Water Access in Winter

Make sure horses have good access to water and are drinking. They drink less during cold or wet weather, but still need an adequate supply or they may become impacted. If water is quite cold or freezes and the horse isn't drinking enough, he'll eat less feed and may lose weight or be less able to keep warm. Horses will eat snow, nibbling a few bites of snow periodically while eating or grazing. A horse at pasture may get along fine if snow conditions are right for eating it easily (not hard and crusted), but there's always some risk for impaction.

If his manure becomes firm and dry instead of soft and moist, the horse is not getting adequate water. He won't eat all of his hay, though this clue may escape your notice if he's in a group and the other horses eat the hay he leaves. If he is dehydrated and not eating enough, his flanks and abdomen will draw up and he'll look gaunt.

Check the water twice daily to break ice if necessary. If horses are using a stream or pond they may be hesitant to step on ice to reach a water hole you've chopped. You may have to spread sand on the ice to give them safer footing. Water in a bucket can be warmed with a submersible bucket heater, but these are risky and can shock a horse if they don't work properly or if a horse plays with the cord. Some buckets have built-in heating elements.

Horses drink more if the water is not ice-cold. Make sure a horse has an adequate amount in the mornings, since he will drink more during the warmer daylight hours. Many horses drink less at night if the weather is cold. Horses drink most of their daily water within three hours after being fed. If you supply them with hot tap water at night (not burning hot, but fairly warm) at feeding time, it won't freeze before they drink it. In some situations, providing hot tap water twice a day is more convenient and safer than using an electrical heater in a water bucket.

Editor's Note: This excerpt is from Chapter 7 of Care & Management of Horses by Heather Smith Thomas. The book is available from www.ExclusivelyEquine.com.

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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