Salt, sodium chloride (NaCl), is arguably the most important mineral. Animal life is believed to have emerged from the sea. Blood has many similarities to sea water, including a high concentration of sodium and chloride.
Salts of many colors
Salt is the only mineral for which the horse has an innate taste. Feral horses will make periodic pilgrimages to areas of natural salt deposits. The importance of salt to health, even life, is not debatable.
Without a doubt, your horse needs salt. Does it matter what type of salt? Not to his health.
Concentrated salt deposits are the beds of ancient seas which have dried up. They may be on the surface (salt flats) or underground, including under the ocean floor. Like all natural mineral deposits they are contaminated to varying extents by other minerals. The table salt you buy in the supermarket has been purified of the contaminating minerals.
This is no different from calcium, magnesium etc. supplements you buy. They are mined, cleaned of most if not all contaminating minerals then packaged and sold.
Raw salts have different colors depending on their contaminating minerals. Somewhere along the line someone got the bright idea that these basically dirty salts were more desirable, even offered a health benefit because of the myriad contaminating minerals they contain. Problem is, the mineral profile of raw salts has virtually nothing to do with the mineral requirements of your horse. When beneficial minerals are present it is in miniscule amounts. There are also many other minerals present, even in larger amounts, that are not nutritionally important or are downright toxic.
For example, a typical analysis of one popular “natural” salt’s trace minerals shows silicon (no deficiency ever noted), aluminum (potential toxic) and fluoride (potential toxic) as the three with the highest levels. It would take 150 kg (330 pounds) of this stuff to meet the average horse’s daily zinc requirement. Of the nutritionally important trace minerals, iodine level is highest but 2 oz would provide only 17% of the minimum daily requirement, much less than regular iodized salt.
Bottom line is that unrefined salt has zero health advantage over refined table salt. Despite this, you will be paying at least three times more for this raw material than you would for the purified version of exactly the same thing.
The bogus health claims and inflated price are bad enough but some places are turning things up another notch. It is claimed that standard loose salts and salt blocks are almost useless and potentially dangerous. They are also said to be bleached and altered with chemicals, among other things. There’s simply no truth to this.
Cooks often use different raw salts in their recipes because they have a subtle different taste. If you are using one because your horse likes the taste better and you don’t mind paying the outrageous price, fine. Be sure to read the label carefully though. Some of this stuff has other things added (including flavorings) and is only 40% salt. Otherwise, think hard before buying into the advertising hype. It really is bogus.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD