Does your horse need a mineral block?
- Well, meh. We all know that horses need added vitamins and minerals in their diets. The big one that comes to mind is salt. Other minerals, like copper, magnesium, and zinc usually need to be supplemented, especially if your horse is on hay or grass-only diet.
- If your horse is on a fortified feed or “grain” in addition to his forage, there’s a chance that minerals are added to the formula. The same typically holds true for vitamins. If you also feed supplements, it’s likely that the formulas are enhanced with minerals as well.
What minerals do horses need, and what do these macro and micro-minerals do?
- Horses need two types of minerals – the macro-minerals and the micro-minerals. Macro-minerals are needed in a larger quantity than the micro-minerals. There are two mineral ratios to be aware of for your horse, the calcium to phosphorus ratio and the zinc to copper ratio.
Macro-minerals include sodium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur.
You may recall that horse foods like wheat bran are high in phosphorus, which can throw off the calcium to phosphorus ratio.
- At the most basics levels, calcium makes up bones, and it also helps with some muscle functions. Phosphorus competes with calcium in the gut and also plays a role in bone function.
- Magnesium is required for muscles to do their jobs, and it activates many enzymes in your horse.
- Sodium helps nerves transmit information, and helps move critical amino acids across cells membranes. It also plays a role in your horse’s thirst response.
- Potassium, like sodium, is needed by your horse’s muscles.
- Chlorine is critical to fat digestion, as it helps make bile in your horse’s liver.
- Sulfur is a building block of other types of your horse’s needs – such as biotin, insulin, and chondroitin – a key component to joint health.
This is literally the best way to give your horse salt. Super easy. Add it to food, not water.
In your horse, micro-minerals are needed in much smaller quantities.
- Copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine are all micro-minerals, or trace minerals as they are sometimes called.
- These micro-minerals help your horse metabolize his meals, support connective tissues like tendons and ligaments, and help the muscles receive oxygen.
- As with most things horse diet-related, the Equine Nutritionist can help you determine what the best diet for your horse is. With so many feeds and supplements, it’s difficult to determine if your horse is getting too much, or not enough, of a mineral. Or vitamins. Or calories. It’s all very overwhelming.
MEH. You can’t rely on a red mineral block.
Are mineral blocks safe for horses? Can my horse fill his mineral needs with a red mineral block?
- A generic horse-safe mineral block is about 90% salt, the rest is minerals. Some mineral blocks are designed for cows and cows only, as they have added ingredients not safe for horses. Cattle mineral blocks often contain added medications, sulfur, and even protein that render these blocks dangerous for horses.
Back to the horse-safe mineral blocks. There are a few obstacles to using these mineral blocks for your horse.
- One, there is just not enough mineral content to meet your horse’s requirements, no matter how much he licks.
- Two, he’s not going to be licking that mineral block regularly enough to have a daily balanced diet. Or, he’s just going to eat the thing in big chunks, which I’ve seen happen. Horses are weird.
- There is some chatter about horses having sensitive tongues that don’t necessarily like the texture and repetitive nature of using a block, which might play a role in how often they use a block.
- A better scenario would be to have a daily and balanced supplement for vitamins and minerals or to have these mineral needs met in a fortified feed.
But what about the salt my horse needs?
- Plain white salt blocks are totally fine. However, because your horse can’t be relied upon to dose himself for salt, I suggest adding it by hand to his daily rations. One tablespoon per 500 lbs of his weight per day.
- Salt is readily available at your grocery store, it’s very affordable. If it happens to become clumpy or sticky while on your feed room shelf, shake it up to loosen the clumps. It’s fairly satisfying.
- You can always use a salt block, as an extra to his dosage, in case your horse is in the mood for some salt.
I’d rather mix my own salt into my horse’s feed. Then I know every day that his diet is the best it can be.
But what about that natural rock salt that looks like quartz?
- These salts vary in their mineral and salt content, it really depends on where they are sourced and produced. There are some that seem to have proper minerals, but again the dilemma boils down to your horse using them.
You can absolutely give your horse a mineral block that’s not for cattle.
- You can absolutely give your horse a salt block. Just make sure the requirements are met with feed or supplement, and the blocks are just extra.
- Sometimes the mineral blocks cost more, so factor that in also. If you have a horse that has a perfectly balanced diet, you won’t need a mineral block, as that might give him too much of some things, which throws it all out of whack.
- The absolute best resource for figuring out what supplements and minerals and vitamins your horse needs comes from an Equine Nutritionist. They can help you create the best diet for your horse!