When would the best time be to give electrolytes and should you give them while riding?
Prime Performance Nutrition
First we can look at how sweat is produced by looking at a sweat gland. A single sweat gland will look like a coil of twisted tube or piping that eventually straightens out just before it reaches the skin or the exit point. When a sweat gland is stimulated the cells secrete a fluid that is mostly water and has high concentrations of sodium and chloride with low concentrations of potassium. This secreted fluid will be present in the space between the cells with in the blood. This fluid is absorbed into the sweat gland through the coiled portion and then travels up the straight portion. The fluid can either be reabsorbed here or expelled depending on the rate of sweat production or flow.
At rest or in cool conditions the horse does not exhibit sweat because the cells in the straight portion of the gland are reabsorbing most of the sodium and chloride. This happens because there is enough time for reabsorbing and the water is balancing itself by moving to that portion of lesser concentration or through osmosis.
When an animal exercises heavily or in hot conditions, they loss electrolytes in their sweat, particularly potassium and sodium. This is due to the fact that cells in the straight pipe do not have enough time to reabsorb because of the high sweat production.
Electrolytes by definition are minerals that exist in the blood or cells in an electrically charged state based on the ions that are present. As an example, the electrolytes in Sodium Chloride or NaCl as one positively charged Na molecule and one negatively charged Cl molecule. Electrolytes are what help to keep the horse's fluid levels in balance and are required to help the heart, muscles and other organs working properly by maintaining voltages across the cell membranes.
There is a simple test that we can perform that will tell us whether or not the animal is dehydrated that is sometimes called the “pinch” test. Take a fold of skin on the neck between your fingers. The fold that you have taken up once released should spring back to normal or flat very quickly. If the fold does not return to normal very quickly and stays as a “fold” for a short time; your horse is exhibiting some degree of dehydration. This may be caused from a mineral imbalance or insufficient water intake or both.
Your vet through a blood test must conduct another test that can be performed to determine our horse's mineral balance. This test can show the sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate levels all on an extra-cellular basis. Sodium plays a major role in regulating the amount of water in the body, potassium regulates the heart and low levels are associated with weak muscles, chloride like sodium maintains the fluid levels and bicarbonate regulates the acid levels in the tissues. There are obviously other blood substances that can be measured with this test but they are levels that might determine organ function and muscle condition.
The “Pinch” test, as well as a blood test, are two ways of determining the hydration level and blood levels of our horse. When these tests are conducted we are to go into a corrective mode administering electrolytes and fresh water. To prevent this situation we are to monitor our horse on a daily basis and more often when we are using them in competition or activity. As animal sweats they are expelling electrolytes, using this as a guideline we can determine when and how often to use oral electrolytes.
During the hot months when your horse is sweating during the day, being worked often and/or standing for long periods in the hot sun top dress a daily product on their feed. These are very inexpensive and a good means of protection of problems later. Horses that are only sweating during workouts and activity will benefit from an oral paste electrolyte just prior to the workout as well as immediately following to restore losses. Also if an animal is in for a long workout and/or sweating for a long period of time one should make sure that fresh water is available as well as electrolytes.
Lastly, when administering electrolytes as a paste and on your horses feed it is important that you look at the labels of each. By looking at the labels we are able to determine if there are duplications in ingredients that will affect blood levels in a negative manner. It is best to feed a complete electrolyte and orally administer a basic combination that utilizes those amino acids that are fast depleting along with Magnesium and sodium chloride.