Is your horse getting enough water?

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

A mature horse is made up of approximately 65-75% water! Water is essential to life and is involved in basically all essential physiological processes. For optimal well-being, horses require water every day. Restriction of water can lead to reduced appetite and lowered feed intake. Continued restriction results in dehydration and eventual death of the horse.

Water intake

As a general rule, 4-5L of water is required by the horse (at maintenance) for every 100kg of bodyweight. For a 500kg horse this is approximately 20-25L of water per day! Horses gain water by drinking, water contained in feed and water that is produced by metabolic processes.

Water intake by drinking is directly affected by the water content in feed.  Hay can provide up to 25-45% of water requirements and pasture water content greatly varies with season (up to 80%). Naturally, the higher water content in the feed, the less water a horse will drink.  Drinking is also affected by several other factors including water temperature, environment temperature, activity of the horse, lactating or not, health status etc. 

Horses in hot climates can drink up to 60L per day

Water loss

Horses excrete water via 4 main pathways:

  1. Faeces – the main pathway in a resting horse. Varies depending on diet.

  2. Urine – fluid is required to carry waste solutes out of the body. Varies depending on electrolyte balance. You can learn more

  3. Respiration – Breath contains moisture. When respiration increase the amount of moisture lost increases.

  4. Sweat – evaporative cooling. Depends on climate, acclimation to climate and activity of horse.You can learn moreabout how much sweat horses can lose during various activities in our ‘Electrolytes and their importance’ article.

  5. +Milk in lactating mares– lactation increases water intake by 30-60%

Encouraging water consumption

There are several factors that influence water consumption in horses. One of the main factors is the water content of feed, as discussed earlier. If your horse is meeting a large portion of its water requirements through the feed, then you will notice free water consumption decrease although the overall water intake remains relatively stable. Other factors, such as environmental factors can also have an impact on water consumption. 

It is important to consider:

  • Water Temperature: If water is too cold intake may decline. If water is frozen, the horse cannot drink, and intake will decline! Try and ensure water is at a comfortable temperature for the horse.

  • Environmental temperature: water intake will increase when the weather is hot. During hot days ensure plenty of water is available to the horse.

  • Availability of water: Horses that must walk considerable distances will drink less than those with access close by. Ensure horses do not need to travel far to reach water.

  • Water quality: Various attributes of water quality can affect intake. Odours and change in taste could be caused by manure, rotting vegetation, sulphates, tannins, algal and microbial by-products. If horses are not drinking, consider having your water quality tested.

  • Familiarity: Water intake can decrease when the horse is taken off property and is given water from an unfamiliar source. Some horses can be enticed by sweet tastes like adding molasses to the water or their favourite electrolyte. It is best to get the horse used to drinking this at home first, so they are already familiar with this taste.

Electrolyte balance: Something that you may not have considered is the neurological thirst stimulus that tells the horse they need to drink. This is affected by the sodium content in the horse’s blood. Low circulating sodium means less thirst stimulus. Ensuring your horse has adequate salt intake will prevent this from limiting water intake. We recommend adding 30g of salt (sodium chloride) directly into the feed each day.

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