“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink… “I’ve sure we’ve all heard this old adage before but how much does your horse need to drink, and what can you do to keep your horse hydrated?
Horses can drink 30-50 litres of water a day, but how much an individual horse requires is dependent on their diet and forage source. A horse on pasture will be getting quite a lot of moisture from the grass, which is low in dry matter. Whilst a horse on ad lib hay will need more water supplied to them.
Why is it essential to keep your horse hydrated?
Water is essential for a number of bodily functions within the horse. The digestive system cannot function without water, the circulatory system also needs water as do the lymphatic and excretory systems. Dehydration can ultimately be fatal so ensuring that your horse is hydrated is really important.
Does my horse need electrolytes?
Electrolytes are mineral salts (sodium, potassium and chloride) and are necessary for muscle contract and the transition of nerve impulses. These are lost in large volumes when the horse sweats.
The horse can balance electrolyte concentrates well, but offering water alone won’t replace these if your horse has worked hard and sweated a lot.
Horses in light work should be fine with a salt lick, as sodium is the most important electrolyte. Research shows that a salt lick is not enough to replenish lost electrolytes as horses don’t always take enough salt, and of course it is hard to measure intake. Therefore horses in moderate to hard work, or those sweating hard (unfit horses, stressed travellers) should be given access to electrolytes. Offer plain water as well to ensure that your horse can self select.
9 Tips to keep your horse drinking
1. Take your own water to shows and events. Horses often don’t like unfamiliar water.
2. Find a ‘flavour’ that your horse likes, try squash, apple juice, cider vinegar and this will help your horse drink, particularly
3. Provide several water sources, different buckets in the stable, water in a bucket in the field as well as a trough
4. Ensure that your horse receives enough salt in it’s diet. A lack of salt will turn off your horses’ thirst response
5. Feed soaked hay, this will keep your horse hydrated and is also a good choice when travelling to reduce dust spore inhalation in transit.
6. Try a water buffet … offer a bucket of clean water and a bucket of salt and lo-salt in a 2:1 ratio. This is a great way to ensure your horse has enough sodium
7. Try apple bobbing, adding some chopped up apples and carrots can get your horse to drink up to reach the bottom of the bucket (and the good stuff!!)
8. Make a ‘smoothie’ with very sloppy soaked feet such as sugar beet, with a few treats and this will ensure that the bucket is finished up quickly
9. Make your horse an ‘ice lolly’. You can add carrots, apples, mint, polos into an old water bottle and top up with water. Add some string to hang it and pop it in the freezer, and when we have hot weather your horse will really appreciate this.
Whilst electrolytes and monitoring your horse’s water intake is very important during the hotter summer months, knowing an ‘average’ water consumption for your horse is a great way to know ‘normal’, and help you spot a potential issue sooner. Horses don’t like very cold water, and often don’t drink sufficient water in the winter months, which can result in impacted colic, so do keep an eye on your horse’s water buckets all year round.