As the winter chill sets in, every equestrian knows the importance of ensuring our hoofed companions stay adequately hydrated. Cold weather can be a real challenge when it comes to keeping horses well-watered, but with a little extra effort and attention, we can make sure our beloved horses navigate the winter months healthy and happy. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various strategies and tips to ensure your horses stay hydrated and healthy despite the plunging temperatures.
Understanding the Challenge
First and foremost, it’s important to understand why keeping horses hydrated in winter is a unique challenge. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, an idle, 1,100lb horse in a cool environment will typically drink anywhere from 6 to 10 gallons of water per day. However, once the temperature begins to drop, the amount of water they consume begins to drop too. Horses tend to drink less water when it’s cold outside as they prefer drinking from water sources that are between 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, they risk potential dehydration during the winter months that can lead to conditions such as colic. Horses also consume less pasture in the winter which can further reduce their water intake.
The following are some expert tips to combat these challenges and ensure your horses stay well-hydrated throughout the cold months.
Provide Access to Fresh, Clean Water
This part probably sounds pretty obvious, but the cornerstone of winter hydration is ensuring horses have constant access to fresh, unfrozen water. Horses don’t like to drink chilly water, so check regularly to make sure that the water troughs and buckets haven’t formed ice on them, and break any ice that does develop. Try adding an apple to the horse’s water trough to help slow down the freezing process in sub-zero conditions. You should also consider investing in heated water buckets or trough heaters, which are game-changers for preventing water from freezing. If that’s not an option, try adding hot water to chilled water troughs to encourage your horses to drink. And, as always, keep those troughs clean! No-one wants to drink dirty water, not even your horses.
Strategic Placement of Water Sources
Strategically placing water sources can also make a significant difference. Avoid positioning water troughs in areas exposed to harsh winds, as this can accelerate freezing. Sheltered areas, like barns or windbreaks, can help maintain a more temperate environment for water accessibility. Additionally, placing water sources away from feeding areas can encourage horses to drink without the distraction of food.
Encourage Water Consumption through Diet
While forage is a primary source of winter feed, it can contribute to reduced water intake as horses often derive a significant portion of their water needs from the moisture content in pasture. To encourage water consumption, consider dampening or steaming the hay slightly before feeding. Another option is to incorporate soaked beet pulp in the diet at 1-2lbs per day depending on body condition score. Beet pulp is a great alternative fiber source for horses.
Flavoring the Water
One great way to get your equine companions to drink more water this winter is by adding a touch of flavoring to their troughs. Many horses have a sweet tooth (like me!) and would be more motivated to drink knowing there was a slightly sweet reward in it for them. We love the Gallagher’s Water for our horses and it really does the trick. Formulated to encourage water consumption, Gallagher’s Water is made with premium, human-grade ingredients such as alfalfa and minerals to aide in re-hydration.
Other inconspicuous ways to add a little sweetness to your horse’s water is by using incremental amounts of apple juice, apple cider, a fruity sports drink, or even a small peppermint candy.
Salt: A Winter Necessity
Salt is a critical component in maintaining homeostasis in horses. Introducing salt supplements into your horse’s diet can help maintain the balance of essential minerals and encourage increased water consumption. On average, most horses require about 12 grams of salt per day. One way to achieve this in your horse’s winter diet is either by introducing free choice loose salt and/or a Himalayan salt block. We prefer Himalayan salt blocks over traditional salt blocks as they’re much gentler on a horse’s tongue. You could also sprinkle a bit of salt on their feed as well, but as always, consult with a veterinarian before adding supplements to your horse’s diet as individual needs may vary.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Ensuring your horse receives a well-balanced diet is crucial for overall health, and this holds especially true in winter. A diet fortified with vitamins, minerals and calories helps to support the immune system, promotes optimal bodily functions and may contribute to a more hydrated horse. Working with a nutrition consultant to tailor a winter diet plan that meets your horse’s specific needs can be helpful.
Being an attentive equestrian means keeping a keen eye on your horse’s overall well-being. Regularly monitor your horse for signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, dark-colored urine, dry or dark gums, and lethargy. Proper hydration is essential for digestion, joint health, and temperature regulation, so don’t overlook the importance of staying vigilant. Note: the skin-pinch test, the once commonly tried and true test for dehydration, is no longer considered a clear indicator of hydration levels so keep this in mind.
By providing access to unfrozen water, strategically placing water sources, encouraging water consumption through diet, flavoring the water and paying close attention to hydration indicators, we can all ensure our horses thrive during these seemingly endless winter months. Though it may be a season of challenges, with a bit of expert care and dedication, our horses can enjoy the beauty of the season while staying well-hydrated and happy.