Readers Share Advice for Fighting Frozen Water Sources

Readers Share Advice for Fighting Frozen Water Sources

In many parts of the country, caring for horses during the winter is a challenge. But keeping water available to those horses when temperatures plummet is a battle of its own.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

In many parts of the country, caring for horses during the winter is a challenge. But keeping water available to those horses when temperatures plummet is a battle of its own.

We asked horse owners  to share their most effective tips and methods for keeping their horse’s water thawed during freezing temperatures. Here are a few of the helpful hints they shared. 

Electric-Powered Solutions

“I've been looking into solar power, but meanwhile we use a trough heater. Our horses are never without water and drink almost more in the winter than summer sometimes. ... We go through at least two heaters per winter because our water is so hard, and the lime and calcium will build up and burn it out.”—Karen Nesbitt

“We insulate our two tanks and cover 3/4 of their tops. This winter we used bird bath heaters to keep the water from freezing. They're 200 watts each instead of 1500 for one tank heater. Electric bill dropped a lot.”—Amy Kirmse  

“I have a submersible heater. I put in my tank and when it is really cold. I cover half of the tank on top with a piece of fitted plywood I have for the purpose. It cuts down the surface area and helps keep the tank open for the horses to drink.”—Amanda Stoke 

“My heater kicks on under 35°F. And everyday in negative temps I give them extra luke warm water from the house with some salt so they drink more.”—Heather Kilroy  

“I love my electric heated buckets. Before I had electricity I used a propane tank heater in a 100-gallon Rubbermaid tank and hauled water every two to three days in a 50 gallon water tank. Just backed up to the tank and opened the valve and put the hose in the tank. I had to know about how much water to bring each time so I didn't have extra as it would freeze in the tank and water is too precious to waste. I have also used an in water heater that screws into a Rubbermaid 100 gallon tank and kept water thawed. Again I had to know about how much water to haul so I didn't end up with too little or too much left over. Just remember to keep the heaters under water as they can burn the horse and possibly cause a fire. Best of luck to everyone in keeping water thawed!”—Reb Reed 

“Our horses turned out 24/7 have heater coils in their large troughs, and the horses on daily turnout have the blue heated buckets. All are on timers. In the barn I wait till right before they come in to fill their buckets, and top them off with warm water when needed!”—Dani Belec 

“I built a box around the water trough, sprayed foam insulation to fill in the gaps, and made the box with a lid so half is always open, but you can shut it if necessary. I also had two heaters in the bottom of the trough. I learned this from living in Alaska and having three horses...never once had a colic!”—Tracy Vignola 

“My husband build wooden box with styrofoam insulation on the inside and lid that is closed 2/3 of the way and insulated. The plastic tub is fully enclosed in the box. I put in small heater that sits at the bottom and it works very well.”—Hana Daxner 

Solar-Powered Options

“I have a solar power water tub. No electric required, worked great all season long. Best money I've ever spent.”—Jackie Meiklejohn 

Manual Options

“A rubber mallet to whack outside the buckets then a strainer to remove the ice. Not thrilled to have heated buckets in the barn as I think it is a fire hazard.”—Melinda Vance 

“I haul 2 1/2 gallon jugs of hot water to the barn and spike each bucket with half for each. If the buckets already have lots of ice than I will put one hot per bucket and top with cold water. As for the stock tanks, before I loose them for the winter, I will top off every couple of days with hot water from the kennel hose. Than we just do 'ice fishing' with it starts to freeze up again. Right now, I have no stock tanks. I use black rubber buckets because the hold the heat better and if they do freeze up you can beat the tar out of them and not break them.”—Chani Atrieadies 

“I change the water three or four times a day. Better than banging a bucket around for 15 minutes to get the ice out. Would use heated buckets but I shut the electricity off to my barn when I leave.”—Rachel Boyer Patterson

“Water several times a day in small amounts.”—Laura Penny 

Automatic Waterers

“I use a Bar-Bar-A waterer which requires no electricity or heating because it drains like a frost proof spigot. It has never froze up even in -15° and it only took an hour to teach even my dumbest horse how to push the paddle for water.”—Carol Landkrohn

“We have a horse that likes to climb in water troughs, so we can't use those. ... We only have two stalls. We installed metal automatic water bowls several years ago in each stall. The horse can't climb in those!  We installed a protected light bulb casing underneath them, then we built plywood surrounding it all, and lined it with insulation and tinfoil. The lights are connected to a temperature-controlled outlet. So, the light bulbs come on when it gets below 40° and go off when it gets above 40°. The light from a 60 watt bulb is enough to keep the float valve from freezing. It's worked very well for several years, even when it was in the single digits in the barn. We live up near Blaine, Wash., so we get that cold air down from the Fraser Valley. It works great after all these years! The water stays a great temperature that the horses enjoy drinking. My chemical engineer husband designed it. I told him he should patent it.”—Pam Erickson  

“I have automatic water in very stall, but in winter the tack room/feed room is heated with a water line to a large bucket that is always full of lukewarm water. Always have fresh warm water.”—Susan Long  

Other Methods

“I find the most effective way of keeping water troughs from freezing is to move to Hawaii.”—Lauren Butcher

“My water tanks are wrapped in insulation and a pond pump keeps the water circulating. Even if the top freezes there is an open area for them to drink from.”—Edie Jeffas 

“Short of heaters fish work great.”—Scott Richardson

“Move to Florida like I did! We have 2-inch goldfish in our water tanks. It's my horse's favorite tank on the whole farm, and all the other horses love it as well!”—Mindy Walsh 

“I just let mine run into the tub with one hose and drain out with another moving water doesn't freeze and they always have fresh clean water 24/7/365.”—Cindy Cole

“Normally a ball floating in the trough stops it, depending how cold it gets!”—Andy Tait 

You can find additional resources on winter horse care and winter horse back riding tipson

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