The Importance of Clean Water

Would you drink dirty water? Water that had algae, mud, maybe even feces in it? Would you be able to put it to your mouth and swallow?

I would, if it was a matter of survival. Chances are, if it was a matter of life or death, you would too. If that was the only water available and the choice was to drink that water or die, I am betting there are not many people who wouldn’t take at least a sip. But, would you drink your fill of that dirty, nasty water? Would you drink deeply so that your thirst was satisfied and your body was hydrated, all the way down to a cellular level? Probably not. And neither would your horse.

We all know that water is the most important nutrient that any animal can have. It is essential for almost every function, from digestion and respiration, to reproduction and lactation. But what we may often forget is that even though our animals have access to water, that doesn’t mean they are well hydrated. If their water is teeming with algae or full of mud or excrement, chances are that they are choosing not to drink as much as they could.  In the winter, if it is too cold or even frozen over, horses will have lowered intake as well.

A horse that is not well hydrated can run into a myriad of problems, not the least of which can be impactions that can lead to colic. Veterinarians will tell you that winter is prime-time for colic episodes that are directly related to lack of water. This is why it is important to monitor your horse’s water intake and make sure they are getting their fill on a daily basis.

The bare minimum amount of water that a horse needs on a daily basis is 0.5 to 1 gallon for every 100 lbs. of weight in a maintenance environment with a temperate climate. Add in performance demands, lactation, hot weather, humidity, etc. and the demand for water increases significantly. Your best bet? Keeping free choice clean cool water available at all times.

But how do you know if your water supply is up to snuff? There is a pretty easy test to tell. Ask yourself these questions as you stand at your horses’ pond, water trough or bucket:

  • Is it the right temprature? (between 45 – 65 degrees farenheit is preferred)
  • Is it fresh?
  • Is it clean?
  • Is it abundant?
    Would I want to drink it?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you are providing a good water source that your horse should be happy to drink their fill from.

Take this “water quality quiz” today, and then take it again in the middle of winter, when the way you supply water to your horse may be entirely different. Because no matter what the season, water is key to a healthy, active horse.

 

Is it the Feed, or Something Else?

A farm owner recently called me and asked if I could come out and evaluate his feeding program. The farm was experiencing an increase in colic and choke, which the owner felt was feed related.

As we reviewed the horses, their weights and body conditions were good. In fact a few horses appeared to be on the heavy side. The farm was feeding a first cutting hay. It was fair quality, and the horses appeared to find it palatable. Each horse was receiving 1.5 to 2% of their body weight per day in forage.

The concentrate was a high fat, high fiber pellet with mid line fortification of vitamins and minerals. In addition, pasture was available on a daily basis. With the amount of fiber in the horses diet, I found it interesting that the farm was experiencing increased colic.

I started to investigate other management issues.

    • The feeding schedule was two feedings per day, with the a.m. feeding at 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I had suggested spreading out the feedings into 3, if possible, with a final offering of hay at closing time in the evening, about 10:00 p.m.
    • Salt blocks were available in each stall.
    • Each horse had two water buckets.

It was then that I noticed the water buckets were very discolored and smelled bad. The owner informed me that he was using water from a pond on the farm. He had the water tested, and felt it came back safe for equine consumption. It quickly became obvious that the horses were not consuming enough water on a daily basis, even though it was available to them. I suggested the owner begin cleaning the water buckets on a daily basis to increase consumption .

When I talked with him last, he was not happy with the added labor, but admitted the horses were consuming more water and he did not have any choke or colic in the past two weeks.

Feeding Horses During Hot Weather

Performance horses in all disciplines, from racing to western pleasure, are expected to deliver optimum performance all year around, regardless of temperature. Summer conditions of high temperature and humidity presents several challenges to the horse owner. Proper management of working conditions, water consumption and feeding practices can help meet the challenge.

Working Conditions:

  1. Early morning and evening rides are better for both horse and rider.
  2. Horses confined during the day should have shade, ventilation and fresh clean water. This applies to horses in stalls, at shows or in the pasture.
  3. If horses must be trained or shown during the heat of the day, they should be offered water regularly. A hot horse should not be allowed to drink large quantities of cold water then stand, but a horse cannot cool down properly if it is dehydrated. The rule “six sips and walk” provides a good guideline. Horses going in classes throughout the day must be allowed to drink regularly, as dehydration and heat stroke can be deadly.
  4. Loss of fluid can also make a horse prone to colic. If a horse stops sweating, immediate action is required.

Feeding Management Practices:

  1. Adjust the energy sources fed. The horse’s total thermal load can be reduced by using highly digestible fiber sources and added fat feed sources.
    1. High fiber hay produces more heat increment or heat of digestion than lower fiber hay.
    2. Fat produces the lowest heat increment.
    3. The most heat efficient hay source for a performance horse would be an early cut grass or grass legume mixture. This hay should be fine in texture and relatively soft to the touch.
  2. An added fat feed or the addition of corn oil to the diet will provide higher energy with lower intake, and will assist in reducing the thermal load. Added fat diets may also produce the additional performance benefits of increased endurance and reduced fluid loss.
  3. Feeding small amounts throughout the day rather than two large feedings may also be beneficial as the heat produced by digestion can be spread out.
  4. Very high levels of protein should be avoided as the excess nitrogen increases fluid loss due to the higher urine output.

Feeding Salt & Electrolytes:

  1. Loose trace mineral salt in a feeder protected from rain should be available free choice. Manufactured feeds will generally contain 0.5%-1.0% salt, but a performance horse may require 4-6 ounces of salt per day to maintain electrolyte balance. Horses will generally not consume this much block salt.
  2. Electrolyte supplements may be beneficial immediately before and during a competition, but care must be exercised to make certain the horse is consuming adequate water.
    1. Giving a concentrated electrolyte without adequate water consumption may actually increase the potential for a problem.

Summer is a great season to spend more time with horses. Proper management can help make certain it is pleasant and safe for both horse and rider.