Horses need a lot of water in order to stay healthy and lead fulfilling lives. When it comes to draft horses or horses that train often or race, it’s even more important to take note of their water intake, as being dehydrated could severely impact a horse’s performance. In certain cases, however, horses refuse to drink enough, and it falls to us to take steps in order to ensure their hydration.
How do you get a horse to drink more water? It’s nearly impossible to force horses to drink, but there are certain steps you can do to encourage them. You can increase their sodium intake (via salt), add some flavor to the water, increase the water’s temperature, or even soak up their hay before feeding time.
Keeping a horse’s water temperature in check.
The way we provide water for our horses differs depending on where we live. For instance, if the temperatures drop to freezing levels, we need to make sure that the horse still has access to fresh clean water at all times.
To achieve this, we’ll either use a heater to keep the water’s temperature above freezing, or we’ll have to break the ice that forms above the water’s surface regularly. Keep in mind that horses don’t know how to break the thin layers of ice that form across the water’s surface. This might prevent them from drinking altogether.
Horses can drink water as warm as 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit (26 – 32 Celsius). If you don’t have a heater around, just mix some hot water with cold water in order to achieve the desired temperature.
No matter the weather or season, all horses need between 8-12 gallons of water per day.
How to increase a horse’s sodium intake for improved hydration.
The best thing you can do to encourage your horse to drink is to increase its sodium or salt intake. A salt block is your best bet, and there are plenty of them available on the market presently. All you have to do is pick the block that suits your horse best. If you would like to learn more about salt blocks for horses, make sure to read my complete guide right here.
Moreover, you could just add plain table salt directly to your horse’s feed. On average, you should probably add 1 tablespoon of salt twice per day to your horse’s grain. As always, consult with your vet or with a horse diet specialist before modifying your horse’s diet. You can also try out some salty treats created specifically for horses, as these could help increase their sodium intake.
Keep in mind that horses lose electrolytes through sweat. Whenever your horse goes through an intense workout, you should increase its salt intake. A 1,100-pound horse needs 1 ounce of salt per day purely for maintenance.
Adding some flavor to the water.
Regular water has no taste, and it’s not particularly exciting to drink both for us and for horses. However, we can always add some flavor to it. For horses with a sweet tooth, this could lead to increased water intake and improved hydration.
Apart from this, getting your horse used to a specific flavor can have another very important benefit: your horse will drink normally even when it travels for horse shows and competitions. Some horses refuse to drink unfamiliar water, which is a big challenge for owners that need to travel with their equines for shows. Adding a specific flavor to the water is a neat trick that can solve this problem on the cheap.
Some popular flavor choices for a regular 5-gallon water bucket are:
- ¼ cup of sugar beet juice.
- a small candy cane or a peppermint candy.
- 1 spoon of cider vinegar.
- ¼ cup of apple juice.
- 2 tablespoons of a sports drink (if it has electrolytes, all the better).
If you do decide to flavor your horse’s water, make sure that you provide a second bucket of fresh, untampered water. This way, your horse can choose whichever he wants to drink.
Adding water to a horse’s feed.
If all else fails, there is one very popular trick that horsemen have relied upon for generations: feeding a horse wet food. You can add water to most types of feed in order to improve your horse’s water intake. This includes hay, which actually makes it easier to digest.
You can also add water to your horse’s grain. However, make sure to add just a little bit at first and increase the quantity gradually. This will allow your horse to get used to the taste of wet grain. Add too much water from the start and your horse might refuse to eat the soaked grain.
Another popular wet meal for horses consists of one part beet pulp to four parts water. For improved flavor, you can add some apple juice or molasses. The trick is to soak up the beet pulp for a few hours before feeding so that it may expand in the bucket and not in your horse’s gut. This could cause some serious digestive issues so be sure not to skip this important step.
While you can’t force a horse to drink on command, you can encourage it with the steps that I presented above. Moreover, if you have a healthy relationship with your horse, you could leverage it and train it to drink water by rewarding it whenever it does. This doesn’t work for all horses, but it might work for yours.
In the end, I find that the absolute best way to get a horse to drink is to increase its sodium intake. This works well even for horses that refuse to drink while being away from home. However, if that alone doesn’t do the trick, feel free to experiment with other solutions. Mix them up, take note, and find out what works best for your own horse. No two horses are alike, but they all need water, and it’s our job to make sure that they get enough of it.
Are you happy with your horse’s water intake, and if not, what are the steps that you took to improve it?