The Most Under-Appreciated Performance Enhancer

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sweaty harness horse

Water as sweat regulates body temperature to permit cellular reactions to continue normally.


Next to air, water is the single most important factor in supporting good performance and maximizing response to training and conditioning. It’s free, too.

The horse's body is about 70% water. From brain functioning to the cushion of joint cartilage and deformability of bones, water plays a critical role in the function of every cell. 

From a performance standpoint, water as sweat regulates body temperature to permit cellular reactions to continue normally. Water in the bloodstream maintains blood volume and pressure to deliver nutrients to working tissues and remove waste materials. Water in and surrounding the cells facilitates nerve transmission and generation of energy. During recovery from exercise it takes 7 grams of water to replenish just 1 gram of glycogen.

Exercise generates tremendous amounts of heat. Because the horse can only survive with body temperature within a fairly narrow range, cooling mechanisms take precedence over all other functions needing water, and the horse will continue to sweat until on the brink of death. Because of the rapid and large loss of water through sweat (minimum of at least 1 gallon per hour for the average horse), other body functions are rapidly compromised. In fact, inadequate body hydration likely accounts for more subpar performance than all other causes combined.

Research has confirmed that only about a 2% loss of body water weight can result in a 10% decrease in performance. Having clean water available at all times, including as much as they want during and after exercise, is the first step in ensuring hydration is ideal in hot weather. But of course, the horse also has to drink it.

How many times have you been away from home at a competition or ride only to find your horse won't drink the water there? It's extremely common. One solution is to bring water from home. A large picnic cooler filled with half water and half ice will survive even a long hot trip in the back of a truck. Also bring your bucket from home.

If you can't always have your horse close to your truck and water, get the horse accustomed to a flavored water at home. Equine flavoring products can be used, preferably sugar free, or use a handful of feed. The advantage of the sugar-free flavorings is they won't support bacterial growth in the heat and are easier to clean out of the bucket.

Getting the water in is only half the battle. To keep it there your horse must have normal electrolyte levels both in the blood and in the tissues. It is especially important to stay on top of sodium and chloride by remembering to give the horse both his baseline salt requirement and to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. See this recent blog for details:
https://drkhorsesense.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/electrolyte-supplements/.

The next time your horse seems to be flagging in the heat, remember the solution might be as simple as a long drink and electrolyte replacement. You will see the results within minutes.

Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, offers products that are rich in antioxidants for healthy immune function.

Equi Sweet liquid flavorings are delicious, sugar-free sweeteners that mask the taste of medications or supplements. Using these in water encourages horses to drink water when away from home. This product is great for weaning horses off of high-sugar sweet feeds. Sweetened with Stevia, it will not cause an insulin rise. It has zero calories, zero carbs, and a zero effect on the glycemic index. It comes in tasty Molasses, Apple-Banana and Peppermint flavors.

Cell-Lyte 2000 is a fast-acting electrolyte paste to quickly replenish major electrolytes and trace minerals lost in sweat. Supports hydration, energy production, heart and lung function, and stress recovery. For use pre- and post-event to maintain the balance and flow of vital body fluids, and it provides healthy support for the muscles and circulatory system.

Pro-Lyte is a highly concentrated, low-sugar electrolyte. Add this to feed or water for fast results in maintaining the balance and flow of vital body fluids and the healthy function of the muscles and circulatory system. It is a palatable, apple-flavored source of sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium for use pre- and post-event.

This article was written by Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition. She has been an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for more than 30 years, and she is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushing's and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. For more information visit www.ecirhorse.org.

Uckele Health & Nutrition is an innovation-driven health company committed to being on the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years. Uckele takes pride in formulating and manufacturing a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances for equine athletes and companion animals to help achieve optimal health. For more information visit www.uckele.com.