Dakota Farmer

Keep horses hydrated

Equine hydration in summer months is crucial for health and well-being.

Sarah McNaughton, Editor, Dakota Farmer

May 22, 2024

2 Min Read
Horses drinking water out of a trough
HYDRATED HORSES: The old adage “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” rings true for many horse owners in the summer. The University of Minnesota Extension gives tips to encourage horses to drink, staving off dehydration. Middelveld/Getty Images

Owners who haul their horses might know the frustration of animals refusing to drink when away from home. A 1,000-pound horse needs about 8 to 10 gallons of water each day, but their requirements increase when they are exercising or when temperatures are hot.

Horses that don’t consume enough water may suffer from poor performance, poor organ function and even be at risk of developing colic. To avoid this problem, the University of Minnesota Extension has some tips to encourage animals to drink at home and on the road.

Fresh is best

Ensure that horses always have full access to clean, fresh water. Buckets, troughs and automatic waters should be cleaned often to stop bacterial growth. When traveling, empty and refill stale water before leaving for a new trip.

If on the road, water from a new location may taste or smell different than their usual source, off-putting them from drinking. Bringing a travel tank from home and providing your horse with familiar-tasting water may encourage them to drink.

When waiting for them to drink, take a few steps back from their bucket and give them space. If the animal doesn’t look distressed, give them an hour or two before worrying.

Add some flavor

A little apple cider vinegar or molasses into their water bucket may entice horses to take a drink. Giving water buckets a rinse with a minty mouthwash or adding clear, caffeine-free soda to fresh water could encourage consumption.

Commercial electrolytes can be added directly to horses’ water, which can trigger animals to drink. Water additives that consist of feed ingredients to enhance water’s taste and smell can promote horses drinking. All directions should be followed according to the label when used.

Salt added into grain or a salt block in pens or stalls is another tool to encourage hydration.

Monitor dehydration

Providing shade and shelter can help prevent further dehydration if animals are resistant to water consumption. A cool spot to rest can minimize exposure to summer heat and sun. For horses that are refusing to consume water, check for sunken or dull eyes, tacky gums and skin elasticity to monitor their hydration levels.

Horses going without water for one to two hours have an increased risk of colic, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Severe dehydration can escalate into serious conditions including kidney failure or heatstroke, so make sure to monitor horses suspected of dehydration and contact the vet if their condition worsens.

Prevention is key to healthy horses, so assess hydration levels and ensure proactive measures to keep them cool and hydrated during summer heat.

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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