Tag Archive for: endurance riding

Why Salty Water Might Help Keep Your Endurance Horse Hydrated

Keeping endurance horses hydrated is a massive challenge. And a big part of the challenge is that horses have a tricky (I call it just plain annoying) thirst response trigger.

For horses to ‘feel thirsty’ they need a certain level of sodium in their blood. BUT when they drink fresh water, it dilutes their blood sodium and that can switch off their thirst response, even if they are still dehydrated!

Which means you can have a thirsty (i.e. dehydrated) horse that isn’t actually ‘thirsty’! See … told you it is annoying.

But since we can’t magically rewire this system, we need to work with it.

And there is a really simple, very cheap workaround to get your horses drinking more and rehydrating faster.

And that is…

To offer their first drink of water when coming into a vet check as salty water!

To be specific… 0.9% salty water!

To make 0.9% salty water, mix 90 grams of salt (sodium chloride, also known as table salt) into 10 litres of water.

Using 0.9% salty water has been shown by research to increase water intake

Research (Butudom et al 2002) showed that horses who were offered 0.9% salt water as their first water offering after being dehydrated drank 18.5 litres of water in total (of salty and then fresh water) in the first hour after finishing exercise.

Compared to…

Horses that were offered just plain water as the first and all subsequent water offerings after finishing exercise, who only drank 11.4 litres of water.

The reason the salt water ‘works’ is because when given salty water it maintains blood sodium levels and therefore maintains a thirst response which means horses will keep drinking.

How to put this into practice (& get your horse to drink more water)

Here is how to do this properly:

  1. Make up your salt water solution by adding 90 grams of salt (sodium chloride) per 10 litres of water.
  2. Offer this salty water as the first water your horse has access to when coming into a vet check.
  3. Let them drink as much of the salty water as they like during their first drink. The horses in the study drank close to 12 litres of this water on their first post-exercise drink.
  4. THEN, give them access to fresh water (no salt) for the rest of the time they are ‘in camp’. What should happen is they will still feel thirsty and drink more of the fresh water. The horses in the study drank close to an additional 7 litres of fresh water.

It is REALLY IMPORTANT to get your horses used to drinking the salty water at home during training! Once they get used to it, you should find they will very happily drink it.

Happy training! Hope this helps keep your horse hydrated and you less worried!



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Our 3 Best Tips for Feeding The Endurance Horse Between Loops

What you feed and how you feed it will have a big influence on how well your horse will do on its next loop!

We hope you have had a chance to watch the ‘Feeding the 100-Mile Endurance Horse’ Masterclass with Tarsha Walsh! If you haven’t yet you can catch it here.

A HUGE part of completing a successful 100-Mile race is what your horse eats between the loops. There is little time as you know, and it is super important to get something into that stomach to protect it from ulcers AND to get some high calorie feed into your horse to top up their fuel for the next loop.

So here are Tarsha’s top tips for feeding during the loops:

  1. Give your horse some grazing time or hay first. The hay will help to put some buffering saliva in the stomach and give it some level of protection from ulceration and reduce the potential negative impact of just putting grains into the stomach; and
  2. Then, feed your ‘grain’. If your horse is happy to eat it, feed your horse’s normal grain between the loops, but keep the amount to 500 – 700 grams (for a 450 kg/990 lb horse). Don’t let them have more grain than this per loop.
    Keep any ‘sweetfeeds’ with the high-sugar, rapidly digested molasses until just before the last loop and only use it then if you need to to get your horse to eat!
  3. Give your electrolyte paste as late as possible (and if your horse has had a good drink, it is OK to give it right before you head out again) because the last thing you want to do is give your horse a paste that then stops them eating!

Tarsha and I discuss this a lot more during the Masterclass starting at time stamp 52minutes, 50 seconds.

If you want more detail on ‘grains’ for endurance horses, head over to ‘5 Tips for Feeding The Endurance Horse’



Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

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Choosing a Quality Electrolyte for Your Horse

I don’t know if you have noticed, but there are LOTS of different electrolyte supplements on the market! Pastes, powders, liquids – and they are all so different… making it really hard to know which ones are best.

The job of an electrolyte supplement is to replace the electrolytes lost in your horse’s sweat… namely sodium, chloride and potassium (the three major ones) as well as magnesium and calcium.

Quick Tip: Forages are usually high in potassium. So when your horse is being fed a forage based diet, there is normally plenty of potassium in the diet to meet requirements during normal training periods. Which means the two main electrolytes your horse needs added to the diet are sodium and chloride. And together, these electrolytes are ordinary table salt… so topping up electrolytes is often as simple and inexpensive as adding salt to your horse’s diet!

For an electrolyte to do a good job of replacing the electrolyte minerals your horse loses when sweating, it should be at least 80% ‘salts’ and 20% or less glucose or other base or filler.

Specifically, these high quality products should be 20 – 25% sodium, 43 – 48% chloride, 10 – 12% potassium and also have smaller amounts of magnesium and calcium (normally 1 to 2%).

If you put one of these high quality products into FeedXL, for a 450 kg (990 lb) horse in very heavy work, at a dose of 60 grams per day, this is how it should look (with JUST it in the diet):

High Quality Electrolyte

This product is 22.5% sodium, 45.1% chloride, 12.1% potassium, 1% magnesium and 1.5% calcium.

To give you a comparison, here is another product, also added in FeedXL at a 60 gram dose for a 450 kg (990 lb) horse in Very Heavy Work … look how much less mineral you are getting at the same dose rate!

Low Quality Electrolyte

If the mineral levels are much lower like this, you’re probably paying a lot for a lot of filler and it might be time to consider a new supplement!

It can be a little tricky to read labels because everyone presents their label information a little differently (just to keep us on our toes!)… so if you want to check how good your electrolyte is, create a diet in FeedXL like this, for a 450 kg (990 lb) horse in Very Heavy Work, add 60 grams of your chosen electrolyte and see how it compares to these ones… the one at the top being good, the one at the bottom being a waste of money!

We hope that helps you to find the best electrolyte supplements! If you haven’t yet got started with FeedXL you can join us here.

P.S. Be really careful not to overfeed salt and electrolytes because they will make your horse’s feed taste yuk and your horse will stop eating. If your horse is not eating well, try reducing or even for a short period removing any salt or electrolyte from the feed and see if this helps. For more on keeping your horse eating, you can read this post.



Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group


5 Tips for Feeding the Endurance Horse

By: Tarsha Walsh B. LSc (Hon)
Specialist Endurance & Performance Horse Nutritionist


Feeding and nutrition can literally make or break an endurance horse. It is one of the only horse sports where a small imbalance in nutrition will bring your entire event undone.

To help you think through getting the feeding and nutrition of your endurance horses right, here are my 5 top tips:

1. Rely heavily on forages and fibres

Forages like pasture, hay and chaff, as well as fibres like beet pulp should always form the basis of your endurance diet. The diet should be at least 70% forages/fibres (equivalent to 8 kg of forage for a 450 kg horse, or close to 18 lb for a 1000 lb horse).

For horses that struggle to maintain weight, you should use the highest quality, highest energy forages you can find and incorporate high energy ‘super fibres’ like beet pulp into the diet.

For horses that need to lose weight, you can use lower quality, lower energy forages. That way you can still feed plenty of forage without overfeeding calories (which will just make your horse fat).

It is also a great idea to provide a variety of forages and fibres. We get the best results with endurance horses when we feed multiple types of grass hay, or grassy hay plus a mixed species pasture… plus some lucerne/alfalfa (for most horses) and high energy fibres like beet pulp. The variety helps to maintain appetites and also helps with gut health by encouraging a more diverse and therefore more robust gut microbiome.

It is also a good idea for stabled horses to provide a variety of forage lengths from short chopped chaff to long stemmed hay, with the majority of your forage being long stemmed hay.

Because forages often make up a significant portion of an endurance horse’s diet, testing your hay and pasture can be a really useful tool in managing a diet’s energy and protein content. And it also helps to ensure you are able to meet and correctly balance minerals.

How FeedXL Helps: FeedXL will help ensure you are feeding enough forage and also show you what is missing from the forage base of the diet. PLUS FeedXL will help you find the right feeds and supplements to fill up any gaps left in the diet by the forages.

2. Use grains carefully to top up energy

Forages and fibres will rarely be capable of meeting an endurance horse’s full energy requirements… which means energy levels in the diet need to be ‘topped up’. Most commonly it is grains that are used as the concentrated source of energy to top up an endurance diet. And they work well, BUT … grains come with risks, with the two main ones being:

  • A higher risk of ulcers, OUCH! And;
  • Hindgut acidosis

But it’s not all bad… we can safely feed grains without causing gastric ulcers or hindgut acidosis by following these rules for grain feeding:

  1. Keep grain meals to less than 1 kg/feed to reduce the risk of ulcers. I like to keep grain to 800 grams per meal.
  2. Always feed a processed (cooked) grain to reduce the flow of starch into the hindgut and reduce the risk of hindgut acidosis; and
  3. Keep following Tip #1 above and keep the amount of forage and fibre up in the diet so you don’t have to add too much grain to meet energy requirements.

Depending on how much grain you are feeding, you may need to consider the level of omega 3 and 6 in the diet. Grains are naturally higher in omega 6 than 3.  Balancing the omegas is extremely important for the endurance horse as one of the biggest problems we have is soundness in the joints and muscles.

High amounts of omega 6 have a pro inflammatory effect which is going to increase the risk of muscle inflammation and joint inflammation.  Keeping the omega 3 levels the same or a little bit higher than the omega 6 levels in the diet is good way to ensure we are keeping the inflammation at bay as best we can.

Flaxseed (linseed) oil is an excellent way to increase the omega 3 content of the diet and it also adds extra calories which can help reduce the need for grains. For more information on omega 3 you can keep reading here: https://feedxl.com/29-omega-3/

How FeedXL Helps: FeedXL will show you exactly how much extra energy your horse needs to have topped up in the diet and will help you find appropriate grains or feeds to meet energy requirements.

3. Control protein intake

Protein is critically important in an endurance horse’s diet. But there must not be too much… nor too little.

Too Much Protein

Too much protein will cause your horse to urinate excessively, potentially causing electrolyte imbalances and issues with dehydration. It may also cause high total protein in the blood which often leads to a higher creatinine level which can fast track a metabolic result at the vet gate.

So it is really important not to overfeed protein. The key is to get enough of the right type of protein!

FeedXL will help you balance the levels of protein in the diet correctly for your horse. And using FeedXL in combination with a forage analysis will help you get the diet as accurate as possible!

And when horses are kept in a stable you can sometimes smell the urea levels in their urine or the high ammonia levels in the bedding indicating protein is being fed in excess.

Too Little Protein

You can actually ‘see’ when your horse is not getting enough of the ‘right protein’. They simply don’t build muscle with work, or worse, they will start to lose muscle.

If your horse is not building muscle or is in fact losing muscle it will either be because they aren’t getting enough protein. OR they may be getting plenty of protein but the protein quality is too low.

If this is the case for your horse, have a read of our article ‘Understanding Protein Quality’ https://feedxl.com/30-understanding-protein-quality/ and use this along with FeedXL to determine how to best increase the amount and/or the quality of the protein in the diet.

How FeedXL Helps: FeedXL will calculate the amount of protein in your horse’s diet and show you if there is too much or too little and help you to adjust the diet up or down for protein.

4. Balance electrolytes

Balancing electrolytes can be a difficult task, especially when we are training in uncontrolled environments with constant shifts in ambient temperature and humidity.

Horses lose a lot of electrolytes in normal bodily functions and this electrolyte loss increases exponentially when the horse is sweating from hard work. Hot weather increases electrolyte losses via sweating and humidity will dramatically increase the losses via the excessive sweating that occurs in humid conditions.

I’ve seen horses lose more than 20kg of weight as sweat within a couple hours of work.  The amount of electrolyte in this amount of sweat is HUGE and it all needs to be replaced.

Replacing what is lost is vital to your horse’s performance and is particularly important for your horse’s recovery.

When horses are working hard and peaking in their training, imbalances in their electrolytes minerals can result higher heart rates, reduced sweating, inability to remove heat from the body, tying up episodes, severe dehydration and in extreme situations horses can collapse and die. Plus electrolyte deficient horses take longer to rebuild muscle glycogen reserves, cannot fully rehydrate themselves and as a consequence take longer to recover from hard work.

Keeping the electrolytes up in your horse’s daily routine is an effective way of ensuring they don’t become deficient and suffer these consequences.

How FeedXL Helps: Use FeedXL to determine your horse’s electrolyte requirements and to find high quality electrolyte supplements that have good levels of all of the electrolyte minerals (sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium).

5. Feed appropriately during the loops

During the loops you are time pressured to get your horse to eat and recover as quickly as possible. In most situations you only have 30-40 minutes to get them eating what they can.

From a gut health perspective it’s great for them to eat alfalfa (lucerne) prior to going back out on the loop in terms of preventing ulcers. From a performance perspective though, we probably want a little more energy than what just alfalfa can provide.

Focusing on the sugars and the carbohydrates is crucial.  The best kind of feed is one that has processed / cooked grains and added oils to give longer lasting, more sustained energy. If your horse is a great eater and will eat anything during the loops it’s better to keep them on their usual feed if it fits this description.

If your horse is a fussy eater, try adding some fresh chopped up carrot or apples to your horse’s feed. Cinnamon is a flavor that many horses like so you can add a little sprinkle of cinnamon to the feed to help with appetite. Be aware though that some horses don’t like it so try it before the race!

If this is still not enough to encourage eating, then using a highly palatable sweetfeed or topping their usual feed with molasses are strategies that might help.

I have found it’s best not to feed a very ‘sweet’ sweetfeed (muesli or open feed) that’s loaded with molasses before or after the first loop. Feeding these high sugar feeds is going to challenge the horse with glucose peaks and then energy slumps.

BUT a sweet feed is great to feed before the last loop, especially when the last loop is not as long as other loops, so you can (try and) time the glucose peak to parallel with the same time as the last loop. Generally glucose peaks can last 40 minutes before energy levels start to drop.

If you have a very fussy eater, then using a sweetfeed or molasses at any time is OK because something is better than nothing!

To Finish …

Endurance horses need a truly balanced diet to be able to compete to the best of their ability. Getting enough but not too much energy, enough but not too much of the right protein and making sure vitamin and mineral requirements are met, especially for those oh so important electrolyte minerals can be the difference between best conditioned or vetting out.

Using the tips given here along with FeedXL to do all of the number crunching for you, you can achieve a scientifically balanced diet, perfectly customised for your specific horse!



Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group


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