Salt – Essential for Life
Salt is an essential nutrient. It is not produced by the body, but it is required for life. Horses have an innate appetite for salt. When available, most horses will consume enough salt to meet their needs.
Salt is made up of the minerals sodium and chloride. Sodium is important for muscle contraction, conduction of nerve impulses, and digestion of protein. Sodium also plays a key role in the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Chloride is essential for the maintenance of blood pH and enhances the transport of carbon dioxide from tissues to the lungs.
Since pasture grasses and hays contain little sodium, salt (sodium chloride) is often added to concentrates formulated for horses. Free-choice salt, either plain or trace-mineralized, can also be offered to horses. A salt block is the most common form of sodium chloride that is fed to horses.
While salt blocks were originally designed for animals that have rough tongues, such as cattle, they are also suitable for horses. However, if a horse bites or gnaws at the corners of a block, it is possible that he is not getting enough salt by licking the block. Therefore, it might be preferable to feed loose salt in this scenario. If loose salt is provided in the pasture, it should be placed in a covered feeder. Also consider placing salt in at least two widely-spaced locations to ensure all horses have access to salt, especially if there are some that are aggressive in the bunch.