Leading Your Horse to Water

By Juliette Beauchamp

As the winter months and colder temperatures approach, it is vitally important to stay on top of your horse’s water consumption. The average horse drinks about eight to ten gallons of water per day, and in hot summer months or during intensive work, this number can double. Water contributes about 65% of the average horse’s body weight. As the temperature decreases however, many horses begin to drink less water which can lead to some health issues.

There are six main groups of nutrients; water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are considered macronutrients, or those needed in large amounts. Minerals and vitamins are classified as micronutrients since they’re needed in small quantities. Water is crucial to all aspects of horse health. Dehydration can quickly cause decreased athletic performance and a dehydrated horse can become impacted, leading to colic.

There are some simple guidelines to follow when it comes to providing water for your horse. Always be sure water sources and containers are scrupulously clean. Regularly checking to be sure water buckets are full and clean is very important. This applies to horses in turnout as well. It is not uncommon for birds or other small animals to drown in large water troughs, and horses will not (and should not) drink rancid water.

Horses also prefer their water to be cool; not too cold or too hot. Using insulated buckets or automatic waterers will help prevent water from freezing in the winter and keep it cool in the summer.

Some horses are picky about their water when on the road away from home. There are a few tricks to help keep these horses hydrated. Feeding soaked beet pulp can be an excellent way to include extra water, as well as calories. Simply soaking the horse’s regular ration can also be helpful; most textured grains will absorb a fair amount of water. Many horse owners offer free choice salt blocks, and loose salt can also be added to the horse’s feed. There are many electrolyte supplements on the market which can be administered via syringe or mixed into grain, as well as added to the horse’s water supply.

Adding peppermint oil or Kool-Aid to your horse’s water away from home can help mask the taste of strange water. Be sure your horse has been accustomed to this at home first. Sliced apples or carrots in the water can also encourage a picky drinker to consume more water.

If you suspect that your horse may be dehydrated, there are two quick tests anyone can perform at home or ringside. Pinch a roll of skin along your horse’s neck and count the seconds it takes the skin to lie flat. Less than one second is normal and indicates a well-hydrated horse. If it takes more than one second for the skin to bounce back flat, your horse may be dehydrated. Another quick test is capillary refill time. Pushing on your horse’s gums will blanch the gum tissue. The gums should quickly return to pink once you remove pressure. If it takes longer than two and a half seconds to return to its normal pink color, this is another sign of possible dehydration.

Maintaining your horse’s hydration is very important, but with careful management and attention you can help ensure your horse’s health.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 print edition of The Plaid Horse.