Water in the Winter
Horses need to drink a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons of water a day to stay healthy, no matter what time of year it is. Their requirements increase if they are ridden.
Dehydration can be as much of a problem in the winter as it is in the summer. Winter diets tend to contain less moisture, as fresh grass is replaced by dry hay and colder drinking water temperatures decrease overall water consumption. Horses that work in the winter continue to sweat, although it may not be as apparent because sweat evaporates quicker in the dry winter air. Many riders cut back or stop using electrolytes when the cold weather sets in, so their horse’s thirst response is not stimulated as much. Inadequate water intake can lead to impaction colic or worse.
There are 3 easy ways to ensure your horse is getting enough water in the winter.
First, provide moist feed when possible. Soak hay in room temperature water (as long as your hay doesn’t turn into haycicles before it is consumed). Add warm water and a couple of chopped carrots/apples to your horse’s regular grain meal, or introduce a super fiber such as beet pulp and soak it in warm water before feeding. Resist the temptation to feed the occasional wheat bran mash as it causes more harm than good.
Second, don’t allow your horse’s drinking water to get too cold. Research has shown that horses drink less when the water temperatures drop below 45°F. The ideal temperature for drinking water is between 45°F and 65°F. In one study, ponies offered hot water (close to 90°F) drank 40% more water than those offered cooler water. While most horses do fine with room temperature water, it might be worthwhile to offer warmer water to horses that are older, are drinking less than normal amounts, or those with a history of impaction.
Third, be sure your horse is consuming adequate levels of salt. Salt stimulates the thirst response and helps keep horses drinking. At rest, a horse should be eating about 2 oz of salt per day. In most cases this requirement can be met by providing free-choice access to a plain white salt block. If your horse continues to work during the winter, supplement with a well-balanced electrolyte.