Friday, 14 November 2014



Water is essential to life.  Horses can survive for some time without food but will dehydrate and die in days without water.  All bodily functions need water to work efficiently and a horses body is 70% water!

Water is needed for:

  • Digestion - lack of water can cause colic 
  •  Temperature regulation - sweating, evaporation of the moisture from the skin has a cooling effect 
  • Lubrication - for example in the joints and eyes 
  •  Metabolism - for chemical reactions in the body 
  • Waste - urine, droppings and sweat

You must ensure that there is clean, fresh water available at all times.  Horses can drink an average of 36 litres of water per day and this can increase to 68 litres if the weather is hot!

So a water bottle is unlikely to give enough!!!

The amount of water a horse will need depends on several factors:

  • Temperature- in hot weather a horse will sweat and lose fluid which he will need to replace 
  • Work - again hard work will cause a horse to sweat, lose fluids which will need replacing 
  • Diet - if the horse is fed dry food he will drink more water 
  •  Milk production - brood mares need more water in order to produce milk for their foals 
  • Faecal and urinary loss - if a horse has diarrhoea this will cause an abnormal loss of fluids

There are a few 'RULES' of watering to remember .....

  1. Horses must have a constant clean supply of water 
  2. Water utensils and containers must be kept clean 
  3. Water before feeding 
  4. Do not allow a horse to drink deeply after a dry feed
  5. Do not allow a horse to drink deeply immediately after hard work 
  6.  Allow the horse to cool down slightly after work before offering a small amount of tepid water, then wait until the horse is completely cool before offering more 
  7. Do not work a horse hard after they have had a deep drink 
  8. Containers should be large and deep enough to allow a good deep drink
  9. Containers must be safe and sturdy with no sharp edges and not be liable to break 
  10. Take water when you travel as water at the destination may be contaminated 
  11. Do not allow a horse to drink deeply immediately after travelling 
  12. Check water in the field and stable frequently even when there are automatic waterers. To ensure the horse is drinking and inspect for contamination.

There are a few 'RULES' of when NOT to water .....

  1. After a feed - as this will flush any undigested food out of the stomach.  This does  not tend to be a problem if the horse has a constant supply of water. 
  2.  After very hard work - cold water will cause a shock to the horse's system.  As mentioned above a small amount of tepid water should be offered and then more when the horse has cooled down sufficiently. 
  3. Before hard and/or fast work - the water will bloat the stomach and can restrict breathing 
  4.  After travelling - if the horse is stressed or tired a deep drink can cause colic.  Give them small amounts for the first hour or until the horse is calm.

Water Containers
There are, in broad terms, two ways to supply water to horses in the stable.

Buckets should be heavy enough to not tip over but large enough to allow a deep drink. They should be made of plastic or rubber and ideally not too heavy to carry when full of water.  Where possible they should be fixed or placed in a rubber tyre.

Water buckets traditionally were like this ....

                            ...... and you can also secure them with a clip to the wall.  BUT I have seen some horrible pictures of injuries to horses' noses and eyes caused by securing the bucket to the wall and/or the handles on these buckets.   

Horses manage to get their eyelids or nostrils caught in the loop on the handle where it attaches to the  bucket ...

                     ..... because the buckets are barely bigger than the horses head the eyes are very close to the edge when the bucket becomes under half full!

So I favour a much larger bucket where the horse's head is never close to the hooks, and I ensure the hooks are closed so there is not gap for an eyelid or nostril.

Obviously this bucket is too heavy to move when full so I half fill it, put it in the stable and then fill it up from another bucket.  Many people now use the more flexible buckets that don't have metal handles and therefore have nothing for a horse to catch himself on.

However, these buckets cannot easily be carried with water in and therefore need filling when in position.  Buckets are easily cleaned and allow you to monitor a horses water intake and regulate it if needed.   

Unfortunately, buckets are also heavy to carry around, they can be a hazard when empty and are labour intensive!

Automatic Waterers are another option for supplying water in the stable.

I would advise finding the largest possible as some tend to be small for larger horses to put their mouths in.  These are great because they provide a constant supply of clean water (so long as the bowl is kept clean) and are hugely labour saving.  However, you cannot monitor water consumption and they are more difficult to keep clean.  Unfortunately they (or the pipes) do also sometimes freeze in the winter so buckets have to be used instead.

Supplying water in the field can again be done using buckets, troughs  or automatic waterers. 

For the field automatic waterers tend to come in the form of troughs. Self filling ones that are connected to the mains are hugely labour saving and ensure there is a constant supply of water.  Unfortunately the pipes often freeze in winter and so these troughs do need checking regularly.  

Troughs that need to be filled are another option but these will need to be checked and filled regularly to ensure a constant water supply.  If there are no taps and hoses nearby this can be a labour intensive job carrying buckets backwards and forwards.

During the winter months troughs (both types) must be kept clear of ice.  Placing a large rubber ball in the trough can help as it will float around preventing ice to form.  I have found that the water still tends to freeze though.

All troughs must be kept clean by emptying, scrubbing and rinsing, this is more difficult when they are attached to the mains as it is not possible to tip the troughs over!

When choosing where to put your trough there are a few points to remember.

  • Don't position a trough under trees as it will become full and clogged with leaves 
  • Don't position a trough in a corner as a horse low in the 'pecking order' may become cornered by a more dominant horse and subsequently be afraid to go and drink 
  • Don't put a trough in the middle of the field as it can become a hazard 
  • Position the trough along a fence line 
  •  Laying hardcore or concrete around the trough will reduce poaching in the winter

Buckets are a labour intensive choice for supplying water in the field.  They need to be constantly cleaned and refilled and can be kicked over and become a hazard.  However, buckets are useful when automatic troughs are iced over or otherwise not working!

I really appreciate my automatic troughs both in the winter and the summer and would definitely recommend them.  I do check them whenever it is icy but find that usually Chesney easily breaks the ice.  There have been a few occasions when I have had to supply buckets because the ice was too thick to break but not often.

What type of buckets or troughs do you use?

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