Not surprisingly, summer is the season when dehydration in horses is most common, as fluid loss through sweating outpaces water intake through drinking. A deficiency in fluid levels can interfere with a horse’s ability to cool himself and lead to serious health problems.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” isn’t just an aphorism—it’s a practical truth. If your horse doesn’t seem to be drinking, find out why. Most horses with continual access to clean water will drink enough to stay hydrated regardless of the weather. On the other hand, if you hover next to your horse’s water bucket waiting for him to drink you may make him anxious enough to avoid it. Instead, provide water then walk away. If he doesn’t appear to be in distress, give him an hour or two before starting to worry. That much time won’t make a difference even if he is slightly dehydrated.
No matter how concerned you are, don’t try to force your horse to ingest water with a hose or syringe. You won’t get him to take in enough to improve his hydration level and there’s a very real risk of getting water into his respiratory system.
There are, however, three things you can do to makes sure water is ample, accessible and appealing so your horse will drink as much as he needs:
1. Check buckets and troughs at least twice a day, and test your automatic waterers just as often to ensure they are delivering ample water on demand.
2. To keep standing water from becoming smelly and unappealing, limit the amount in your pasture troughs to a three-day supply. An individual horse will, on average, drink about 12 gallons per day, so put out about 36 gallons per horse for a three-day period. Part-time turnout means the amount of water needed could drop by as much as a third. Of course, you never want to let the troughs run dry, so you’ll still need to check them twice daily, cleaning as necessary and topping off the available supply.
3. Manage your herd to ensure all horses have access to the water in their pasture. Dominant horses may chase older or lower-ranking herd members away from troughs or lurk menacingly enough to prevent them from even approaching. If you suspect horses are being bullied away from water, the simplest solution may be to add another trough, some distance from the first, as an alternative. Failing that, move the bully to his or her own space leaving the rest of the horses free to drink as they please.
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