Most of us would never initially guess the answer to this, which is unfortunate, because the most overlooked nutrient for horses also turns out to be the most important nutrient for herbivores:
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “well duh they need that, what more is there to say about water?” Just as easily as it is overlooked, it is often provided incorrectly or inadequately. Your horse just doesn’t have the voice to let you know it. Inadequate intake of water can decrease feed efficiency (in other words, spend more of your money on unnecessary extra feed), and can even be the cause of colic; thanks to fancy biochemistry in the gut that I will spare you from. Allow me to take a minute or so of your time to go over some details about water for horses that initially were not common sense to me (perhaps you are way ahead of where I started with this topic, if so, your horse thanks you).
First and foremost, as I explained in an earlier post (click here to read), horses are hind-gut fermenters, and 80% of the contents in their GI tract is water. This means, for every 2 parts your horse eats, it needs to drink 8 parts. Seems easy enough, right? Your horse has an endless supply of water in the ever-filling trough, and it can go over there any time it so desires, so what’s the big deal?
Well that’s one problem, it doesn’t always desire enough.
There are many reasons your horse won’t drink enough of the water provided (or maybe not at all), and unless you monitor this closely, you may never notice it. Horses are extremely picky about the palatability of water (shocker...). Things like excess sulfites, nitrites, or sulfur in the water source will keep horses from drinking enough. This can be easily tested, and it is recommended that water from wells, screams, etc. be checked. Another reason may be temperature. For example, for some reason horses find water at 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit to be far less drinkable than water at 65-70 degrees. Tis the strange way of the equine.... They are the most particular of all livestock species.
If you are worried your horse isn’t consuming enough water, there are a couple tricks of the trade out there to help ensure he or she is drinking. Many horses won’t drink after being transported in the trailer, or even upon arriving at shows or sales. This can be fixed by adding powdered Gatorade to their water source. This increases palatability (how “tasty” it is for them), plus it gives them electrolytes to help in times of high stress or physical labor. Some experts even suggest to simply add salt to the water. I caution you, however, that if you choose this method water HAS to be offered at an endless supply (i.e. not only a bucket) as too much salt intake without enough water actually worsens the dehydration situation.
All in all just remember: it doesn’t matter how well you are feeding your horse if it isn’t consuming enough water, which is what makes boring ole’ water the most important nutrient in your horse’s diet. The many biochemical processes behind how your horse actually uses the feed components just don’t run correctly without H2O. Also, keep in mind; this applies to your human body as well!
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