Home | Rates | Articles | Links |


Twenty-six states were said to be suffering under drought conditions during the Summer of 2012. Hay had become difficult or impossible to harvest without irrigation in those states.

Prices for feed were higher than ever. Lack of forage was a big concern, but so was water. 2013 was just as hot and 2014 is being predicted as yet another hot Summer.

Horses will consume as much as 60% more water when it is cooler than the outside temperature during the hot months. A horse only needs one quart of water per pound of feed at 0°F (18°C), but a gallon of water in required at 100°F (38°C). Activity may increase a horse's water requirement by as much as 300%. When a horse is hot and tired, it's recommended to wait for at least 30 minutes before giving it unlimited access to water to prevent colic. If the horse survives colic it can still progress to laminitis and eventually founder. 

A dehydrated horse will have sunken eyes, its flank will be tucked up, and it will have less skin elasticity. Level of dehydration can be checked for by grasping the skin, releasing and watching it return to normal. A two to five second return indicates mild dehydration - a five to ten second return indicates severe dehydration. Veterinary administered fluid and electrolyte therapy may be required in some cases. 

A horse can live longer without food than water. Two days without water will produce colic. Experiments conducted in France in 1882 proved that horses can live only five or six days without water, but can live 20 to 25 days without food if they have water. Thankfully they don’t do experiments like that any more. In Winter, horses have gone several months without water if they can eat snow. It takes about 12 quarts of snow to make one quart of water. 

Water is important in digestion, in body temperature regulation, and in waste removal. An 1100 pound horse is composed of nearly 90 gallons of water or 70% of its body weight. Dehydration can be due to lack of water supply, water with high mineral or salt content causing severe diarrhea, illness causing diarrhea, sweating due to work or nervousness, or inability to drink due to physical impairment. 

Compared to other species, the horse has a high capacity for athletic activity, yet a reduced ability to dissipate heat due to a large muscle mass and a relatively small body surface area. During exercise the metabolic rate and rate of heat generation may increase as much as 50 times with 80% of generated energy given off as heat. The body's ability to dissipate heat is reduced by: high temperature, high humidity, diminished ability to sweat, exposure to direct sunlight, and lack of air movement. 

A lactating mare producing 30 pounds of milk per day requires an additional five gallons of water over the normal maintenance requirement. Lactation may increase the water requirement by 50 to 100%. Be sure to have enough buckets or water containers in the stall or pen to provide for individual needs. Over consumption of water is rare but more likely to occur when automatic waterers are used in stalls. 

Traveling horses may reduce water consumption due to taste preferences. This can be solved by hauling water from your home water source, flavoring the horse's water at home with pop or Kool-Aid and then making the same solution away from home, feeding a wet feed such as bran mash, or teaching your horse to drink from a hose. Water intake is said to be influenced by its pH. Water testing is necessary in suspect areas. Arab horses in general are more resilient to water deprivation than other horse breeds. 

Water or feed toxicity can be a problem, especially in Summer months. In the mid-west Selenium toxicity or alkali disease can be a problem when horses consume water with high Selenium content. Selenium is an unusual mineral since a small amount is required for normal body function, but an excess outside the normal narrow range produces disease. A horse that has been "alkalied" will often slough its mane and tail hair and appear to be foundered. Recovery is possible by replacing the offending water and feed source. The hooves often slough and may have to be treated by shoeing with therapeutic shoes during the recovery period. On the east and west coast(especially on Vancouver Island) Selenium deficiency is a problem that is remedied by adding a small amount of the mineral to the feed. 

Drought conditions can cause pastured horses to eat green toxic plants that they normally would avoid. Accumulator plants that take up toxic elements from the soil such as Selenium may become more attractive to them during these stressful conditions when other plants won't grow. 

Algae grows quickly in warm weather and can contaminate your water in the space of a few hours. Perhaps your horse has decided that his hay or feed would look good floating around in his trough. Leaves, branches, bark, small animals, feathers and more can all easily make their way into a bucket.

One way or another, your horse’s water is going to get dirty, and dirty water is dangerous for many reasons. Algae can quickly become toxic. Toxic blue-green algae can be a significant problem in Summer water sources. The active toxins are produced by more than 30 species of cyanobacteria.

Long lasting warm weather leads to more extensive concentration of the toxic bacteria. Up to 90% of a lethal dose can be ingested without an outwardly visible effect. Death results from liver hemorrage and hypervolemic shock. Neurotoxins cause death proceeded by muscle tremors. Animals that survive acute poisoning can have signs of photo sensitization in areas exposed to light such as the nose, ears and back followed by hair loss and sloughing of skin. 

Clean your horse’s water source regularly. It doesn’t matter what type of bucket or device you use, you need to make sure it’s clean. This can be something of a nuisance, as they tend to get very dirty very quickly.
If you use something small, like a bucket or tub, empty and wipe it out once a day – five minutes every day is much easier for you (and healthier for your horse) than 20 minutes once a week, or a whole day once a month.
There are some cleaning agents that can be used to help clean the water source, but be careful.

One common household remedy is to clean the trough with bleach, and add a capful to the fresh water to prevent algae growing. However, even then, you will have to clean your trough every two or three days – and if you’re using town water, the water is already chlorinated for human use. Ask yourself: is it really necessary to bleach your horses water when the workload is the same anyway? Would you drink from a glass that had bleach poured in it? Use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub at the sides of your water source, rather than simply wiping over them. Algae is very persistent, and you may find you’re simply wiping over the slime, rather than removing it from the trough walls.

Keep the water fresh by changing the water regularly – this will ensure clean, cool water, as well as discouraging algae and mites that thrive on still, stagnant water. Look at ways to naturally keep the water clean.  Aside from bleach (as discussed above), another popular household remedy is Apple Cider Vinegar. Apart from it’s numerous health benefits to your horse, Apple Cider Vinegar is said to deter most flying bugs and some algae growth. An extra bonus – when horses ingest water treated with a dose of Apple Cider Vinegar regularly, their coat becomes shinier, their digestive system healthier, and it acts as a natural fly spray!

If you use large tanks to water multiple horses (on a ranch or breeding farm, for example), consider koi or catfish. These will feed off the algae that grow in the tank, keeping it down and requiring no extra feeding from you. Most horses don’t mind the fish. However, keeping the water fresh by changing it over or perhaps leaving a hose on a slow drip for a few hours a day is still necessary to ensure clean water that doesn’t stagnate.

Be safe and be sure your horse has sufficient clean, cool, fresh water during the hot summer months. The NRC recommends a water to feed ratio of 3.6 to 1 for horses or about 4 pounds of water for every pound of food. Therefore, a horse eating 20 pounds of dry feed (2% of its body weight of a 1000 pound horse) should drink about two five gallon buckets of water per day since a gallon weighs about 8 pounds. Horses grazing damp pasture grass may drink less since grass can contain 60 to 75% water whereas hay is only 10% water. Horses on a protein rich diet such as alfalfa hay will drink more than horses on grass hay. Sweating working horses will drink more than idle ones. 

The first step to a healthy horse is hydration – but the water must be clean. Horses aren’t able to vomit, so once a horse has ingested bad water or food, it has to pass right through their system. However, the danger doesn’t only lie in the water – horses have a very good sense of smell and taste, and will refuse to drink (even to the point of dehydration) if their water is polluted, stagnant or even if their water supply changes abruptly. The equestrian digestive system requires a lot of water to help it work; a dehydrated horse is much more prone to colic, as the dry feed compacts in their stomach. So the danger lies in your horse refusing to drink just as much as it does in your horse willingly drinking bad water.

However, horses have individual preferences and the old adage applies, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." And why won’t they drink? One of Nature’s dirty tricks is that a dehydrated horse in distress and in immediate need of water will not drink when it is offered.  The reason for this is because when we humans sweat, we sweat mainly water and the salt build-up in our bodies’ kicks in our thirst response. When a horse sweats, he loses equal  amounts of salt and water, so because there is no salt build-up in his body, his thirst sensors fail to recognize this loss of water. Your horse is not being stubborn – his body is just not giving him an early warning signal to drink. All the more reason therefore, to get him to drink!

Think about your horse’s water right now. Would you drink it? Whether you use an automatic feeder, a rubber bucket, an old bathtub, a tank, or a cement, rubber or plastic trough, chances are you wouldn’t willingly take a straw and live off it for a day. Yet we expect our horses to live off it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and they need a lot more water than we do.

Common sense is usually all it takes to know whether the water sitting in your trough is suitable for your horse or not – but if you’re ever in doubt, just ask yourself, “Would I drink that? If not, why?”.

(Note that no information given on this website should be considered
a substitute for consulting your veterinarian or farrier)

Home | Articles Index