Heated Water Trough Safety

Are you using heated water buckets or troughs this winter? Stay safe with these tips.
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Heated Water Trough Safety
Charish Arthur, USDF Silver Medalist and former long time ARIA Certified Instructor shared on a Facebook post 'What not to do'. | Photo: Courtesy Charish Arthur

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!

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

One Response

  1. My miniature horse ripped her upper eyelid on the metal loop of a basic style rubber water bucket. (Some brands attach the metal hanger arm which connects across to sides of the bucket In the design that doesn’t completely close the metal loop.the mare ripped her eyelid in the rough edge of the metal loop after taking a drink. Nasty wound which was sewn by our slugs responding vet. Bucket Buyer beware .

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