Water is the most essential aspect of any horse’s diet. Without adequate water intake, horses will not survive. An adult horse (1000 lbs.) in a cool, comfortable environment that is not working, or lactating, needs a minimum of seven to ten gallons of fresh, clean water every day. The amount of water required is closely related to the amount of feed the horse has eaten. Most horses will drink 1.5 quarts of water per pound of dry feed intake. If a horse is consuming 20 pounds of dry hay per day, the horse would be expected to drink approximately 7.5 gallons of water each day. The water requirement is higher if the horse is in training, nursing a foal, growing, pregnant or in a hot/humid environment. The best way to ensure adequate water intake is to always provide free access to fresh, clean water.
Issues associated with water intake during the winter months usually revolve around horses not drinking enough water. Water that has frozen or is near freezing will result in decreased intake. Water consumption reaches its maximum when the temperature is maintained between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, horses that must eat snow as their only water source, will not eat enough snow to satisfy their necessary water requirement completely. This decreased water intake can result in digestive upset or “colic,” associated with feed material becoming impacted (stuck) in the digestive system. Therefore, the water source should be free-flowing or heated to prevent freezing and guarantee the horse is drinking enough water. When installing a heating device for water, be certain that any electrical unit is properly grounded to prevent electrical shock of the horse. Horses are very sensitive to electrical shock and will quit drinking to avoid shock.
Here are few easy tips to assist with increasing your horse’s water intake:
- Wet your horse’s feed at a ratio of 2 parts feed to 1 part water. This can increase the hydration status of your horse.
- Offer a wet mash, every day, of soaked beet pulp shreds or pellets, timothy forage pellets or alfalfa forage pellets. If you are concerned about adding too many calories to an overweight horse’s diet, try soaking and offering teff forage pellets. Soak these forage or fiber sources at a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part forage.
- Wetting down the long-stemmed hay you offer your horse can also boost water intake slightly.
- Flavoring your horse’s water can also encourage water intake, especially if you are traveling and have a picky drinker.
- Provide a salt block in your horse’s paddock or stall to help stimulate thirst.
Horses primarily eating hay will consume more water than those eating both hay and grain. Fiber increases the water holding capacity of the hindgut. Better quality hays, such as alfalfa, are typically higher in calories compared to grass hay. Other baled hay substitutes, such as forage cubes and pellets, can be fed to replace poor quality hay. Standlee Premium Western Forage offers a wide variety of Alfalfa and Alfalfa mix products ranging from baled, long-stemmed forage, to cubes, pellets and chopped forage. Also available are Standlee Premium Smart Beet (beet pulp) shreds and pellets that increase the calorie content of the forage portion of the diet and are highly digestible.
If you have questions, please contact the nutritionists at Standlee Premium Western Forage, or consult with your veterinarian.
By Dr. Tania Cubitt
Standlee Nutritional Expert – Performance Horse Nutrition
Standlee owns over 18,000 acres of carefully managed alfalfa, timothy grass, orchard grass, alfalfa/grass and orchard/alfalfa hay. Our facility in the small town of Eden, Idaho is 142,000 square feet. We have an extensive customer base both domestically and internationally. Standlee is a leader in the Forage industry. We continue to market and develop the highest quality products for our loyal customers “all year.”