Water is as important to horses as it is to humans. Having too much or too little water can seriously affect their health.
Maintaining the right balance is crucial to a horse’s health, well-being, comfort, and performance. You may find it challenging to determine if your horse has adequate water intake or if there is room for improvement.
So what are the telltale signs that your horse is dehydrated? How often should you be watering a horse, and what changes should you make to its watering schedule? Let’s consider some of the key factors that affect hydration so you can understand how to keep your horses in their peak condition.
Why Watering Horses Is Important
Proper hydration is essential to ensuring your horse’s good health. A general guideline is that horses consume between five and fifteen gallons of water daily.
However, pregnant mares require around 10% more water, while lactating mares require almost double their usual water consumption.
Let’s take a closer look at why watering a horse optimally is important.
Water helps a horse with digestion. The water helps break down foods, which releases essential nutrients that it needs to grow and develop properly. It also helps carry those nutrients to different parts of the body.
A horse has a built-in cooling system, almost like an air conditioner.
When your horse has been sprinting on the track or hard at work in the field, it starts to overheat. When this happens, a horse’s body converts water into sweat to help cool it down. This natural cooling system helps the horse maintain its energy levels and stay comfortable.
Adequate water intake is essential to building a horse’s immune system and preventing impaction colic. Impaction colic is caused when food is partially digested but cannot be fully digested due to a lack of water and can be fatal.
There are many other health benefits to properly watering horses. Horses need water to help lubricate their joints, which aids in smooth movements. It also helps prevent brittle hooves, which can crack and cause a horse severe pain.
Simple Signs Of Horse Dehydration Problems
The first physical signs of dehydration will appear in the horse’s eyes, mouth, gums, and skin. The eyes may appear sunken, red, dry, and irritated. The mouth may become dry or even feel sticky, and the horse’s skin could lose elasticity.
A lactating mare that isn’t hydrated won’t be able to produce enough milk for her foal. In the early months, a mare produces up to six gallons of milk per day. However, if she isn’t producing milk when she should be, then there is a hydration concern.
Insufficient hydration could also cause a loss of appetite, and your horse may seem sluggish due to a lack of energy.
You should also watch out for irregular breathing, dark urine, or dry droppings, as these are clear indications that your horse is not well-hydrated.
Key Factors That Influence A Horse’s Water Consumption
A horse’s water intake will differ based on factors like the horse’s feed, body weight, climate, and temperature, as well as the horse’s activity. The type of work that the horse does and its overall health can also affect how much water it will drink.
Let’s look at some of these key factors.
The regularity of watering a horse is often directly related to the horse’s diet. If they consume a lot of dry food, like hay or fresh grass pellets, they may require more water. Additionally, if your horse’s diet has a high fibre or salt content, they may require extra hydration.
Fresh grass contains approximately 80% moisture and provides a higher level of hydration. On the other hand, mature grass contains slightly less moisture at 70%.
Generally, more mature grass is around 5 cm or higher. It is older, slightly less palatable and not as easy to digest. Think of it like stale bread. It is just a lot harder to get down, and you need more water to make it go down easier.
Grass pellets are made from grass that is harvested, dried out, and then compressed into smaller, chewable pellets. They offer a lot of nutrients and last for a long time. However, they only offer around 15% moisture, while hay contains even less at 12%.
If your horses feed on hay and they seem a little dehydrated, it may be a good idea to start soaking their hay. Soaked hay adds extra moisture, cleans off any dust it may have gathered, and makes it easier to digest.
However, it’s best to introduce this to your horse’s diet slowly so that you can monitor its reaction to the new feed.
The weather can play a big part in watering horses. In warm temperatures and if they have a heavy workday, they may drink more water.
Humidity can also cause the horse to sweat, therefore increasing its water needs. As mentioned, a horse sweats to cool down, which causes it to lose moisture and body salts.
The horses must stay hydrated in these circumstances.
In cold weather, you may need to encourage drinking or bring the water to room temperature if it is icy cold. Horses generally consume less water in cold weather as they sweat less. However, you still need to ensure that your horse has constant access to fresh, clean water. It may also be a good idea to invest in electric water heaters to keep the water at a drinkable temperature when it’s freezing outside.
A horse must always have access to clean, fresh water. While the water quality may not have previously been a consideration, it is something that can affect your horse’s health.
Think about a horse water trough. Standing water can attract insects, and bacteria and algae can grow in the troughs. Are they regularly cleaned out and filled with clean, fresh water? To avoid standing water contamination, cleaning the water troughs is crucial.
Temperature of the Water
The temperature of the water is also important. Horses prefer water that is at room temperature. If the water is too hot or too cold, it could be unappetising to the horse, and they may avoid drinking it. It could also cause their body temperature to rise. On the other hand, if the water is too cold, it can cause discomfort.
If your horse has an electrolyte imbalance, they could struggle to consume water. It may be worth considering adding electrolyte additives to the horse feed. It’s best in this instance to speak to a veterinarian about additional supplements.
Regularly Check Water Levels
It is important to ensure your horse has access to sufficient water, especially during bouts of hot weather or cold seasons, while travelling, or during exercise. If your horse has been working hard, they may drink more water than usual. Keep water buckets in the stables so horses can drink when they need water.
But what about the times when you can’t be around all day to top up the water? You can get a self-filling trough to save time. They are convenient and ensure there is always sufficient water available for watering horses. One way to monitor your horse’s water intake is to mark the water troughs or measure their daily water intake to take note of any changes.
The Effects Of Underwatering Horses
If your horse does not receive sufficient water, they can dehydrate or suffer health issues like kidney failure. Insufficient water intake can also cause an electrolyte imbalance. If this happens, the horse will not perform at its optimal level. There could also be decreased skin elasticity.
If you are still worried, you can watch your horse drink water and monitor its intake for some time. A health concern may arise if the horse refuses to drink water. If your horse drinks too much water, it may also be concerning. Perhaps it is time to call in the veterinarian.
Quick Tips For Watering Horses
- Give your horse water that is fresh and clean every day.
- Clean out the water troughs regularly, ensuring there is no room for bacteria to cultivate.
- In cold weather, make sure there isn’t any ice on the water troughs, as horses still need access to fresh, clean water.
- In hot weather, do regular checks on the water supply. The drinking water could evaporate quicker, and with increased water intake, the water could need topping up more regularly.
- If you’re worried about your horse’s water consumption, it may be best to speak to a veterinarian or equine nutritionist, especially if you have a pregnant or lactating mare.
Why is my horse drinking a lot of water?
A horse drinks between 5 and 15 gallons of water every day. If your horse is drinking an excessive amount of water, it could be due to a health issue. Look out for swollen legs and a loss of appetite, as well as your horse being lethargic. Call in a veterinarian to check your horse as soon as possible.
What should I do if my horse doesn’t like water?
It’s important to know why your horse isn’t enjoying the water. Some horses are just picky drinkers. You can check the water temperature and change the trough or water bucket. Or, try flavouring the water with apple slices.
Is rainwater safe to use for horse watering?
If the rainwater is clean, then it should generally be safe for horses. Don’t collect water that runs off a roof, as this could collect bacteria and particles that are not safe for consumption. Use a proper container to collect and store the rainwater to water your horses.
Equine research has shown how important watering horses is for a horse’s health and top performance levels.
Taking care of your horse’s feed and monitoring their water intake is crucial to ensuring you get the best out of your horse.
Watering a horse is simple if you take the time to get to know your horse. Making sure your horse has the most essential nutrient, water, is crucial. Your horse depends on it.