How do I Manage My Horse’s Water Intake?

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price

A reader asked: I worry that my horse doesn’t drink enough water. What should my horse drink each day? How can I make sure he is getting enough water? Are there any signs that he isn’t getting enough water?

Lisa Borzynski (DVM) has the answer:

Your horse’s most important nutrient is water. You must ensure that your horse has access to clean, cool, and safe drinking water. Poor performance, lethargy and colic can all lead to dehydration, which can cause kidney damage, collapse, death, and even fatalities. To calm their horses, some people deliberately withhold water during shows. This is a dangerous practice that should be avoided. Withholding water can cause serious injury to horses and could result in yellow cards or fines.

Water accounts for about 70% of horses’ total body weight. It is vital to maintain this balance. An average horse consumes 5 to 15 gallons of water per day, or approximately 1 gallon for every 100 pounds of bodyweight. Broodmares require even more milk to provide milk for their foals, which is approximately 20 gallons daily.

Dry matter intake is a key factor in determining water intake. For example, how much forage your horse eats. Horses can sweat between 2 and 3 gallons per hour, so the effort your horse puts in to eat for water is a major factor. The environment, heat, humidity and your health also have an impact.

It is vital to monitor your horse’s water intake in order to detect any changes in their health. Monitoring your horse’s water intake is the best way to detect changes. Automatic waterers should be checked every day to ensure they work properly. A new horse may need to learn how to use an automated waterer. Horses who have never used one before should have water buckets until they can drink water from it. Ironically, your horse might not drink what he needs most.

To prevent algae, scum, and mosquito larvae buildup, waterers, buckets, and tanks must be regularly cleaned. You can have the water tested if you are not sure about its quality. Sometimes, wells may contain high levels of bacteria and nitrates which can lead to illness.

Horse's Water Intake

The following are some ways to monitor horse’s hydration:

  • His gums should be pink and moist.
  • His eyes and flanks should not be sunken
  • His neck should be shaved to reveal the skin.
  • His breathing should be regular and even. He shouldn’t pant.
  • His gum capillary replenishment. You can test this by placing your thumb on the horse’s gums and letting it blanch. Then count the time until the color returns. This should take no more than 2 seconds.

Horses will consume less water in winter which can lead to a decrease in feed consumption and less energy. This could also cause feed impactions in the intestines. Use water heaters or warm waters to prevent the freezing of buckets and tanks. You should check the water daily to ensure it’s not frozen. If you use electric heaters, make sure the horse doesn’t get a mild shock by drinking the water. Water should always be kept at between 45-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water from snow is not recommended.

Your horse may be motivated to drink if you offer trace mineralized salt free-of-charge. You can add 1 tablespoon of table salt to your horse’s grain once or twice daily if he doesn’t use his salt block. To encourage water intake, you can add apple juice, electrolytes and molasses to one bucket. However, make sure to have plain water. This can be used to flavor water when you travel.

Biosecurity is important when traveling to clinics, shows, or other public areas. You should not allow your horse access to common tanks or to use a bucket to collect water from common areas. If the buckets have not been washed and disinfected with bleach, do not allow horses to use them. Don’t put the end of the hose into the buckets. Instead, hold the water in the bucket.

You can make sure your horse has enough water with a little care and effort.

Lisa Borzynski (DVM) is a 1993 graduate of School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Wisconsin. She is a veterinarian at Wisconsin Equine Clinic and Hospital specializing on sporthorse medicine and leanness. As an FEI veterinarian, she will be part of the veterinary team during the first week at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. She will be participating in the disciplines of dressage, endurance, and para-dressage. She is an active competitor in the hunter/jumper and eventing circuits. She has also competed as a dressage rider. She is located in Oconomowoc (Wisconsin).

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!