Winter can be hard on a horse, especially when it comes to drinking water.
Critical to all life forms, the water content in blood is responsible for carrying nutrients to the cells at the same time as it carries away waste. Also serving as the body’s cooling system by regulating body heat, water additionally acts as a lubricant. If a horse is not drinking the required 10 to 12 gallons of water a day there is a very real danger that the horse’s intestines can become impacted, resulting in a painful or even life threatening colic. On larger breeds, such as Belgians, Percherons, Shires and Clydesdales, depending upon their work load and activity level, drinking up to 15 to 20 gallons per day is not uncommon.
The cold weather signals the time when a horse is most at risk. This is when it needs its energy reserves most, which can not be met if it is not sufficiently hydrated. If a horse does not drink, or can not drink due to frozen water conditions, it can lose about 4% of its body-weight within 24 hours -- 6.8% within 48 hours, and 9% after 72 hours. Symptoms to watch for are: dry mucous membranes, sunken eyes, skin that has lost its elasticity, slowed capillary refill time, and depression. On top of which, by the time dehydration has begun, the body can no longer maintain its constant temperature, leading to hypothermia.
Therefore, it is no wonder that horse savvy manufactures have created a multitude of items that will keep water open throughout the winter months. Here are a few ideas to keep your horses drinking:
If you stable your horses you may want to consider investing in an electrically-heated water bucket, although they are equally as effective when used outdoors as well. There are several on the market designed specifically to be hung against a wall or board, and that tout thermostatic controls; some with automatic shut offs, and all with hidden heating elements for safety. Many are tested to withstand 20 below zero F., and come with an extra long cord that exits from the back or bottom of the pail to prevent chewing, and are available in 5 or 16-gallon sizes.
Or, you can get a clamp on pail de-icer, which works well for five-gallon buckets, and which has the advantage of being portable and less expensive. With a built-in thermostat to keep water temperatures within optimal drinking range, the electric elements are also protected with some type of safeguard, i.e. stainless steel, to prevent burns.
If your horses are pastured for any portion of the day or are out 24/7, you likely will want to go the tank de-icer route. Here, too, there are several from which to choose. The submergible electric de-icers are typically made of aluminum and are safe in all types of tanks, including plastic and steel. These, too, boast thermostatic controls that operate only when necessary, and because they are heavier they do not require special guards for safety.
Another choice comes in the form of a floating de-icer. Less expensive than the submergible variety, they also are thermostatically controlled, many with an automatic shut-off.
The top of the line goes to the electrically heated water tanks. In one variety, for instance, the water is kept open by heating the air beneath the tank, as opposed to heating the water itself.