Encouraging Horses to Drink

How to keep horses (particularly picky ones) hydrated at and away from home

A mature horse’s body is approximately 70% water. This fact underscores just how important it is that all horses, regardless of age or classification, have a consistent source of clean, fresh water to drink at all times.

“There are a multitude of variables to take into consideration when we think about how much water our horses should be consuming daily,” says Amy Parker, MS, PAS, equine nutritionist and manager of technical services at McCauley Bros, in Versailles, Kentucky. “Water intake will depend upon the dry matter content of the diet, the horse’s activity level, and the environmental temperature.”

Normally, horses consume 1 gallon of water daily per 100 pounds of body weight (at environmental temperatures of 60-70 degrees F). Horses at a healthy body weight need to consume 2% of body weight in forage per day. So, a 1,000-pound horse eating the necessary 20 pounds of hay must drink an average of 9 to 10 gallons of water per day—about 2 quarts per pound of dry matter consumed. What your horse eats influences his water intake, says Parker. Horses eating diets high in dry matter such as hay consume more water than horses grazing good pasture all day. This is because as dry matter intake increases, the body needs additional water to maintain normal gastrointestinal (GI) tract function and saliva production. Water intake provides the horse with proper moisture to digest and transport feedstuff through the GI tract.

In contrast, “fresh forage pastures may contain as much as 90% moisture,” she says. “Therefore, horses will have lower water consumption because they are receiving that water from the grasses they are consuming.”

A horse’s water intake increases as the environmental temperature rises. When you add exercise, your horse might drink upward of 20 gallons of water per day, depending upon the intensity and duration of the exercise. Water requirements don’t necessarily decrease during cold weather, says Parker, but, rather, increase as horses consume more dry matter.

How To Keep Your Horse Drinking

Just because your horse has access to water does not guarantee he’s drinking enough to stay hydrated. Parker says horses prefer drinking water temperatures ranging from 45 to 65 degrees F. Although horses will consume water at temperatures outside that range, they prefer a more moderate water temperature.

Whether your horse’s water source is a tank, bucket, or automatic waterer, clean it at least once a week to discourage mosquito breeding and bacteria and algae growth. Never place a water source where it will be exposed to direct sunlight. This also applies to water hoses or pipes lead- ing to the source. The sun can heat the waterline to the point the water coming out of it is too hot to drink. Water temperature in excess of 85 degrees F is not uncommon in water sources on extremely hot days. In colder climates bury the waterline 3 to 5 feet below ground surface to ensure it does not freeze.

Because the average adult horse has a drinking speed of 3.5 to 7 liters per min- ute, Parker recommends using automatic watering or refill systems that fill at a rate that allows the horse to drink to his content without emptying the

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