Human Heat Exhaustion & Electrolytes
Its that time of year again! Hot, hot, hot! I’ve been seeing posts about people with heat exhaustion while riding, especially endurance riders. I’ve been there myself, too many times. After suffering from heat exhaustion you are more susceptible to it in the future. I am stubborn and tend to just keep going when the warning signs begin, and I have paid for that several times. Fortunately, I have learned a few strategies to help manage my own body when working in the heat, and to delay the onset of heat exhaustion.
One extra long training ride in particular stands out. It was VERY hot, VERY humid and we were heat training the horses on a long 20+ mile ride. I’ve always been one to focus on caring for my horse more than myself, as was the case here. My horse recieved plenty of electrolytes, but I didn’t take any myself. This was before I had discovered them. I did, however, drink a lot of water. A LOT. It was extremely hot and I knew I needed to stay hydrated. Looking back, how foolish was that? I am a vet tech with a thorough understanding of body chemistry. I knew that if you drink excessive water without replacing electrolytes you will dilute the blood and the electrolyte balance will be off. Like I said, I put a lot of thought and effort into caring for my horse, but not so much for myself…
So I ended up really sick. I made it home and collapsed. I couldn’t eat, felt naseous, weak, dizzy, had an extremely awful pounding head ache, and couldn’t think straight to sort out what I had done. It took 4 days for me to recover. Once I realized what the problem had been I did a lot of research into human electrolytes. I had never thought about it, but it was so obvious. Of course if my horse needs electrolytes, so would I!
I wanted an electrolyte that was not a water additive, as I wanted to be able to drink different fluids and change it up. I have also been known to change my taste preferences significantly at endurance rides, so I didn’t know whether I would end up liking the flavor on any given day, especially when working hard. I also wanted an electrolyte with a good dose of other electrolyes besides just sodium. After quite a bit of research I settled on SaltStick capsules.
Each capsule contains: 215 mg sodium, 63 mg potassium, 22 mg calcium, 11 mg magnesium, as well as 100 IU Vitamin D to help the body absorb and utilize calcium.
• Suggested use: 1 capsule per 30-60 minutes during activity.
So many human electrolytes are just sodium, or only have a small amount of the other electrolytes. Many are also a very low dose of sodium. Everyone’s needs are different, you’ll have to experiment to see what mix is best for you. I’m like my horse – I need a lot of electrolytes! Drinks like V8 and coconut water contain some electrolytes also, but not enough for my needs.
Discovering SaltSticks has been a real game changer for me. I really wish I would have found them sooner. Now I take one anytime I’m doing sigificant farm chores or riding on a hot day. It makes a HUGE difference in how I feel, especially after I get inside and the next day. I used to get severe headaches and feel like I had a hangover after sustained heat expsoure. SaltSticks have really minimized that. It can still happen, but it takes a lot longer and the results are not as severe now.
Other tips to minimize heat exhaustion are a wide brimmed hat to minimize sun exposure, long loose fitting sleeves preferably of a SPF material designed for cooling, sunscreen, and sponging yourself whenever you sponge your horse. On hot rides I sponge myself on any exposed skin whenever I have clear water to sponge my horse (I refrain from self sponging in the mud puddles). If it is REALLY hot I’ll also wring out my sponge on top of my helmet and let the water run through the vents, which feels amazing.
My favorite thing is my DaBrim helmet visor. I have the wide brim version, but there is also a petite brim style with less coverage. My DaBrim stays on really well 99% of the time. Occasionally on an extremely windy day while cantering it may come off, but that has only happened twice in a couple years. I also ride with my DaBrim in the rain to keep my face dry and divert rain behind me.
Here’s to lots of happy trails this summer! Take care of yourself! You’ll be better equiped to care for your horse if you are in good condition yourself!