Guest post by April Lee from Helpful Horse Hints.
When the days are long and hot, one of the most important things you can do as a horse owner is making sure your horses are well hydrated. Dehydration isn’t good for your horse and can even lead to colic symptoms.
As a horse owner, I didn’t realize the importance of water intake until I had that first dehydration colic. It wound up costing well over $500 and I was so mad at myself for something that seemed so simple.
It was an expensive lesson learned but my mare was OK and since then I have been able to use the steps above to help keep my whole herd hydrated, even in 100+ degree temperatures when I lived in the high desert of California.
Some horses guzzle water no problem, and others are very picky. Aside from making sure your horse has clean, cool water at all times, there are some other steps you can take to help them stay hydrated. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Offer Water in a Bucket or Tub
If your horse is watered via an automatic waterer (the float kind or the paddle type), keeping a tub full of clean water in their stall gives them an alternate place to drink.
Most automatic waterers have a shallow bowl. This can lead to the water heating up. We all know cool water on a hot day is way more enticing than warm or even hot water. The same is true for your horse.
Bigger tubs mean that the water is able to stay cooler for longer. Even an 18 quart bucket, though, can provide a nice alternative for your horse. The goal is just to make sure they have more than one option, especially during the hottest part of the year.
2. Keep Salt Available
In hot weather, it is extremely important that your horse be able to replace salt that is lost through sweating. This can be done a couple of different ways but, one of the easiest, is to make sure that there is always a salt block available for your horse.
Most feed stores carry three different types of salt block. Plain white salt, mineral salt and iodized salt. You can also find himilayan salt. So which one should you choose?
If you have to choose just one, the plain white salt block is probably your best bet. It’s usually the cheapest and most horses will consume it as needed. Personally, I prefer to give my horse options and I’ll buy both the trace mineral and the plain salt blocks for all of my animals.
The important thing is that your horse have free-choice access to salt, even if you also supplement him with salt and/or electrolytes as part of your feeding routine.
3. Use Electrolytes
If you are going to be doing any riding, you may want to consider having electrolytes on hand. If you can, I always recommend having the powdered electrolytes as well as a few tubes just in case for more rapid delivery.
I have always used Farnam’s Apple Flavored Electrolyte Powder which my horses love. It smells good and I can drop a scoop in their grain or on top of their hay.
I will also sometimes mix a small amount in their water bucket (not a lot though, again, you don’t want to do anything to discourage them from drinking).
While Farnam does make a similar paste, I actually typically keep a brand called “Electro-Plex” on hand. Of course, the brands you choose aren’t as important. The end goal is the same for any of the products. To quickly replace any electrolytes your horses lost during a workout.
4. Add Water to Almost Everything
For any horse, but especially for horses that are super picky about their drinking water, I like to try and add some extra water to almost everything they eat. You can do this a variety of different ways, and make it as complicated or easy as you like. Here are some ideas:
With their hay or pellet ration, consider briefly soaking one or more of their regular meals before feeding. Of course, if you have one horse this is easier than if you have multiple. Hay and pellets will both readily soak up water, Most horses won’t notice and will still voraciously consume it.
If you have multiple horses to feed, and are anything like me, you probably drop a full bale or more onto a feed cart or feed truck. In that case, adding moisture to the hay can be as easy as turning on the hose and thoroughly wetting down the hay bales.
Of course, tightly packed forages, like the Alfalfa grown here on the west coast, won’t get as wet as looser hays like grass hay or oat hay, but some moisture is better than no moisture.
A lot of working horses are on some kind of grain supplement to help increase their calorie intake. Grain buckets can be another way to introduce some extra water.
Instead of just dumping your grain in a bucket and feeding. Try adding just enough water to each bucket to make it sloshy. Sure, your horse’s muzzle might get a little messy while eating it, but this is a great way to get even a little extra water into them.
Other ways to add water can be by feeding high water content treats. Watermelon is a favorite at my stable. Bran mashes and beet pulp are also excellent choices. You can experiment with how much water to add and most horses will readily slop them down!
5. Teach Your Horse To Drink “Strange” Water
Spring and summer are often the time of year that most of us want to trailer out to new and exciting places with our horses. It’s fun to explore new trails, new scenery, and compete against our peers at horse shows.
Some horses, though, don’t like to drink “strange” water. They like the water at home, but on the road, they drink very little and start to dehydrate quickly. So, how can you help make sure that doesn’t happen?
Bring Water From Home
The easiest way to help ensure your horse keeps drinking is to bring water from home. There are various water storage tanks available on the market that fit right into a horse trailer tack room. These are excellent for shorter trips.
Flavor the Water
If you are going out for longer than a day trip, one method you might try is flavoring the water before you leave. Start adding flavor to your horses water bucket a few days or a week before you leave. You can use things like gatorade, kool-aid, or even powdered jello.
The idea is to get your horse used to that flavor of water at home, and then when you are on the road you can add the same additive, to help encourage your horse to continue drinking. The water at the new place or showground will “taste” the same as the water at home, and your horse will be much less likely to refuse it.
Hydration for your horses is important all times of the year, summer and winter and these tips can be applied to any season. In summer, though, horses can dehydrate a lot faster due to heat and, especially if they are being ridden.
Just small changes to your regular horse routine can help to make sure your horses stay hydrated.
April Lee has been active in the horse world and a horse owner since 1994. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly Pomona, and has personally worked with hundreds of horses, founded and run a successful 501(c)3 and even run a program promoting adoption of wild burros in cooperation with the US Government. She currently lives and boards her horse in Los Angeles, CA. You can find more of April Lee’s tips at Helpful Horse Hints.