Heated Water Trough Safety

Last week I shared with you several tips on how to keep your water troughs ice-free. Later that day I came across the following images and a story that I think we can all learn from.

When I’m taking a break between tasks I scroll through my Facebook feed to see what is going on in the world.  This time of year it is filled with seasonal posts of peoples horses, barn parties, their families and, of course, cat videos. However last Monday I saw the image above. At first I couldn’t figure exactly what it was, but it was looked vaguely familiar and, at the same time, unrecognizable.

I read the accompanying post and did a double take. It was the image of a melted rubber water trough. Given the commentary I had just written and the fact that I had included trough heaters I wanted to know more. I had heard of horses being shocked drinking from troughs with electric heaters that are not correctly grounded, but I had never seen nor heard of a trough melting!

The trough belongs to Charish Arthur, a United States Dressage Federation silver medalist and former long-time American Riding Instructors Association certified instructor, who came home last Saturday evening every horse owner’s nightmare: the sight of flames at her barn. Luckily the flames were not in her barn, but rather out in a pasture where a rubber trough was on fire and threatening to ignite the wood fence behind it. The electric trough heater was properly grounded, but did not have a cage around it to prevent the heating element from contacting the trough.

Charish has been winterizing galvanized water troughs the same way without incident for many years, but did not realize the risk associated with rubber troughs and the need for a cage around the heating element. She’d previously used the same heater in a galvanized tank that she replaced with the rubber one. The heater, therefore, predated the tank and any written warnings that might have come with it about installing it in a rubber tank were long gone.

In reading the responses to her thread, I learned that this had happened to several others, as well. It is a simple mistake to make but one with potentially devastating consequences.

If you have electric trough heaters installed at your barn be sure to take the following safety precautions:

  • Keep electric cords sheathed and safely away from horse’s teeth, feet, and legs;
  • Ensure any extension cables are suitable for outside use and correctly rated for the job they will be used for;
  • Plug cables into ground-fault circuit interrupter (or GFCI) outlets;
  • Always use a dedicated trough heater designed for the type of trough you have, and follow all manufacturer guidelines; and
  • Finally, be sure electric heaters are correctly grounded to prevent your horse from being shocked, or even electrocuted, while drinking.

This story has me wondering about other safety issues that might be lurking in our barns of which we’re unaware. Safety standards and precautions change over time, and it can be hard to keep up. What safety issues have you learned about that you think others should know about? Share them with us in the comments below.

Wishing you all a safe and very happy holiday season!