Dehydration probably isn’t at the front of most horse owner’s minds during winter, but the combination of inactive horses, reduced pasture availability, lots of dry hay, and limited water intake can all lead to dehydration, and in serious cases can also lead to impaction colic.
Water intake will vary from horse to horse, and can be affected by several factors such as size, weather, water temperature, workload, and diet. For example, a horse eating lush pasture will drink less than a horse consuming mainly hay, and a horse getting a diet of hay plus grain based feeds will drink less than an all fibre diet. The bare minimum your horse should be drinking (even in the deep dark depths of winter) is between 5 and 6.6 litres per 100kg of body weight (25-33 litres per day for a 500kg horse).
If you are concerned about your horse not drinking enough during winter, these tips may help:
- Offer your horse warmer water. There is evidence that horses prefer lukewarm water (at around 20 degrees Celsius). This has been shown to increase intake by around 40% compared to very cold water.
- Having salt available to the horse, either in a lick, block or added to the feed can encourage a horse to drink and help keep them hydrated.
- The presence of fibre in the horse’s gut stimulates the thirst response. Having access to pasture and/or hay is great, and feeding fibre based feeds like the Johnson’s Natural Formula range may help encourage your horse to drink more.