Dehydration in athletic horses: how to maintain their performance using electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential components to guarantee good hydration of athletic horses. Horses have a thermoregulation system that causes them to lose large amounts of sweat during exertion. They therefore have very high electrolyte requirements, particularly when they are competing. How can an adequate electrolyte intake be guaranteed to maintain their performance and protect them against risks associated with certain diseases?

Horse sweat harness racing

 

During exercise, horses sweat profusely. The sweat they lose has a particularly high concentration of mineral salts, contained in electrolytes: potassium (K+), sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-) ions.

To compensate for these losses, it is necessary to implement a strategy designed to prevent dehydration problems. A high level of dehydration can have direct consequences in terms of reduced performance or even the development of certain diseases, such as colic or myositis (“tying up”), etc.

 

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are ionizable elements that circulate in the intra and extracellular fluid compartments. The ones we are interested in here are mineral salts and, more specifically, sodium (Na+), potassium (K+) and chloride (Cl-).

Unlike calcium, these electrolytes are directly linked to the horse’s fluid balance. It is this that enables horses to regulate their hydration levels and thereby avoid dehydration. These elements are involved in a whole range of metabolisms, in particular muscle contraction. Hence their importance in athletic horses, who exert considerable effort during competitions.

 

Why control electrolyte intake in athletic horses?

Horse sweating eventing cross-countryHorses are homeothermic animals. This means they have their own thermoregulation system, of which sweating is a part. This system allows horses to maintain their core temperature at around 37.7°C. Factors causing a rise in body temperature include exercise, transport, environment (hot, cold, dry, wet weather, etc.), stress or, potentially, inflammatory reactions. Electrolyte losses due to sweating are very high in athletic horses. This phenomenon can be explained by two specific characteristics:

  • The first concerns the proportion of skeletal muscles. These account for 40% of a horse's bodyweight, compared to 20% in humans.
  • The second characteristic concerns the low exchange surface area, i.e. the mass/surface area ratio. This is 100 in horses, compared to 40 in humans. All this means that even in non-extreme climate conditions, an exercising horse can lose up to 15L of sweat per hour. For a horse that weighs 450 kg, this is equivalent to 5% of the total water content present in its body.

 

4 tips to control electrolyte intake and avoid dehydration

To avoid dehydration, you should heed the following advice:

  • Make sure horses have access to water and that they drink it.
  • Ensure a balanced water and electrolyte (K+, Na+, Cl-) intake. Taking in water without electrolytes or electrolytes without water can accentuate the phenomenon of dehydration. So electrolytes should be supplied directly in water (in soluble powder or liquid form) or separately from water (in feeding or directly into the mouth via an oral paste).
  • Electrolyte solutions must have a ratio consistent with their concentration in sweat. They must also be very appetizing for horses.
  • Some substances, such as glycine, improve the assimilation of electrolytes and therefore enable appropriate electrolyte quantities that do not irritate the stomach.

 

Electrolytes are necessary to guarantee fluid balance in an athletic horse. Find PASKACHEVAL’s HYDRATONIC electrolyte range, in gel, powder and solution form at your nearest distributor.

 

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    PASKAMINE is a mineral supplement suited for athletic horses