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Sun’s Out, Water Tanks are Out! The Importance for Horses to Drink Water During the Summer Months

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Riding in the summertime can easily become a sticky situation… literally! The hot, humid temperatures make barn activities much more challenging. By the end of a ride, both you and your horse are both drenched in sweat. When sweating so much during the summer, it is important to be aware of your horse’s hydration level. It is easy for him to become dehydrated when working in the heat. By being aware of the environment and ensuring your horse has fresh, clean water to drink, you can take the steps to prevent summer dehydration.

Horses are large animals and therefore drink a lot of water! On average, a horse will drink 5-15 gallons of water a day. Depending on the heat, humidity, and amount of exercise, a horse may drink upwards of 30 gallons of water a day! A horse will sweat off several pounds of perspiration during exercise, depending on the activity, so he will need additional water to refuel. Always allow your horse to drink as much water as he wants during exercise. The old myth that a horse will colic from drinking too much water too quickly is false – But it is a safe practice to control (but not limit!) water intake by allowing small, frequent drinks when cooling a horse down. A horse can also receive water from pasture; fresh, green grass usually contains 60-80% moisture.

Even if you offer your horse plenty of water, there is still a chance he will become dehydrated during the summer heat wave. How can you tell if your horse is dehydrated? A horse’s vitals will be out of the normal range: he will have an elevated heart rate, an elevated respiratory rate, and a higher body temperature. His eyes may be sunken in and his stomach my be tucked-up. Luckily, there are two tests a horse owner can perform to see if his/her horse is dehydrated. One of these is testing the capillary refill time; when pressing into the horse’s gum, the area should become lighter and return to a normal color in 2 seconds. If it takes longer for the gums to recover color, the horse is dehydrated. The horse’s gums should be pink and moist; dry and light-colored gums are a sign of dehydration. You can also test by pinching the horse’s skin and releasing; it should ideally retract immediately, but if the skin stays pinched up for several seconds, the horse is dehydrated.

A dehydrated horse’s bodily functions can cease to function properly: his blood volume lessens, resulting in increased heart and respiratory rate. To gain moisture, the body will begin pulling water from nearby tissues to support the blood volume, causing those tissues to not work as properly. After 48 hours without water, a horse will begin to display symptoms of impaction, colic, and lethargy due to dehydration. In total, a horse can survive only 5 days without water. Mild dehydration can usually be remedied by offering water, but more severe cases will need to be seen by a veterinarian.

So how can you reduce the likelihood of your horse becoming dehydrated? Fortunately, there are several precautions a horse owner can take for prevention! If your horse is not drinking as much water as you would like, you supplement his feed or water with powder electrolytes, or give him a tube of electrolyte gel. Allowing the horse free choice salt will ensure that he has enough electrolytes in his body and encourages him to drink. Soaking the hay is another option to ensure your horse is still getting liquids into him. The horse will still receive moisture from the hay.

Trailering during the summertime is a huge risk because a horse is much less likely to drink, especially if the water at the new location tastes different than what he is accustomed to. Horses are very picky creatures when it comes to taste, including the water they drink. To transition the horse and ensure he still drinks, begin adding electrolyte powder to the horse’s water a week before travel. When you have reached your destination, continue adding electrolytes in the water so that the horse does not turn his nose up at the odd taste. After a few days, you will be able to gradually take the horse off the electrolytes. You could also bring a container of water from the old barn to wherever you trailer to make sure your horse continues to drink. No matter where you are trailering, however, it is always important to offer the horse fresh water every 3-4 hours, especially if he is standing in a hot trailer on a sunny day. Bring a large container of fresh water and a bucket and stop every few hours to offer your horse water.

It is important to always have clean, fresh sources for your horses. Natural sources, such as streams and ponds, should be considered a secondary water source – never the horse’s main supply. The quality of these sources cannot be guaranteed because they may sprout algae. Also, they are difficult to get to if frozen or the ground around them is muddy. There should always be a fresh supply of water in a trough to ensure that the horse is drinking clean water. During the summertime, water troughs and buckets should be checked everyday for freshness. Stale, musky water allows for algae to bloom and is a breeding ground for flies. If the water is old, scrub the tank or bucket out with a brush, a hose, and a little bit of soap.

No matter where you are, always make sure your horse has plenty of clean, fresh water to reduce the dehydration risks.