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Mineral Needs for Exercising Horses

David W. Freeman, OSU Extension Equine Specialist

The need for additional minerals in rations formulated for exercising horses is largely related to the increased needs for bone development resulting from the stress of training and to replace minerals lost in sweat. Bone tissue goes through large changes after training programs are first initiated. Measurements of bone strength and compounds that indicate bone is actively increasing and/or decreasing mineral content indicate that bone actually loses some of its strength one to three months after a training program is first started. These changes may increase need for minerals, especially calcium, by as much as 35 to 40% over what has been recommended in the past.

Horses can produce large amounts of sweat. Sweat contains appreciable amounts of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. As such, recommendations call for increases in intake of these minerals for horses in hot, humid environments or exercise that promote sweating.

The need for additional salt (sodium chloride) is of most concern. Salt should be added at the 0.5% level to grain mixes formulated for exercising horses. Also, exercising horses should be allowed access to trace mineralized salt blocks. These salt blocks contain small amounts of additional minerals such as magnesium, iron and potassium.

Some types of intense, prolonged work such as endurance riding may necessitate oral supplementation with liquid or paste electrolyte mixtures. These mixes usually contain small amounts of magnesium-containing compounds like magnesium sulfate, and larger amounts of sodium and potassium. With any increased intake of minerals, water intake becomes more necessary. So, make sure the horse is drinking plenty of water.

Recommended Mineral Concentrations in Total Rations for Exercising Horses

Sodium, %
0.1 for maintenance
0.3 for exercise

Sulfur, %
0.15 for maintenance
0.15 for exercise

Iron, mg/kg (ppm)
40 for maintenance
40 to 50 for exercise

Calcium, %
0.2 for maintenance
0 .30 to 0.40 for exercise

Phosphorus, %
0.15 for maintenance
0 .20 to 0.30 for exercise

Magnesium, %
.08 for maintenance
0 .1 to 0.14 for exercise

Potassium, %
0 .27 for maintenance
0 .30 to 0.40 for exercise