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The importance of water for horses

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We all know the importance of water for horses. Horses can’t survive more than a few days without water. But do we know how much water they should be drinking? What might stop them drinking? And we’ve all heard; “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” But what can you do to encourage them to drink?

How much water does my horse need?

The average horse needs 30 – 55 litres of water every day. Bigger horses typically need to drink more water and ponies drink less. But there are other factors what can make your horse need more or less water.

What are the risks of not drinking enough water?

If horses aren’t drinking enough water, they are at risk of becoming dehydrated. This can lead to a drop in performance but it also has much more serious impacts. Dehydration can lead to colic and reduced organ function. Not having access to water while eating can also increase the risk of choke.

What impacts how much water my horse needs?

Two 15h, 500kg thoroughbreds might not have the same water needs. There are a few key things that can change how much water your horse might need.


What is the temperature?

Just like us, when it is hot outside, horses need to drink a bit more water to stay hydrated, especially if they are sweating. But equally, in the cold weather, horses can actually need just as much water as they burn more energy to keep warm.


If the horse is being exercised, they will probably need more water than if they are just out in the field grazing. The harder the work, the more water they will need afterwards.


The type of forage your horse is eating has an impact. If your horse is out grazing on fresh grass, they will be getting water from the grass. If they are eating mostly hay, they will need more water. The same goes for feed, horses who eat more hard feed often need more water.


When you are sick, you are told to drink plenty of fluids. This same logic applies to horses. A healthy horse at a healthy weight will have different needs to a sick horse or a horse who is under or over weight.

Do horses need clean water?

This should be a given, but yes, water for horses must be fresh and clean. It doesn’t have to be human drinking water clean, but it should still be clean. Ideally water will from the pipes, either from the mains water or from another clean source, such as collected rain water.

Natural sources such as rivers, streams and ponds through their fields can be problematic. They can become contaminated without you knowing. They can be difficult for your horse to access safely, especially during the wetter months. And if they are sandy based, they can increase the risk of sand colic. So buckets/troughs are prefered.

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Photo by Roger Brown on Pexels.com

Why might my horse not want to drink?

If water for horses is important, why do they sometimes not drink? Even if they really need to? Unfortunately, there are so many reasons why! But here are a few reasons why:

Water is too cold

When it’s cold outside, you don’t want to drink icy water. Your horse is the same. It might not matter how thirsty they are, if the water is really cold they won’t drink it.

Funny smell/taste

Horses have much better senses than us. They can smell differences in the water and this helps them identify potentially contaminated water. This is why some horses turn down perfectly clean water while away from home as it smells different to their water.

They aren’t feeling 100%

If your horse is feeling a bit off or under the weather, they can lose their appetite and not want to drink water.

Tips for encouraging horses to drink

Whatever the reason why your horse might not be drinking, it is important you encourage them to do so. Here are some top tips to help you get your horse drinking:

Keep buckets/troughs clean

Seems obvious but clean buckets and troughs are going to help the water smelling and tasting fresh and clean. Field troughs should be emptied and scrubbed at least once a year to help prevent the build up of algae.

Bring your own water to shows

If you are taking your horse out to a show or training session for the day, make sure to bring some of your own water from the yard tap. Most horses are more likely to drink their own water whilst out and about than strange water.

Add juice to their water

A great tip for encouraging horses to drink is to make it a bit sweeter. Adding a bit of apple juice (other juices work too) to their water can often encourage them to take a drink.

Remove ice & add hot water

When it’s cold and the water freezes over, make sure you break up and remove the ice so that they can easily access the water. If you can, adding some hot water can help too.

Don’t panic if they only drink in the field or stable

We have had it drilled into us that horses should have access to water 24/7. While this is good practice, you don’t need to panic if your horse only drinks in their stable or only drinks in the field, as long as they are still drinking enough. In the wild, horses will often drink just once a day as they are on the move. If your horse is drinking all they need in the 10 hours they are in the field, it shouldn’t matter that they aren’t drinking in the stable the rest of the day, as long as they still have the water there as an option.

Last Updated on 16/12/2022

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