on a grass free paddock paradise feeding adlib hay so that they are not exposed to the problem of green grass. For those who are fed, we add salt into their daily feed. Those who are not fed have access to loose dry salt and additional salt water alongside their fresh water during the summer. All the horses have access to optional salt licks.