How Much Drinking Water Does Your Horse Need?
Posted: June 23, 2014
Why Worry About Consumption of Water?
- Have you ever been frustrated by a horse that refuses to drink water? A
metaphoric idiom that dates from the 12 century and was in the proverb
collection of John Heywood in the year 1546 states: “You can lead a horse to
water, but you can’t make them drink.” The idiom can be interpreted to mean you
can provide someone an opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to
actually do it; or people, like horses, will only do what they have a mind to
- Horse owners may think of this saying when experiencing a horse that refuses to drink. The comparison could be more than a message, for the lack of intake by a horse is an immense concern. Water consumption is extremely important in the digestive process to avoid colic impaction, dehydration and other life threatening ailments.
How much water does a horse consume in a day?
- The average horse will intake
5 to 10 gallons of fresh water per day. Just like humans different horses crave
or need different water amount intakes.
- A horse deprived of feed, but supplied
drinking water, is capable of surviving 20 to 25 days.
- A horse deprived of water may only live up to 3 or 6 days.
- After lacking water intake for two days
a horse may refuse to eat and exhibit signs of colic and other life-threatening
- Just like humans, in the heat of summer, a horse will enjoy cool, fresh water, but in cold winter situations, difficulties arise in providing water that is too cold or in a semi-frozen state. Humans enjoy a cup of hot tea, coffee or chocolate to warm their internal system and needs in the winter. Horse owners have discovered that warming the drinking water for their horse during the winter will lead to the horse consuming more water.
- Domestic horses depend on the consumption of forage consisting of a variety
of grasses and grass type feeds. In the summer if the horse has the advantage
of daily grazing on fresh pasture grasses they will be able to consume water
through the intake of grasses, which contain large amounts of water. This could
reduce the desire of the horse of obtaining water through drinking. In the
winter the horse depends upon the forage of dried grasses or hay, which has a
lower amount of concentration of water. Therefore, a horse may need an increase
of offered water in the winter months, more so than in the grazing periods.
Seasonal Weather Conditions Concerns
- Just like the availability of water during the different temperatures of the
seasons, the usage of a horse by humans is reflected by the seasonal weather
- Horse owners do not tend to ride or use their horses often during cold winter months. When spring arrives and progresses into the summer months, the horse has more activity by the use of pleasure riding, trail riding, showing, farm and ranch work. Lack of water consumption by the horse during this time of usage could lead to dehydration.
- Dehydration in horses is an extremely serious situation and can occur during strenuous exercise, stressful situations, or in cases of bouts of diarrhea. The lack of water can include the lack of electrolytes. Electrolytes include the minerals sodium, chloride and potassium and the lack of electrolytes can lead to kidney failure in the horse, if the horse is not rehydrated quickly.
- Horse owners can suspect dehydration in their horse by recognizing the signs: sunken eye or dullness, lethargy, dry skin and mouth, drawn up flanks, depression or excessive thick saliva. Another sign of dehydration is a high level of protein in the blood, which can be determined by a blood sample. The horse many exhibit one or a combination of these signs.
- A simple, but not always accurate way to judge dehydration in horses is to conduct a simple skin pinching test. Pinch up a fold of the horse’s skin and then release it. Skin should immediately return back into its natural position. If the skin remains in a ridge from two to five seconds this could be a sign of mild dehydration. The longer the skin remains in a ridge can determine the severity of the lack of water in the horse’s system. Skin that remains in a ridge appearance for ten to fifteen seconds is the alert for immediate veterinary assistance, for the skin is demonstrating severe dehydration signs.
- Offer the horse cool fresh water often during strenuous activities.
- If the horse is at a location where the drinking water does not have the same taste as the home water the horse may refuse to drink. Before going to an event try flavoring the home drinking water for a few days prior to the journey with Gatorade or apple juice to accustom the horse to the flavor. For the convenience of the horse owner prepared powdered electrolyte packets, flavored or unflavored, can be adding to drinking water to replenish necessary items.
Simple Management Practices
- Horse owners can enact simple management practices during stressful events preventing the horse from dehydration effects.
- Know you horse and look for the
signs of dehydration and conduct the “pinch test” frequently.
- Provide adequate
fresh, clean water often and if there is any doubt of the possibility of the
severity of the situation contact a veterinarian immediately.
- The rule of thumb
is, if at the event you are consuming and desiring water intake, then the
chances are the horse is also having the same desires.
- Riding horses is great exercise for the rider and also an additional strain on the horse’s metabolism. Be safe and smart....keep the horse hydrated!