How do I manage my horse’s water intake?
QI often worry that my horse isn’t drinking enough. How much water should he be consuming each day and how can I ensure that he gets the amount he needs? What are signs that indicate he isn’t getting enough?
AWater is the most essential nutrient for your horse, and fresh, clean, cool water must always be available to him. Dehydration can lead to poor perfor- mance, lethargy, colic, kidney damage, collapse and even death. Unfortunately, there are people who intentionally withhold water at shows to quiet their horses. This is an extremely dangerous practice and never appropriate. In addition to harming the horse, withholding water can lead to yellow cards and fines if you are caught.
Water makes up about 70 percent of a horse’s total body weight, and maintaining this balance is essential. The average horse will drink 5 to 15 gallons per day or about 1 gallon per 100 pounds of body weight. Broodmares need even more—about 20 gallons per day to produce milk for their foals.
One of the most important factors determining water intake is dry matter intake, for instance, how much forage your horse is eating. Horses sweat up to 2 to 3 gallons per day, so how hard your horse works also has a significant effect and may triple the water requirements. Heat, humidity and health status also have an effect.
Monitoring your horse’s water intake is important to detect potential changes in health. Buckets are the best way to monitor for changes. If you use automatic waterers, they should be checked daily to make sure they are functioning properly. It may take a new horse some time to figure out how to use an automatic waterer, so horses who have not used one before should have water buckets available until they are seen drinking water (and swallowing it, not just playing in it) from the automatic waterer. Ironically, thirst does not always correlate with dehydration, so your horse may not drink when he needs it the most.
Waterers, tanks and buckets must be cleaned regularly to prevent build-up of algae, scum and mosquito larvae. If you are unsure of the water quality, have it tested. Occasionally, wells have high levels of bacteria or nitrates that can cause illness.
You can monitor your horse’s hydration by evaluating the following: UÊ ÃÊ}Õ Ã]ÊÜ V ÊÃ Õ `ÊLiÊ ÃÌÊ
“Water makes up about 70 percent of a horse, s total body weight, and maintaining this balance is essential. The average horse will drink 5 to 15 gallons per day.”
U His iyis an` vlanks, which shoul` not
bi sunkin U /hi skin on his nick, which shoul`
snap back whin pinchi` U His briathing pattirn, which shoul` bi
ivin an` rigularpnot panting U /hi capillary rivill ov his gums. /his can bi ivaluati` by prissing your thumb on thi horsi½s gums to blanch out thi skin, thin counting thi numbir ov sicon`s until thi color riturns. It shoul` taki liss than two sicon`s.
In thi wintir, horsis will `rink liss watir, which will `icriasi vii` consumption risulting in liss inirgy vor thi horsi. It may also lia` to vii` impactions ov thi intistinis. It is important to privint vriizing ov tanks an` buckits by using watir hiatirs or warm watir. Chick thi watir siviral timis `aily to maki suri it isn½t vrozin, or, iv using ilictric hiatirs, that thi horsi is not gitting a mil` shock whin `rinking. /hi watir shoul` bi kipt bitwiin 4x an` 60 `igriis Fahrinhiit at all timis. -now is not an appropriati watir sourci.
Provi`ing vrii-choici traci miniralizi` salt can incouragi your horsi to `rink. Iv your horsi `ois not usi his salt block, consi`ir a``ing 1 tablispoon ov tabli salt to his grain onci or twici `aily. Iv your horsi still rivusis to `rink, appli juici, ilictrolytis, Kool-Ai`, molassis or ivin alvalva pillits may bi a``i` to oni buckit to incouragi watir
consumption but bi suri to havi oni buckit ov plain watir as will. /his is also usivul whin traviling to vlavor thi watir in niw placis.
7hin traviling to shows, clinics or othir public placis, kiip biosicurity in min`. Do not allow your horsi to `rink out ov common tanks or usi a `irty buckit to collict watir vrom a common aria. Do not usi othir horsis½ watir buckits unliss thiy havi biin cliani` an` `isinvicti` with bliach. Lastly, `o not put thi in` ov a hosi `irictly into your buckits to vill, but instia` hol` thi watir abovi thi buckit.
7ith appropriati cari an` a littli ivvort, you can insuri that your horsi gits thi amount ov watir hi nii`s.
Lisa Borzynski, DVM, is a 1993 graduate of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and a veterinarian at the Wisconsin Equine Clinic and Hospital specializing in sporthorse medicine and lameness. She is also an FEI veterinarian, working as part of the veterinary team for the first week of the 2018 World Equestrian Games in the sports of eventing, dressage, paradressage and endurance. An active competitor on the eventing and hunter/jumper circuits, she has also competed in dressage. She is based in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
In winter, check your horse, s water bucket several times daily to make sure it isn't frozen.