Dirty Salt

It’s a topic that confuses a lot of people. What type of salt should they feed? The market place is full of many exaggerated if not downright bogus claims.

The periodic table lists at least 98 naturally occurring elements/minerals on this earth, but that doesn’t mean that all are necessary for life.  In fact, some are highly toxic. Others may be utilized by some forms of life, but not relevant to others.

Land-dwelling species evolve in large part depending on the capacity of their available diet to support survival. Plants/grasses take minerals from the soil, concentrating some, excluding some and passively having some that just come along for the  ride when the plant absorbs water.

The horse evolved to get its nutrients, including minerals, primarily from grasses. This  system works very well for horses eating a variety of vegetations from a variety of soil types over a large range except  for one nutrient, sodium.  Sodium is critical to life for the horse, but potentially toxic to plants.

To get around this, the horse also evolved with a strong taste/hunger for sodium in the form of salt, sodium chloride.  Sodium deposits are found on all earth continents in areas that were once covered by sea water. The salt eventually works its way to the surface and all feral animals, including horses, make periodic pilgrimages to these salt deposits to replenish their stores of sodium.

It is important to note here that sodium, in the form of salt, sodium chloride, is the *only* instinctive mineral hunger the horse has.

Salt deposits in various locations over the earth are contaminated by other minerals. Which minerals depends to some extent on where the salt surfaced but aluminum, iron and silica, being the most common minerals in the earth’s crust, are likely to be high in crude/natural  salts. Other minerals in the local dirt will also show up in the salt.

While these other minerals are “naturally” occurring, it does not in any way mean that they are beneficial for the  horse. Some can even be harmful, which is why commercially available salts are purified of other minerals.

Health  claims for sea salts or mined salts like Himalayan or Redmond have zero basis in fact.  Except for the sodium chloride (salt), your horse is designed to get his minerals from his food.  When you buy these mineral/dirt contaminated salts, you are paying a premium for a product that should actually cost less than purified salt.

Eleanor M Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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2 Responses to Dirty Salt

  1. Kinna Ohman-Leone says:

    Hello Eleanor,

    If one of our horses was licking dirt — and these behaviors stopped once I took your NRC Plus course and balanced her minerals — was she just wanting more salt? We had loose salt available at the time…so I assumed she was craving some other mineral when she was going after the dirt. What was this about if it wasn’t about minerals?

    Thanks so much! Kinna in Vermont

    • uckeleequine says:

      There’s no proof so far that they crave any mineral except salt. The horse may have been after salt, or just may not have felt well for some reason. Horses that are stressed by an illness of any sort often instinctively eat dirt. So do horses that have been stall confined for a long time and then get access to dirt.


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