Electrolyte Use in Fall and Winter
“I have only a few weeks’ worth of electrolyte supplement left in my bucket. With fall and winter approaching, do I need to order more and continue feeding year-round? I ride my gelding in the off-season, but ask nothing strenuous of him, usually just quiet hacking a couple times a week.”
Your question is a timely one. Most horsemen and horsewomen classify electrolytes as “seasonal supplements.” That way of thinking is certainly justified. After all, hardworking horses sweat most copiously in the late spring and summer when heat and humidity are at their peak.
Electrolyte supplementation depends almost entirely on the amount of sweat produced. We have all witnessed sweat-drenched horses during summertime rides. These horses are obvious candidates for electrolyte supplementation. However, horses that remain in hard work throughout the cooler months and continue to sweat profusely may require a well-formulated electrolyte supplement, just as they would in the warmer seasons. On the flipside, horses that sweat occasionally (once or twice a week) can probably replenish electrolyte reserves by the consumption of a well-formulated ration.
From the description you gave, it seems your off-season riding is generally slow-paced, and from a physiological perspective, not taxing on your horse. Therefore, your gelding probably derives sufficient electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, and to a lesser extent, calcium and phosphorus) from his hay, concentrate, and salt block.
Be advised, however, that electrolyte supplementation should commence whenever sweating becomes a frequent (near-daily) occurrence. In the spring this may actually come about earlier than you might realize. Don’t wait for sweat to saturate a horse’s coat before beginning supplementation. If your horse’s winter coat is damp after riding, the horse is probably sweating sufficiently for electrolyte supplementation to be indicated.
As a side note, don’t be fooled by length of hair. As you know, the horse’s coat acts as a protective barrier that significantly reduces heat loss from the body. Performance horses of all stripes (racehorses, show hunters and jumpers, three-day event horses, polo ponies, dressage horses, etc.) are often clipped, either completely or partially, to assist in heat loss during intense exercise and to ease the grooming requirements associated with wooly horses. Clipping clearly reduces the ability of a horse to conserve heat, so blanketing is often necessary if horses are clipped in cold climates. Clipped or not, if the horse sweats regularly, electrolyte supplementation is necessary.
One final note: regarding the leftover electrolyte supplement you have, it is wise to contact the manufacturer to see if it can be kept for several months without harm to potency. If the manufacturer informs you of the shelf life and assures you that the product will be fine when spring rolls around, please take the time to read the storage recommendations and follow them to the letter. Many horsemen store supplements in conditions that are expressly contradicted on the label.