Tying Up and Hydration: How to Get a Horse to Drink

A reader’s horse who doesn’t like to drink when traveling recently tied up while running cross-country at an event. Our nutritionist offers advice to get the horse to hydrate in the future.
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Tying Up and Hydration: How to Get a Horse To Drink
If increasing the horse's sodium intake doesn't do the trick, some other ways you can encourage them to drink include making sure the water is warm enough, soaking hay, or putting apple juice in the water. | Photo: iStock

Q.​ Recently my horse tied-up while running cross-country. This has happened before but not for well over a year. He’s not a good drinker while traveling and barely drank 15 gallons over three days, which actually is more than normal when away from home. My vet thinks the tying-up is most likely related to hydration. What can I do to get him drinking more?

A. Having a horse that won’t drink while traveling and staying away from home is both frustrating and concerning. It can be near impossible to make a horse drink, but the good news is there are some things you can try.

My first recommendation is to increase the horse’s daily sodium intake. Sodium helps stimulate thirst, so maintaining adequate amounts in your horse’s blood is very important. Horse sweat contains a lot of chloride and sodium, so it’s possible that if your horse is sweating heavily, his sodium levels can drop, resulting in a reduced desire to drink

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Written by:

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.

2 Responses

  1. All of these recommendations are great but here is one trick that we used.. We always prepared to make sure our livestock would stay hydrated when traveling to a show where we knew the water had a particular odor… We would add a little molasses to the water at home for a week or so before travelling.. just enough to flavor the water a bit.. then we would do the same at the show venue after we arrived.. Never had a problem.. of course we always made sure that they had adequate salt in the diet..

  2. I have found it extremely useful to teach my horses to drink on cue. It is actually easy to do if your horse tends to like to take a drink after exercise. All you do is lead your horse to his water when you know he is likely to be thirsty (hence why post-exercise works well), point to the water, and give him whatever verbal cue you want to use (I just say “Drink!” in a certain tone of voice). At the moment he takes a drink, you say “Good!” and offer him a treat. It helps if your horse already knows that “Good!” marks a correct behavior and gets him a reward, but not absolutely necessary. Do this a few times over a few days, and then try taking the horse to the water at a different time (not post-exercise). The horses I have taught this to figure it out usually in one or two sessions. Sometimes, if they are not thirsty, they will just put their lips in the water and play with it, but I simply say no, then repeat my request. They learn very quickly that they don’t get a reward unless they actually swallow some water. I can use this to get them to drink before they go in the trailer or whatever. See, you CAN lead a horse to water and make him drink!

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