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Prevent Dehydration and Horse Colic By Heating Drinking Water in Winter

While most horse owners naturally monitor their horseís water intake during the hot summer months, many relax that vigilance during the winter. However, getting enough water during cold weather is just as important as it is during hot weather.
Horses need less water during the winter, and therefore, naturally drink less. However, often they drink too little. Researchers have discovered that this tendency to drink too little water can be countered by simply offering your horses warm water during the winter.

But does it really make that much difference how much water your horse drinks?

Absolutely. According to research done at the University of Pennsylvania, there are anecdotal correlations between decreased water and fecal impaction colic. Increasing the amount of water a horse drinks is an easy and inexpensive way to keep your horse at the peak of health during the winter.

A research project completed at the universityís New Bolton Center proved that ponies, when offered warm water or near-freezing water, drank a whopping forty percent more warm water. This statistic remained constant whether the ponies were offered water that was kept warm constantly, or if their drinking buckets were simply filled with warm water twice daily. The ponies drank the most within three hours after feeding, or after the water containers were refilled.

This study also showed that the ponies actually drank more water than indicated in previously published maintenance requirements when they were offered warm water. The ponies in the study group drank an average of 9.9 liters daily, or about two and a half gallons. This is sixty-two percent more than the maintenance guideline of only 6.1 liters per day.

Providing warm water is relatively easy for horses that winter indoors, but turn-outs provide a bit more of a challenge.

Automatic waterers are a good solution for outdoor wintering horses. There are many different models available, including some constructed of rust-proof polyethylene plastic. Making sure that the waterer is correctly installed is the most important key in preventing problems later on.

When installing the automatic waterer, make sure that the water pipes to the unit are below the frost line. Also, check the watererís reputation for reliability of the heating unit before purchase.

However, donít rely entirely on your automatic waterer. Problems and malfunctions happen, even in the most expensive or reliable models. The waterer should be checked, and the water pan cleaned, daily.

If an automatic waterer is not an option, consider carrying buckets of hot water out twice daily to the horses. Mix a little cold water from the barn tap before offering it to the horses, creating a nicely warm drink. If you are wondering how warm or cool to make it, remember, if you would not drink the water, donít ask your horse to drink it.

There are other ways to heat water for your horses. One water heater model is created to float in a stock tank. Completely enclosed in Styrofoam and plastic, the heater is controlled by a thermostat and has an automatic shut off. This is a popular option for cattle, but given horsesí tendency to play with objects, it may not be practical for horses.

Other types of heaters and de-icers donít float. Some, equipped with automatic shut-off and thermostat control, are designed to sit on the bottom of the tan to prevent the livestock from disturbing them. Others attach to the side of stock tanks, clamping securely on to prevent playful horses from removing them from the water. The heating elements run along the bottom of the tank, to prevent accidental burns. Thermostats are adjustable and replaceable in case of malfunction.

Other heaters are not able to be immersed, and can be more affordable. These are for use under metal buckets, waterers, fountains, or other water holders. There are also de-icers designed for use in buckets, but since they can heat the water all the way to boiling, they cannot be left in place or unattended.

One of the newest heaters available is a drain plug de-icer made to be used with the popular Rubbermaid stock tanks. This unit installs, as the name suggests, through the drain plug opening. This keeps the electrical cord out of the way. The unit is also controlled by a thermostat.

Other watering devices require no electricity. These can still prevent water from freezing by limiting its exposure to the air, or by using the heat from the ground. These do not tend to keep the water as warm as electric heaters, however.



Read the next horse care article on Winter Horse Care and Blankets.
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