In a recent episode of “Hell's Kitchen,” the gourmet cooks were using unrefined salt because of the subtle difference in taste from that of refined table sale. The cooks all commented on the quality of taste and health. In the equine marketplace, we hear of the same claims that “raw” salts are better for horse’s health. There are also claims suggesting that your familiar salt block or table salt may be harmful or inadequate for your horse. But are these claims actually correct?
Exactly what is salt? Salt is a chemical composed of one molecule of sodium and one molecule of chlorine – sodium chloride, or NaCl. You may have heard of Halite, which is another term for salt in its natural form as rock salt. Halite forms isometric crystals in areas where ancient seas or salt lakes evaporated. This mineral is typically colorless or white, but may also be light blue, dark blue, purple, pink, red, orange, yellow or gray depending on the amount and type of impurities within.
What is wrong with processed salt. Basically nothing. Salt processing, basically just removes the contaminating minerals, providing us with the purest form of salt as possible. Most table salt sold for consumption contains a variety of additives, which address a variety of health concerns, especially in the developing world. The amounts of additives vary widely from country to country. Iodine is one such compound added to salt. Many of us think of iodine for the health benefits of people, but remember that horses need iodine as much as we do.
Don’t be fooled by claims that salt from the ancient sea beds provide a full spectrum of minerals that have been depleted from our soils and foods. Or, that the balance of minerals from the sea makes this salt nutritionally superior. Generally, the additional minerals within the salt itself is in such small amounts, it doesn't have any effect on our horses.
Pure sodium chloride is white. Salts with magnesium salts may be very bright white. Seawater salts evaporated in clay flats can be gray from the clay contamination as can mined salts. Brownish red colours could come from iron salts and the red and pink coloration is usually caused by high numbers of salt loving bacteria called halobacteria that thrive on salt and are trapped inside the salt deposits. Brown/block discoloration is just plain old dirt or sometimes volcanic ash. Halite that is amber or blue in colour has been exposed to natural radiation. But the bottom line is that the natural salt deposits found all over the world whether they are mined or evaporated from ocean water, are similar. The difference is in the form of extraction and the degree of contamination that produces the slightly different mineral profiles but nothing that amounts to anything of importance to your horse. The only reason, in this authors opinion, one should consider purchasing a designer salt would be if your horse dislikes the taste or texture of refined salt but consumes the raw salt. Otherwise, you’re paying much more for a product that should be the same cost as plain table salt.
What if your horse does not eat salt? One reason may be because the salt irritates their tongue or mouth or, they just don’t want to spend the time monotonously licking that salt block. Some horses just don’t like licking! The milder taste of natural salts may be the answer to those horses that do not like the taste of table salt. You could also add loose table salt to meals. Just remember that horses generally don't eat salty foods.
On average, a typical horse (400 kg or 1000 pounds) requires a minimum of one ounce (30 grams) of salt per day. For those larger horses, this amount needs to be increased proportionately as decreased proportionately for smaller horses.
Just remember that horses can lose large amounts of essential body salts through sweating due to exercise or during hot and humid weather which could lead to dehydration. Salt contains two of the most important electrolyte substances that balance fluid in the body, sodium and chloride (potassium being the third ) so it's important to make sure your horse has access to adequate amounts of salt to restore the balance. Most horses will actively seek out salt and self-supplement, generally there is no need to worry about them taking too much salt, so feel free to hang up those salt blocks!