angle-left The Big Freeze: Horse Hydration

The Big Freeze: Horse Hydration

Keep your horse hydrated in the cold winter months with tips from these experts.

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In some areas of the country, winter means below-freezing temperatures around the clock. This means that water available for horses to drink can often freeze solid, leaving horses searching for snow to quench their thirst. 

If horses don’t have access to fresh water, they can quickly succumb to health hazards including dehydration and colic. Keep your horse hydrated despite the cold with these expert tips. 

Importance of Fresh Water

  • A horse can’t survive by eating snow or ice. They can’t eat enough snow to meet their hydration requirements. It would cool their body temperature too much because there isn’t a lot of actually water in snow, so they have to eat a large quantity. 
  • Dehydration and hypothermia are higher risks. Horses will eat snow if they have to, but ultimately it will result in dehydration or hypothermia. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, decreased appetite, sudden weight loss, dry gums and a positive skin tent – meaning the skin doesn’t snap back to its normal flat position after being gently pinched together and pulled away from the body. 
  • Horse have access to fresh water at a temperature above 40 degrees to keep them drinking enough to help prevent digestive issues. Horses in winter may need to consume more water due to the drier climate and increase in dried forage consumption. 

Outdoor Solutions

  • Tank heaters and automatic waterers: Obviously, tank heaters are the most convenient way to keep water from freezing. Automatic waters can also be a helpful tool to keeping water moving to avoid freezing. However, it is a common occurrence for automatic waterers to freeze altogether without frequent monitoring. 
  • Getting inventive: One trick for large water sources is to insulate the tank with spray foam, finished with a tough Rhino lining to protect the insulation. Top the tanks with large pieces of plywood with holes cut into them to allow the horses to get to the water. The wood holds in more of the heat to reduce surface freezing. 

Hazards

  • Electrocution: While convenient, tank heaters are still susceptible to electrical shorts and your horse could get shocked when it tries to drink water
  • Sharp ice: Sometimes a water tank can get overfilled, or water can spill around the tank when it’s being filled. This can cause sheets of ice to form around the water container, creating hazards for horses trying to access water.
  • Impaction colic: No matter the method you use to provide water to your horse, keep an eye on the containers to make sure the heater hasn’t malfunctioned – leading to decreased water supply, dehydration and impaction colic

Management Tips

  • Sprinkle plain white salt over your horses’ feed to encourage the horse to drink more water. All horses should be provided free choice salt in every paddock in either block or loose form. 
  • Offering water in containers larger than a 5-gallon bucket will ensure that your horse has plenty to drink, without creating mountains of work for you to constantly refill that container. 
  • Monitor consumption. Pay attention to your horse's water consumption. If you notice your horse isn’t drinking, try adding electrolytes, Gatorade or even Sprite to some water to encourage drinking.