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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Electrolyte Debate

An electrolyte article I can't remember whether I have posted this article yet or not. 

Google “electrolytes endurance horse” and be prepared to be officially both over and underwhelmed.  To give or not to give?  How much to give?  Give all the time, give only when you *think* they need it, let them self regulate?  One of the projects I’ll be working on this summer is an electrolyte project.  I’m excited because I think it will finally start shedding some light on this subject. 

I want to know - what statement below do you most agree with and why?

1.  I condition without electrolytes, and I do not give electrolytes during competition.  My horses have access to free salt and I may provide electrolytes free choice at rides/competitions.

2.  I condition without electrolytes, and I sometimes give elytes during competition- either by syringe or by putting it into a mash which I make sure the horse eats. 

3.  I condition with electrolytes (and may or may not give access to free salt), and/or give elytes in a daily ration, and I follow a similar protocol during rides/competition. 

I tend to alternate between numbers 1 and 2. 

I’m not convinced I see a substantial difference with electrolytes.  I’ve always thought, no harm, no foul…..I’m not real good about giving them consistently.

Here’s some more statements to consider:

1.  We know “don’t do anything new on ride day.”  Why are elytes any different?

2.  Horses seem to adapt to whatever we condition them for, and that may include elyte utilization - thus would there be any difference between a horse conditioned with elytes and competed with them, as the horse that is conditioned and competed without? 

3.  Horses are to compete on their own merits for endurance.  If you elyte a horse because it’s on the verge of thumping/tying up or other metabolic syndrome, is your horse properly conditioning?  Are elytes a “legal” drug to keep borderline horses in competition? 

4.  If we can’t give bagged fluids by mouth, why are we allowed to reconstitute dehydrated fluids (i.e. elytes) and give them during competition? 

I intend to post new content daily on my blogs - if you don't see anything new here - check out Tess's blog.  I even bought a "streak calendar" app for my iTouch to encourage me to blog daily!  A post on either blog counts :). 


  1. This is like a Mel Jackpot which totally makes up for all those weeks of no (apparent) posts.

    I guess I'm closest to #3. I don't give electrolytes for less than 20 mile training rides. It's just too much trouble! I do give them (more every season, because I think I'm still trying to figure out the optimal amount) pre, during, and post long rides. She's got a salt block that she licks occasionally, and I give a pinch of salt with her dry ration. If there's salt in the bucket, no big deal - if she licks the bucket, I give extra salt the next day.

    I do see a substantial difference with electrolytes. She bonked hard on two rides without them, pretty early on, and she doesn't drink very well without them. And based on how I feel the next day when I work hard without elytes, I think they improve recovery too.

    Extra statements #3: Elytes are more like food than drugs. By this I mean everything naturally seeks out sources of salt, and if you can't find it long enough you will die, just like with food. We're allowed to feed our horses to keep them from colicking, so why not elyte them to keep them from metabolic distress?

    #4: Cause an NG tube carries small but serious risks is my best guess. The biggest risk of syringing something into your horse is getting spat on or headbutted.

  2. Errr - a small chance of serious risks.

  3. I see a substantial difference with myself. I'm not sure with Farley, although the rides that I'm the most consistent about elyting tend to be the rides that she seems to have a better edge to her - but when I'm electrolyting more consistently I might be doing other things better too that matter. I'm just not convinced either way. :(

    There's always the argument that there's no way we can get enough elytes into our horse to matter anyways (at least if our aim is repalcement).

    I forgot to get a salt block last time I was at the feed store so I poured the rest of my electrolyte container in a bucket and put it in the pasture. It's hard for me to tell whether she using it or not, but I feel like I'm covering my basis. Free choice electrolytes avialble, in loose form (some think that horses don't do as well with a solid block) and I may bring that same bucket with me to a ride - that way she's familiar with the "system" and hopefully self regulates?

  4. I mostly train without electrolytes and mostly compete WITH them (given before we leave home, and tiny doses through the weekend).

    The difference is that I live and train in a mostly cool/moist climate and mostly compete in a hot/dry climate. And my mare is huge and dark, and does MUCH better (hydration scores, willingness to eat, overall demeanor, and recovery scores) with e-lytes on board.


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