Pitchfork and Pens—Water for Your Horses

Hello everyone! I’m excited to add Pitchfork and Pens to my blog.

I have to inject a disclaimer here before I start sharing. The information and tips I have for you come from 30 years of experience in the horse industry. I will share with you my personal theories and skills I have learned through practical application. I am not a veterinarian, and while I have trained professionally, I trained on a small scale. I do think years of working on big training and breeding farms do constitute a pretty good education.

I also will share thoughts, stories, and essays as they come to me.

A lot of you reading are knowledgeable and a lot of the information will be old news. I know I have some followers who don’t know much about horses so hopefully you find these posts informative and interesting.

Today’s topic is about keeping your horse hydrated. Temperatures here in Texas have been Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.09.40 PMrunning in the 90s during the day, with heat indexes making it feel over 100. It is imperative that your horse drinks plenty of water.

Horses eat hay and grasses. This fibrous diet needs lots of water to keep moving through the gut properly. To help ensure this, we will address what we can do as caretakers to make it happen.

I am responsible for the care of 24 horses, and three different locations. Five are my own and live at my house. Half of these horses are stall-kept, usually at night. For the horses that are stall-kept, even part time, they can drink 10 gallons or more a day. The more they drink, the better the gut moves. If it doesn’t, you can end up with a horse with colic (a serious tummy ache). If the gut gets plugged with dry fiber (an impaction), you have a horse in trouble, and a vet usually ends up involved. Let’s just say this is not good. But we can lessen the chances of this happening by good horse-keeping.

The best way to start this is by paying attention to your horse(s). Keep track, either mentally or physically. At one barn where I worked we kept a small clipboard on the stall front of each horse where we recorded the water intake of each animal three times a day. Anyone who came through the barn could look at the horse’s chart and see if the horse was not drinking normally. You don’t have to be exact down to the ounce, but just keep tabs on what is normal for your horse to drink. When the temperature goes up, the horse should take in more water to replace what he sweats out. If your horse lives outside and has a water trough, especially one with a float, it is much harder to know how much the horse has drunk. Be sure to check the trough regularly. I have found dead birds and even a squirrel before. Dump if possible. I keep goldfish in my outside troughs for mosquito control.

I start by always hanging two buckets in the stall for each horse, even in the winter. I also place the hay as far away from the water buckets as possible, keeping in mind where the horse has dedicated his bathroom spot. So, for example, if your stall door is on the far left, if it is feasible, hang the buckets, or tub if you use one, on the far right. A horse will dribble hay directly into its water bucket if he gets to eat it next to the water. Especially in hot weather. The hay will sour the water quicker. The same goes for feed. I try to place the feed buckets as far as possible from the water. Bits of grain dribbled into the water will turn a horse away from drinking as readily. If he drops hay into his feed bucket he will most likely snack on it later.

When I feed, I always check the water buckets to see how much each horse drank.

When I’m cleaning the stalls, I check the condition of the water. If there is anything like feed or hay in it, I take it out and rinse it. This is a daily chore. Buckets get washed with a dash of bleach once a week, even if the horse isn’t a pig. If the horse is a true piggy, and you find they have pooped in their bucket, or even peed, (yes, especially mares in heat) you will have to clean the bucket thoroughly sooner. Use bleach, but avoid the gel kind. It is very hard to rinse out. I also don’t use dish soap. Rinsing thoroughly is very important. If you have the time, let buckets dry in the sun as this will also help kill any bacteria.

I have horses in stalls that have large tubs for water. They get dumped every two or three days when mosquitoes are a factor. This is not only to help keep the horse drinking, but also to help lower the risks of mosquito-carried diseases, such as West Nile.

Lastly, we use loose electrolytes added to their feed ration. I give it as directed on the packaging twice a day in the summer and once a day in the winter. It is as important for a horse to drink plenty of water in the winter as in the summer, and sometimes harder to get them to do so because of water temperatures. Horses kept outside are provided with a salt block, either white salt, or a mineral block (do not use the yellow sulfur blocks). These weigh 50 pounds so if you can’t lift one, a salt brick will work. Just make sure you place them in a spot that doesn’t hold water as you will end up with salt soup if it rains. I keep my blocks several feet away from the water troughs. Electrolytes are available at most feed stores as well as the salt blocks. Another option, if you don’t want to fool with the loose electrolytes, is to break a salt brick in two or three pieces and place a piece in the feed bucket. The horse will get some salt as it moves its feed around the bottom. This also will help slow a greedy horse’s feed intake.

I did check with our local vet to make sure I wasn’t going to overdose the horses on electrolytes. He informed me that any excess would be passed in the horse’s urine. If you find yourself unsure of this practice, contact your vet to come up with a plan that works for you and your horse.

During this hot season, please remember the other critters in your care as well as yourself and keep everyone properly hydrated.

Read more from Tamara Hartl!

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