You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

Most people involved with horses have heard the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Unfortunately, while it may seem like a simple subject, getting a horse to consume the appropriate amount of water can be difficult. Age, body condition, fitness level and workload, reproductive status, environmental conditions, diet, and possible disease processes can all influence how much water a horse needs to maintain its correct hydration status. Add to that the temperature, freshness, purity, and palatability of the available water sources and it becomes obvious that there are many factors that need to be considered when providing water for our horses, especially if we want them to actually drink it.

Photo credit: eXtensionHorses via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

The actual daily amount of water that most horses need to consume (at a minimum) to maintain body functions and remain properly hydrated is from a half gallon to a gallon per hundred pounds of body weight. This works out to be a minimum of five to ten gallons for a 1,000-pound horse that is not presently doing any work and is living in a temperate climate. If you increase the horse’s workload or the environmental temperatures are elevated, then this will increase the demand for water. Lactating mares, horses with diarrhea, and horses with certain medical conditions will also require more water each day.

When the horse is not consuming enough water on a daily basis to maintain the appropriate hydration status, then the horse can become dehydrated. Horse owners can evaluate a horse’s hydration status by monitoring for an elevated heart or pulse rate (28-40 beats per minute is normal for an adult horse), changes in the color of the horse’s gums (bubblegum pink is normal) and feel (moist is normal), and in skin elasticity (skin pinch test in which the skin along the neck in front of the shoulder retracts back to normal in less than two seconds when pinched and released). Changes to those vital signs will occur when the horse is 4-6% dehydrated. Visual signs such as a sunken eyes and a tucked up appearance to the abdomen are also indicators, but they are typically seen with increased levels of dehydration approaching 8-10% dehydrated. Unfortunately, the horse’s performance (work, competition, or reproduction) will become adversely affected when the horse becomes 2% dehydrated, before visual signs become evident.

A product I have found and used with great success is Horse Quencher. It is a combination of natural grains and flavorings that encourages horses to drink. It is also available in several flavors to meet each horses’ individual preferences. Several clients have told me that they use it most when traveling to help their horses hydrated while away from home. Try it and let us know what you think!