The Way Of Horses

The ancient Greeks traded salt for slaves – hence the saying “worth his salt”.

Early Roman soldiers were partially paid in salt (salarium argentum, which is where the word “salary” originated).

A severe salt deficiency can cause your horse to die.

Napoleon had thousands of soldiers die during his retreat from Moscow when wounds would not heal due to a “salt deficiency”.

Salt is an essential nutrient – the body needs it, but cannot manufacturer it. Salt must be provided in the diet.

Salt consists of sodium and chloride (NaCl).

Sodium is an electrolyte. Electrolytes are electrically charged particles called ions. These ions can be lost through sweat. They are necessary for cellular metabolism, a balanced cellular system and the production of energy using calories. Sodium helps maintain hydration and is important to muscle contraction and nerves.

Chloride is an electrolyte. It has a negative charge while sodium has a positive charge. The balance between the two helps maintain healthy blood cells.

Blood is self-regulating (homeostatic). It will go to great lengths to maintain its normal stability – even to the point of robbing nutrients from other organs. If salt is not available through diet, the blood will steal the salt present in urine and sweat. But urine and sweat production cannot be stopped and the blood returns the salt to the kidneys and sweat glands. The body tries to maintain itself by diluting the urine and sweat with more water to try to keep from robbing the salt from the blood and excreting it. The body’s tissues become dehydrated while the blood tries to maintain its normalcy.

An average sized horse (1100-pounds), at rest, needs about two ounces of salt per day. Four – five ounces may be needed on hot days and during strenuous exercise when sweat is being produced.

Approximately six teaspoons equals one ounce.

There is some salt in commercially produced feeds. If the product is fed according to the feeding directions an ounce of salt per day may be provided by the feed. This is not enough salt.

Salt must be provided in some form…block or loose.

I do not like salt blocks. Blocks of salt were designed for cattle. Cattle have rough tongues. That is why many horses bite and destroy the blocks…they are trying to get the needed salt.
I recommend loose white granulated salt – it looks just like table salt. Local feed stores will have it in 50-pound bags. It will be more economical than the blocks. You will get more salt for your money.

Horses that are salt starved must be introduced to salt slowly. Salt poisoning is possible if salt is suddenly available. Symptoms of salt poisoning are digestive upset and cramps.

Salt is the only mineral which horses know they need. Horses can be deficient in copper or any other mineral and not consume the needed amounts when they are available. But horses will eat salt if their body needs it.

Along with salt, horses need water. Water is the most important nutrient. Increased consumption of salt will increase water intake. A full salt feeder next to a fresh clean bucket of water is required in all horse areas – at all times.

Salt and water…it’s simple and it’s cheap…and your horse is worth it.

* Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course “Nutrition for Maximum Performance” and “Stable Management”, taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a degree. Go to for more information.