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4 Common Horse Care Myths Regarding Salt for Horses

February 17, 2021

Most horse owners know a hydrated horse is a healthy horse, and a dehydrated horse is a potentially serious situation. As horse owners, we provide salt blocks for horses to replace essential trace minerals, and because salt triggers their thirst for water. But what if horses ignore their block? How do you get horses to drink more water?

Understanding these four common myths about salt blocks will help you choose a better salt lick and help your horse use it more frequently to avoid becoming dehydrated.

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Myth 1:  Horses Will Lick Any Salt Block

Most horses have a palate more finicky than a picky 5-year-old human. If your horse doesn’t like the salt or mineral block you put out, if it doesn’t taste good, she probably won’t lick it. Most salt and mineral blocks are heavily processed and some horses simply don’t like the bitter taste of manmade licks. That's why you may find it sitting unused and gathering dirt, bedding or manure in the corner of your horse's stall—even if she needs the salt, electrolytes or other minerals.

On the flip side, to mask the  flavor of manmade mineral blocks, many manufacturers add molasses or other sweeteners to make them more palatable. As you know, horses have a healthy sweet tooth and often end up biting off chunks of sweetened salt block and eating it like candy. Which is probably also not what you intended. So what's the alternative?

Tip:  Choose a natural mineral rock. The best mineral block for horses actually isn’t a block at all. Instead of a manufactured block, choose a natural mineral rock such as a Himalayan salt rock from Pakistan or a Redmond Rock mined in the USA. Changing to a natural mineral rock that's mined underground will appeal to your horse’s pallet, increase the likelihood she’ll lick it regularly, and deliver the essential minerals she needs. It will also provide a true trigger for hydration.

Myth 2:  Manmade Mineral Blocks Are as Good as Natural Mineral Rocks

Most manmade mineral blocks for horses are far less nutritious than natural salt rocks, and aren’t providing all the trace minerals your horse needs. Manmade pressed blocks generally have about six to eight minerals included. (Check the ingredients on the label of your block.)  Because of the limited number of trace minerals and because horses may not adequately lick a block, you can't rely on one to meet your horse’s full mineral needs. Head to this blog to learn more about what minerals horses most often become deficient in.

Tip: Natural mineral licks contain more trace minerals. A natural salt rock like a Himalayan salt lick or Redmond Rock is packed with essential trace minerals—over 60, to be exact. (Click here to see the complete mineral analysis of Redmond Rock.) Redmond minerals are mined straight from an ancient seabed, have no additives or fillers, and naturally come in the quantity and balance your horse needs. Redmond Rock has far more trace minerals than plain salt or mineral blocks, and contains organic nutrients that are more bioavailable than manufactured mineral sources. Offering your horse a mined salt rock provides the same variety of salt and minerals he would find in nature.

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Myth 3: A Salt Lick Provides All the Salt Horses Need

In many cases this is true—a natural, mined salt rock with a constellation of trace minerals will provide most horses all the supplemental minerals they need, especially if they’re getting a quality hay/alfalfa mix and plenty of fresh water.

But some of us have very hard-working horses. They’re training and competing in vigorous events like cross-country, roping and reining, barrel racing, and endurance. These high-exertion disciplines demand a lot from horses and drain them of vital minerals and electrolytes—especially if they’re working in the sun and sweating a lot.

In these conditions, your horse may not be getting all the electrolytes and salt he needs from licking a salt rock alone. Why? Unlike cattle, which have scratchy tongues, horses’ tongues are smooth and sometimes sensitive. After prolonged licking, their tongues may get sore and horses will stop using a lick—even if they need additional minerals or they’re dehydrated.

Tip: Try feeding loose mineral salt to horses. You want to ensure your hard-working horse is getting all the salt, minerals, and water he needs.  So how do you do it? Dr. Juliet Getty, equine nutritionist, says the best way to feed salt to horses is to offer granulated salt free-choice. If your horse chooses to ignore loose salt in a container, add it to his feed. A quality loose mineral salt, like Redmond Rock Crushed, replaces critical electrolytes used during exertion or excessive sweating, and provides a proper trigger to drink.

A recommendation to feed loose salt may then raise the question, how often (if at all) should a horse have a salt lick? Dr. Getty recommends also providing horses a free-choice salt block or natural rock in addition to loose minerals. This gives horses an on-demand source to help meet extra salt and mineral needs that fluctuate with weather or exercise.

Myth 4:  Dehydrated Horses Will Drink on Their Own

Humans drink when they’re thirsty, so it's seems natural horses should do the same. That's not always true. Horses need a trigger to drink, and without salt, which provides that trigger, many won’t consume enough water, even if it's hot, they're depleted of electrolytes, or they're dehydrated.

So just how serious a problem is it if a horse is not drinking water? PennState Extension states this about horse dehydration:  "...the lack of [water] intake by a horse is an immense concern. Water consumption is extremely important in the digestive process to avoid colic impaction, dehydration and other life threatening ailments."

Proper hydration is obviously critical. But to understand horses' sometimes finicky attitude toward drinking,  we have to understand the relationship between salt and fluid balance. This Kentucky Equine Research article about horse salt and electrolytes says this: 

"Like all mammals, horses have a thirst response, a physiological trigger that tells them when to drink. This mechanism keeps horses from becoming dehydrated in everyday situations, and is dependent, at least in part, on electrolyte balance. The thirst response is thought to hinge on sodium concentrations in the blood. In instances of light sweating, water is released, but the amount of electrolytes lost is minimal. The body recognizes this water loss and seeks to replace the deficit. In instances of heavy or prolonged sweating, however, water and salt are both lost, and the sodium concentration of blood may not rise appreciably. So, horses will not drink even though they are dehydrated."

In other words,  adequate salt consumption encourages horses to drink, while low sodium levels decrease thirst signals and quickly put horses at risk of becoming dehydrated. 

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Tip: Horses need salt to trigger their thirst response. Always give your horse access to a natural salt lick or loose mineral salt and fresh water. Horses love the taste of natural licks and crushed minerals, and the salt will encourage them to drink regularly and stay hydrated and healthy. Watch the video above to see how Toni Harden uses Redmond Rock on a Rope to increase her horse's water intake and avoid problems like impaction year-round.

Do Something To Help Your  Horse

Ready to switch to a more natural salt that improves your horse's hydration and health? Try Redmond salt products in an affordable sample pack! It includes Crushed loose mineral salt, a Redmond Rock salt lick, plus other hydration products we think you'll like. Use the code "hydrate" at checkout to get 50% off and free shipping with your first sample pack purchase.

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What's in the Sample Pack?

Natural Redmond products will increase your horse's inclination to drink, plus provide 60+ trace minerals that improve health and performance. We want you to feel satisfied with our products, so If your horse doesn't love them for whatever reason, we'll refund your money.  The risk is on us!  Click the button below to give Redmond a try today.

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