Horse Hydration: 10 Questions Answered

The temperatures are rising and it is very important to keep your horse hydrated. But how can you do that and what are the most important principles? We talked with two equine nutritionists who answered ten questions about horse hydration.

To start with, it is important to know that horses, just like the rest of us, need water to keep their bodies functioning. However, there’s more to horse hydration than simple providing them constant access to clean water. Ten questions answered…

How long is too long for a horse to go without water? 

The body of a horse can tolerate a lack of water for longer periode, but dehydration can quickly become fatal. After three to four days, his organs will begin to shut down, which can result in irreversible damage.

How do I encourage my horse to drink? 

It may happen that your horse doesn’t want to drink after training for instance. The easiest tip is to make sure that your horse has fresh and clean water at all times. Keep on checking of the water and buckets are clean. You can also provide your horse with salt blocks in order to let him drink more or another salt supplement.

What temperature does the water have to be? 

A horse likes to drink water that are lukewarm (20°C), especially during cold weather. Research has shown that horses drink less water if the temperature of the water is not well.

Can a horse drink too much water? 

A horse can drink too much water, particularly if he suffers from certain health conditions such as Equine Cushing Disease. Excessive water intake can cause stress on the kidneys as they eliminate the excess water and can also dilute the electrolytes in the horse’s body, decreasing its ability to regulate temperature. Healthy horses will never drink beyond their body’s capacity.

What are signs of dehydration and what do I do if my horse becomes dehydrated? 

Clinical signs are an elevated heart rate or pulse, decreased skin elasticity and changes in gum color (bubblegum pink and moist are normal) and feel. These signs occur if the horse is 4-6% dehydrated. Other signs are sunken eyes and tucked-up appearance to the abdomen. These signs will occur if the dehydration level approaches 8-10%. Most of the time, these dehydration can be fixed by offering clean, palatable water. In case of severe dehydration, you need to call a vet.

If it’s very hot, how long will it take for a horse to become dehydrated? 

This is very hard to say since it will depend on many different factors. Normally a horse will drink more if the temperatures start rising. They are trying to maintain their hydration status themselves. Conclusion: make sure your horse always has fresh, clean water available, he will try to keep his body temperature balanced himself by drinking more than usual.

Can certain illnesses have an impact on a horse’s water intake?

Any health condition with a decreased feed intake, can also lessen water intake. A horse with diarrhea will more likely become dehydrate that a healthy horse, even if it drinks its normal amount of water. Horses with a glucose/insulin problem, may drink more and Cushing’s disease may have an influence as well Diet can have an influence as well. High levels of hay, salt of proteins can cause excessive water intake.

How can I keep my horse hydrated while competing or traveling?

Make frequent stops if you travel more than two hours to offer your horse water while traveling. This will not only keep him hydrated but will also help him tolerate traveling for a longer period. During competitions, you should offer your horse fresh water when it’s possible.

Should I control my horses’ water intake after training or can he drink as much as he wants? 

A horse should always be allowed to drink as much as he wants. Horses will never drink beyond their stomach capacity in the first few minutes after an intense training.

Why are some horses so picky about their water? 

Horses are very sensitive to the smell and taste of water and feedstuff so there may be several explanations why a horse does not want to drink from one source. Water hardness palatability are the most common reasons why a horse refuses to drink.