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Watering Horses: Everything You Need to Know

Horse drinking water from trough

Watering Horses
Horse Water Do's And Don'ts

It's important for horse owners to monitor their horses' H2O intake and ensure that they have access to fresh, clean water at all times. If a horse is going longer than four hours without drinking or is showing signs of dehydration, such as lethargy, dry mucous membranes, or decreased skin elasticity, it's important to seek veterinary attention immediately. Improper hydration can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition in horses, and prompt treatment is crucial for a positive outcome.

In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about watering your horse including water consumption basics, the amount of water your horse needs, where to place a water trough, various watering options for your horse, how to water in the winter and in hot summer months, the issues that can arrive from deyhration, and how to give your horse high H2O quality. We will offer tips on how to entice your horse or pony to drink more water, how to improve his water supply, weigh various horse watering systems, as well as discuss water buckets and water heater. 

How long is too long for a horse to go without water?

Equines need a constant supply of fresh, clean H2O to maintain their health and wellbeing. A general rule of thumb is that a horse should never go more than three to four hours without access to H2O. However, this can vary depending on factors such as the horse's size, weight, and activity level, as well as the weather conditions.

How do I encourage my horse to drink?

Encouraging a horse to drink is important to keep them properly hydrated, especially during hot weather, transportation, or after a strenuous workout. Here are some tips to try:

  1. Keep the H2O clean and fresh: Horses are sensitive to taste and smell... so it's important to keep their H2O clean and fresh. Change their H2O frequently and make sure it's free of debris, algae, and other contaminants. Adding a few drops of apple cider vinegar to their H2O can also make it more appealing.

  2. Add electrolytes to their feed or H2O: Electrolytes help to replace essential minerals and encourage horses to drink more. You can add them to their feed or H2O, especially during hot weather or after a strenuous workout. However, if you are going to put electrolytes into the water, make sure the horse also has access to plain water in case he doesn't like the taste of the electrolytes. 

  3. Offer it before and after exercise: Horses may be more willing to drink H2O before and after exercise, so make sure to offer them H2O during these times. You can also offer it during rest periods, especially if the horse is sweating or breathing heavily.

  4. Soak their hay: Soaking hay before feeding can help to increase your horse's intake- This is especially helpful for horses that have dental problems or difficulty drinking.

  5. Use a salt block: Providing a salt block can encourage horses to drink more H2O, as they need water to balance their salt intake.

  6. Offer H2O in different containers: Horses can be picky about the containers they drink from, so offer it in different containers to see what they prefer. Some horses prefer buckets, while others prefer automatic waterers or open tanks.

It's important to keep in mind that horses have individual preferences, so it may take some time to figure out what works best for your horse. If you are concerned about your horse's hydration, consult with your veterinarian to develop a plan that meets their individual needs.

What are signs of dehydration, and what do I do if my horse becomes dehydrated?

Signs in horses include:

  1. Thick, sticky saliva
  2. Sunken eyes
  3. Dry, tacky gums
  4. Lethargy
  5. Decreased appetite
  6. Reduced skin elasticity

If you suspect that your horse is dehydrated, Take Action Immediately. Here are some steps you can take to rehydrate your horse:

  1. Offer water: The first thing you should do is offer your horse clean, fresh H2O! Some horses prefer it warm, so you can try that if your horse is not drinking cold H2O. You can also add electrolytes to encourage him to drink though not all horses like the taste so be sure to offer plain water as well.

  2. Soak hay: Soaking your horse's hay in H2O can also help increase their intake. Soaked hay can be an excellent source of hydration for horses, especially during hot weather.

  3. Offer wet feed: You can also offer your horse wet feed, such as beet pulp or hay cubes, to increase their H2O intake. Both hay and feed (grain) can be offered wet. 

  4. Provide shade: Make sure your horse has access to shade during hot weather. This can help them stay cool & reduce the risk.

  5. Consult your vet: If your horse is severely dehydrated, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. They may need to administer intravenous fluids to rehydrate your horse.

Preventing dehydration is key to maintaining your horse's health. Make sure your horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times and monitor their intake to ensure they are drinking enough. During hot weather, it's important to take extra precautions to keep your horse hydrated.

How Much Drinking Water Does Your Horse Need?

Water Intake

Providing adequate water to your horse is crucial for maintaining its health and well-being. On average, equines need to consume around 5-10 gallons of H2O per day, depending on their weight, diet, exercise, and environment. However, it is essential to remember that every horse is unique & may have different requirements.

To determine how much H2O your equine may require, it's important to consider a few factors. First, the size and weight of your horse will affect its H20 needs. Typically, a horse needs about 0.5 to 1 gallon per 100 pounds of body weight each day. For example, a 1,000-pound horse would need approximately 5-10 gallons of H2O per day. 

In addition to their weight, your horse's diet & exercise level will also affect their H2O intake. Horses that eat primarily dry hay will require more H2O than horses that graze on lush pasture. Additionally, horses that are working hard or exercising will need more H2O than horses that are mostly inactive.

It's important to ensure that your horse always has access to fresh, clean H2O. Horses should be able to drink whenever they want, so providing H2O that is free of debris, algae, and other contaminants is essential. You should also consider the temperature of the H2O, as they may be less likely to drink H2O that is too cold or too warm.

Can certain health conditions impact a horse’s water intake?

Yes, certain health conditions can impact a horse's intake. Some health conditions can cause equine to drink more H2O than usual, while others can cause them to drink less.

For example, horses with kidney disease or liver disease may drink more H2O than usual to compensate for their compromised organ function. Horses with gastrointestinal issues such as colic or diarrhea may also drink more H2O than usual, as they lose fluids through diarrhea.

On the other hand, horses with certain metabolic conditions such as Cushing's disease or equine metabolic syndrome may be prone to developing de hydration due to hormonal imbalances. These equines may need to be watched closely and have their H2O intake managed to avoid complications.

Why Worry About Consumption of Water?

As an essential nutrient, water plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of horses. Water is necessary for many bodily functions such as digestion, metabolism, temperature regulation, and waste elimination. A horse’s H2O intake is also crucial to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, joint lubrication, and the hydration of skin and other body tissues. If a horsse does not drink enough H2O, it can lead to Improper hydration, which can cause serious health problems such as colic and impaction. Therefore, it is essential to provide horses with clean and fresh drinking H2O at all times, and to ensure that they are drinking enough H2O to maintain good health.

Horses that are worked regularly, pregnant or lactating mares, and horses living in hot or humid climates need a larger quantity of H2O than horses that are not worked and live in cooler climates. Proper hydration can also affect a horse's athletic performance, as improper hydration can lead to reduced stamina, decreased energy, and other performance-related issues. Therefore, it is important for horse owners and caregivers to monitor the H2O intake of their horses, especially during times of increased exercise or environmental stress, and ensure that they are drinking enough H2O to stay healthy and perform at their best.

Offering a horse water after exercise

A horse can and should drink after exercise. During exercise, horses can lose a significant amount of fluid through sweating, and they need to replenish that fluid. Providing water to your horse after exercise can help them recover faster and stay hydrated. It's important to offer H2O and allow him to drink at their own pace. Additionally, it's a good practice to offer electrolyte solutions in their feeds after exercise to help replenish lost minerals and promote hydration.

Can a horse drink too much water?

Horses can overdrink, which can lead to a condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia. Hyponatremia occurs when the horse drinks an excessive amount, which dilutes the sodium and electrolyte levels in their body, leading to an imbalance. This can cause symptoms such as lethargy, confusion, and even seizures or coma.

While it is rare for them to drink too much, it is more common in horses with certain conditions, notable Cushing's disease and kidney failure. Typically, you should not prevent horses from drinking. 

Traveling with your Horse: What about Water?

How can I keep my horses hydrated while competing or traveling?

Keeping horses hydrated while competing or traveling is essential for their health and performance. Here are some tips to help ensure your horse stays hydrated:

  1. Provide access to clean water: Consider bringing your own supply when traveling, especially if you are not sure about the quality of the local water.

  2. Offer water frequently: Encourage him to drink frequently, especially during breaks and after exercise. Consider adding electrolytes to your horse's feed to encourage drinking and replenish lost nutrients.

  3. Offer wet feed: Wet feed can be a good way to increase your horse's intake. Soak your horse's hay or feed before offering it to them.

  4. Use a bucket or trough with markers: Mark the  bucket or trough to keep track of how much your horse is drinking. This can help you monitor their intake and ensure they are drinking enough.

  5. Monitor your horse's hydration status: Check your horse's hydration status by monitoring their skin elasticity, mucous membrane color, and capillary refill time. If you notice any signs of dehydration, take action immediately.

  6. Consider pre-hydration: Consider pre-hydrating your horse by offering electrolytes or wet feed several hours before travel or competition. This can help your horse start the event well-hydrated.

  7. Take breaks: Take breaks during travel or competition to allow your horse to rest and drink. Avoid long periods of travel without breaks.

Why are some horses so picky about their water sources?

Some horses can be picky about their sources for a few reasons. First, horses have a very sensitive sense of taste and smell, and may be more sensitive to subtle differences in taste and quality. Second, some may have had negative experiences with certain sources, such as becoming sick after drinking from a certain stream or pond. Finally, some equines may simply prefer the taste of one type over another, just as people can have preferences for different types of food and drink. Horses and Ponies that are picky with their still need to hydrate daily. 

Watering horses in hot weather

In hot weather or during periods of heavy exercise, horses and ponies may need access to H2O more frequently, as they are more likely to become dehydrated. Additionally, horses with health conditions such as kidney disease or Cushing's disease may also require more frequent access to prevent problems. 

Natural Water Sources

Here are some natural water sources that many horses and ponies may encounter in their environment:

  1. Rivers and Streams: Horses are often drawn to moving water, such as rivers and streams. In addition to providing drinking water, these natural sources may also help horses regulate their body temperature on hot days.

  2. Ponds and Lakes: Depending on the size and depth, ponds and lakes can provide a reliable source of drinking H2O for horses. However, stagnant sources can contain harmful bacteria, parasites, and toxins that can be harmful to horses.

  3. Natural Springs: Springs are another natural source that can be safe to drink from. The water from springs is usually clean and free from contamination.

  4. Rainwater: Horses in the wild may rely on rainwater to hydrate themselves. Rainwater can be a good source for horses, as long as it is collected in a clean container.

  5. Snow and Ice: In areas with cold weather, snow and ice can provide a source for horses. However, it is important to make sure the snow and ice are clean and free from any harmful contaminants.

While natural sources can provide a source of hydration for horses, it is important to ensure that it is clean and free from contaminants. If you are unsure about the quality of a natural source, it is best to provide your horse with clean and fresh drinking H2O from a trough or bucket. Be particularly careful with standing H2O, as standing water becomes problematic with mosquito-born illnesses during the summer and poor quality H2O can lead to massive problems. 

Horse Dehydration Problems

Improper hydration cause many problems, and it is important to take steps to prevent it. When a horse does not have enough, the body will try to conserve it by reducing urine output and sweating. This can lead to a variety of problems, including:

  1. Colic: improper hydration can cause impaction colic or twisted gut colic. When a horse is dehydrated, the digestive system slows down, and this can lead to blockages and colic.

  2. Kidney damage: It can damage the kidneys, leading to kidney disease or kidney failure.

  3. Heat stress: When a horse is dehydrated, it is more susceptible to heat stress, which can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or even death.

  4. Reduced performance: A dehydrated horse may not perform as well as a hydrated horse, and it may take longer to recover from exercise.

  5. Laminitis: improper hydration can increase the risk of laminitis, a painful condition that affects the hooves.

  6. Electrolyte imbalance: improper hydration can cause an electrolyte imbalance, which can cause muscle cramps, weakness, and other problems.

It is important to ensure that your horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times to prevent these problems. If you suspect your horse is dehydrated, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Automatic Horse Waterers

Automatic horse waterers are devices that provide horses with constant access to fresh, clean water. They are designed to supply to horses (automatically- hence the name), so owners do not have to worry about refilling buckets or troughs on a daily basis.

Automatic horse waterers typically come in two main types: heated and non-heated. Heated waterers are designed for use in colder climates where temperatures may drop below freezing, and they include a heating element to prevent it from freezing. Non-heated waterers are suitable for use in milder climates where the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

Automatic horse waterers are designed to be durable, long-lasting, and low-maintenance. They are typically made from heavy-duty materials such as polyethylene, stainless steel, or galvanized steel, and they are built to withstand the wear and tear of regular use. Most models also come equipped with a sensor that automatically refills the waterer as the horse drinks, ensuring that there is always an adequate supply available. Nonetheless, you should be mindful of debris as all troughs, including automatic ones should be kept clean so as not to diminish the water quality. 

Watering Horses in Winter

This can be a bit challenging, as it is important to ensure that horses have access at all times while also preventing it from freezing. Frozen water does nothing for the horse. Here are some tips for the winter months.

  1. Choose the Right Waterer: Consider investing in an insulated automatic waterer or a heated bucket to keep it from freezing. These types of waterers are designed to keep the H2O above freezing temperatures, even in extremely cold weather. Electric water heaters can help provide clean water even in winter months, so horses can drink as much as they want. 

  2. Keep the Water Moving: If you do not have an insulated or heated waterer, consider using a stock tank with a built-in heater or an agitator to keep it moving. This will help prevent the H2O from freezing & also improve the taste.

  3. Monitor Intake: In the winter, horses may be more prone to dehydration, as they are less likely to drink it cold. Monitor your horses' intake closely and encourage them to drink more if they seem to be drinking less than usual.

  4. Keep Water Clean: Clean and fresh H2O is important at all times, but especially during the winter. It is important to ensure that the source is free of ice, snow, or any other debris that may contaminate it.

  5. Adjust Feeding Habits: Finally, it may be necessary to adjust feeding habits during the winter to ensure that horses are getting enough. Consider feeding hay that has a higher moisture content, & providing access to a salt block.

What temperature water do horses prefer to drink?

Horses prefer to drink water at room temperature, which is around 50-70°F (10-20°C). Water that is too cold or too hot can decrease a horse's consumption. In the winter, sources may be too cold- hence, its important to provide H2O at a temperature that is comfortable for them.

Some horse owners may be tempted to provide warm H2O to their horses in the winter to encourage them to drink. While this can be beneficial in some cases, it is important to ensure that it is not too hot.


In conclusion, proper hydration is essential for the health & well-being of horses. Water is vital for a variety of physiological functions, including digestion, circulation, and temperature regulation. Horses require access to clean and fresh water at all times, and their water intake should be carefully monitored, especially during hot weather, exercise, and travel. Signs of dehydration should be taken seriously and addressed immediately to prevent more serious health issues.

As a horse owner or caretaker, it's essential to understand the importance of providing a consistent and reliable source of clean drinking water for your horses. Be mindful of the water sources you use and the temperature of the water, especially during extreme weather conditions. Consider using automatic waterers and providing electrolytes to encourage water intake, and be aware of any health conditions that may affect your horse's water consumption.

Horses normally consume 5 to 10 gallons of water per day. By providing consistent access to water, high quality water, and a reasonable water temperature, it will ensure that horses consume an adequate amount. 

By keeping these principles in mind, you can ensure that your horses stay hydrated and healthy throughout their lives.

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