For horses, water is the most essential nutrient of all. Horses can survive up to several weeks without food, but only a few short days without proper access to water. The bitterly cold and lengthy winter season can create many challenges in providing adequate amounts of water for your horse (or horses). Frozen water buckets and extreme weather conditions are only a few of the trials and tribulations horse lovers face in caring for their equines during the winter months.
Horses require 3.8 litres per (1 gallon) 100 kg (220 lbs.) of body weight. With the average horse weighing between 400-700 kg, hydration needs can range from 15-27 litres of water per day. Water requirements, of course, increase in relation to the activity level of the horse, as well as temperature of the environment (warmer temperatures tend to increase water requirements). Water requirements also increase in relation to the amount of dry matter being provided in feed. Horses that are being fed with grains and hay will require more water than those who are grazing and consuming a diet of fresh grass only.
Insufficient water intake can be very detrimental to a horse’s health. If a horse becomes dehydrated (or in other words-if fluid output exceeds fluid input) there is an increased risk of the horse developing colic, a severe gastrointestinal condition which can be fatal. It’s important to be very mindful of the physical signs of dehydration during the winter months (and throughout the year), which include: reduced dry matter feed intake, reduced physical activity, impairment of ability, dark viscous urine, sunken eyes and dry mouth.
Horses do not readily drink very cold water. If their water is frozen, horses are naturally inclined to eat small amounts of snow to maintain their hydration. Needless to say, however, this will not be enough to prevent the complications of dehydration in the long run.
So, what’s the solution? In the winter time, it is important to ensure that there is liquid water available for your horse at all times. Adequate intake can be encouraged by warming the water, if possible. This can be done simply by adding hot water from indoors to your horse's water bucket regularly, or by using a heating element to heat the water buckets automatically. This sounds like extra work, but it really is the best thing for your equine's overall health during the winter months.
It’s also important to continue to be mindful of daily water quality. Remember to keep your water buckets free of leaves or vegetation, as the tannic acid found in leaves may cause your horses water to become bitter. Keep your outdoor watering troughs clean by emptying, scrubbing and refilling them on at least a bimonthly basis, and if you can, position them away from trees. It can also be useful to have your water tested for TDS (Total Dissolved Salts). If the TDS level in your water is elevated, your horse may refuse to drink the water, regardless of how warm it is. Best winter wishes to you and your equines!
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