As most people will agree protein, vitamins and minerals are all crucial aspects of our horse’s diets, but one nutrient that doesn’t receive enough attention is the important role that water plays in the equine diet.
Without adequate water our horse’s bodies are unable to properly transport the nutrients we’re introducing and eventually need to expel, as water is also crucial to waste removal. It aids in the digestion, absorption and utilization of nutrients and works to regulate the horse’s body temperature. Dehydration leads to a decrease in performance and eventually, death.
How do we make sure our horses are drinking enough?
- Provide plenty of fresh, clean water free choice
- Where possible, monitor water intake daily to ensure your horse is consuming adequate amounts
- During freezing temperatures invest in a water heating system or remove ice routinely
- Water buckets should be cleaned daily, tanks should be cleaned weekly
So how do you judge whether your horse is getting enough water? Intake levels vary greatly from horse to horse, but as a general rule of thumb your horse should be consuming one gallon of water per 100 lbs of bodyweight daily. This amount will vary with temperature, activity and diet. One simple way to judge dehydration in a horse is through the skin-pinching test. Pinch up a fold of the horse’s skin and then release it, if the skin takes 2-5 seconds to return to it’s natural position the horse is likely experiencing mild dehydration. The longer the skin takes to return to normal the more severe the dehydration.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
And while this may be true there a variety of things we can do to increase our odds. To start try increasing the dry matter content of the horse’s diet. Providing free-choice salt blocks or a supplement that includes salt are also excellent options to increase your horse’s water intake. You may also try soaking hay cubes or beet pulp as horse’s tend to eat these readily and you can be assured you are increasing water intake. Lastly you may try spiking your horse’s water with your choice of flavoring- apple juice, electrolytes, Gatorade- anything that will improve the taste! Just introduce your flavor of choice in small amounts, this may be especially helpful for horses who have trouble drinking while traveling.
Remember to avoid offering water to hot horses immediately following exercise.