Some people might imagine that horses have a diet that consists of little more than grass and hay, but the reality is they eat far more than that.
It isn’t just the oats, nuts and pellets that boost their consumption, though these can provide more vitamins, fibre, minerals and energy to keep them healthy. Horses also need some salt.
Indeed, a horse salt lick can be one of the most important dietary supplements you can provide for your equine friends, as it has a vital role in providing the minerals they need.
Just like humans, horses are mammals whose biochemical systems require a certain level of salt. In particular, this is because it contains sodium and chlorine, two important trace elements used in various processes, not least water retention and muscle control.
Salt can get a bad name in human diets because we often consume too much of it, especially when factors like a sedentary lifestyle or cool climate lead to less sweating, which means less dissolved salt is secreted by the body.
Of course, too much sweating without salt replenishment is equally bad news, which is true for humans and horses alike. So for an active horse that sweats after running around a lot, a good salt supply is particularly necessary.
The great thing about salt licks is they can provide the horse with just what they need in the form they need it. When short of salt, horses may be seen licking stones, chewing bark or even trying to eat soil in a bid to get some salt. By having a salt lick on hand, their salt needs can be met.
Of course, like a human, horses can crave salt and too much can be harmful, raising cholesterol and causing other imbalances. While many horses will just lick as much as they need and return to munching on the grass of the field, others will consume too much.
It is easy to exaggerate this problem. Up to a point, their body can handle this because they will simply pass saltier urine and thus flush the excess salt out of their system. Often the key is to make sure they have lots of water to help them do this.
It is only when they really overdo it in a big way that they end up suffering medically in the same ways a human with an excessively salty diet would.
There are good reasons for weighing up the pros and cons of giving overindulgent horses salt licks because of the dangers of excess. If it likes to guzzle the entire block, it may be worth considering alternatives in such cases. One way to do this could be to add some salt to their other supplements to control their salt intake more easily.
Normally a horse will need about 50 grams of salt a day, although of course sweat-related factors like the temperature may vary this a little. Notwithstanding the caveat that some may need a more controlled means of salt provision, for most horses a salt lick remains the simplest and easiest way of doing this.