The truth is, you’re probably not giving your horse enough salt. I know I wasn’t. A single trace mineral block out in the pasture doesn’t cut it. These rough blocks are designed for cattle not horses and your horse could be seriously lacking in the salt department.
My horse was constantly licking my hands, which was cute, but I didn’t realize the real reason until I talked with my vet. As it turns out, my horse was craving more salt and was trying to get it from the sweat on my hands. After a bit more research, I realized that I needed to give my horse access to multiple salt sources to properly satisfy his needs. But how much and what kind of salt do horses need?
Ideally, your horse needs animal grade, loose salt. Not just a salt block. Adding 4 teaspoons of loose salt each day into your horse’s grain or providing free access to loose salt is the best way to ensure your horse gets enough. Placing an additional white salt block and a trace mineral block in the pasture is also recommended.
Let’s go over in more detail why you should be giving your horse access to more salt and the best way to do so.
Do horses need salt or mineral blocks
While vital for a variety of bodily functions, minerals make up only a tiny fraction of a horse’s overall composition. A horse’s body is approximately 60 – 65% water, 30 – 35% protein, fats and carbohydrates and only 4% minerals like sodium chloride, aka, salt.
Most salt in a horse is lost through sweat. Working horses, or even a pasture horse on a hot day, sweat enough to become chronically low in salt if not remedied. Other critical trace minerals are also lost via the same process. Potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulfur all need to be kept in proper balance.
So, when someone asks if horses need salt or mineral blocks, I always tell them the answer is both. The difference is in the quantity. Horses need more salt than they do trace minerals.
Providing both salt blocks and mineral blocks is important. Many people believe that mineral blocks are best because they provide both salt and trace minerals. However, many horses don’t like the taste and texture of these rough blocks.
The average, non-working horse needs 25 grams of salt per day. Moderate workloads increase salt needs to 55-65 grams and heavy workloads can require 200 grams of salt to maintain an appropriate electrolyte balance.
That amount of salt requires a lot of licking. Chances are your horse will stop licking long before he gets enough salt from that rough mineral block. When horses require more salt, they can get frustrated and start biting at the hard salt block. Sometimes this habit leads to dental problems.
Giving your horse both a plain, white salt block and a mineral block allows him to choose which type he likes best. If your horse hates the taste and rough feel of a red mineral block, don’t fret. As long as he is eating a healthy diet, which includes grazing, plenty of hay and sometimes grain, he is getting enough trace minerals.
Once you discover your horse’s preference, buy his favorite in a big block but continue to offer the other in a smaller block. Better yet, keep buying both in the large blocks because they cost less than $10 and will last a long time. Providing both types is important because your horse might not be lacking minerals today but in a week he may need some.
How often should you give your horse salt
Your horse should always have free access to a salt block, loose salt or both. Horses will generally consume only the amount of salt they need on a daily basis if it’s provided.
You should replace a salt or mineral block when they have been eaten down to less than half.
If you are feeding loose salt, make sure it is animal grade salt purchased from a feed store. Avoid salts blended with minerals and don’t use iodized table salt.
You can mix salt into grain on a daily basis or you could instead give free access to loose salt.
A small feed tub kept under cover and securely attached to a post, fence or wall at waist height is the perfect location for keeping loose salt. It will likely need to be filled every two weeks with one horse. If you have more than one horse, keep an eye on how fast they go through it and refill as needed.
Placing 50 pound salt blocks in a plastic tray or milk crate will make them last longer. Less salt will melt into the ground, especially if kept under cover and out of the rain. They make holders for the smaller, 4 pound blocks that can be attached directly to a fence or stall wall.
A clean salt block also encourages your horse to lick it more. Be sure to wipe or spray off the block often with a hose to remove any dirt and grime.
If you want to guarantee that you horse is eating the right amount of salt everyday, you can mix the right proportion into his grain. About 4 teaspoons for sedentary horses and more for active horses. Just make sure to check if the feed contains any amounts of sodium chloride already so you don’t over do it. Most horses prefer grain without salt and yours might refuse to eat it mixed in.
Can a horse eat too much salt
There is always the chance that a horse can consume too much salt but it is much more common for them to not get enough.
Salt overload typically occurs in stall bound horses that are bored or when a salt deprived horse is given access to a large amount of loose salt for the first time. Overload also occurs when a high salt diet is fed without access to enough water.
Horses can tolerate high amounts of salt if they have access to fresh, clean water. The more salt they eat, the more water they need to drink.
For the under-stimulated horse, efforts should be made to relieve boredom first. In extreme cases, removing the salt block from their stall and switching to daily doses in their grain is the best option.
When introducing loose salt to your horse for the first time, do so slowly and in small quantities! Start with 2 table spoons a day and gradually introduce more until there is a small bucket’s worth. Horses that have never eaten loose salt get super excited and tend to eat the entire contents each time you dole it out. Eventually, they learn it’s always going to be there and stop gorging.
The clinical signs of salt overload include colic, diarrhea, weakness, staggering, hind limb paralysis, frequent urination, extreme thirst, recumbency and even death.
It is not suggested that you feed horses loose trace mineral salt because the potential for overdosing is higher with the trace minerals. It’s harder to consume too much from licking versus eating mouthfuls of loose minerals.
Best salt blocks for horses
Now that you know how important salt is for your horse, let’s talk about the best options and how much it will cost you.
Tractor Supply is a great farm supply chain and is located across the country. If you don’t have one near you, other local feeds stores will most likely carry the same type of salt at similar prices.
Here are the best types of salt you can buy for your horse at Tractor Supply.
Size: 50 lb block
Ingredients: non-iodized salt
This is your basic, smooth, white salt block. Horses always enjoy licking this type of salt block.
Size: 50 lb block
Ingredients: salt, sodium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, cobalt, iodine
Advertised as cattle feed, these red mineral blocks are also safe for horses. They are just rough on their tongues and horses might not prefer the taste.
Weight: 50 lb bag, loose salt
Ingredients: non-iodized salt
This 50 pound bag of animal grade salt is safe for free access feeding to all livestock.
Size: 7.3 lbs
Himalayan salt is another great option for horses that simply don’t like licking compressed salt blocks or eating loose salt. These pink and white salt “rocks” come on a rope which make keeping them off the ground supper easy. Since the salt is hanging and round in shape, your horse can only consume it via licking. Biting is very difficult. This is a great option to keep in your horse trailer or to take with you on the road for horse shows.
The bottom line is that your horse should always have free access to plenty of salt. In all honesty, the best salt for your horse is the kind he readily eats.
The best way to ensure this is to provide multiple options. Keep a small bucket of loose salt along with a white salt block and a red trace mineral block always available. Your horse will choose his favorite source and maybe even go back and forth between them.
Remember, it is also essential that your horse has access to clean, fresh water. The more salt he eats, the more water he needs to drink. Make sure to check out my secretes to keeping your horse’s water tank clean. It will extend the time between cleanings!