The lasting good health and performance efficiency of horses is also a subject to a proper watering off, because water facilitates digestion and helps the absorption of nutrients (“water digests”). Drinking water is therefore an essential factor in breaking down the food, while it is also a regulator of the animal’s body temperature.
Water intended for horses, who for most part are sensitive to the purity of the drinking water, must be of great quality, hence clean and clear, free of germs, pollution and odors, must be tasty and of moderate temperature (about 10C° = 50F). The too cold water has a negative influence on the digestive tract and causes disturbances during digestion and absorption.
For watering off the horse can be used spring, creek or even river water, but not too hard, providing these sources are not polluted. It is also very important to pay attention to the watering equipment in the stables and in turnouts (buckets, troughs etc.), to keep them clean and free from pollution. Water from ponds, especially not those fed by a spring, as well as from other water holes that are not fed with flowing water, is unsuitable for horses. Water polluted by urine, feces, industrial waste, germs, parasites, mine water and in any other way devaluated, must be avoided, because the equine organism is very sensitive and by digesting a foul water immediately reacts by breakdown in health.
The daily need of water depends on the age of the horse, on his type (breed) and the work output, on the season, diet structure etc. During hard work (performance) and hot weather the need for water is higher. On the average it figures about 4 – 5% of the animal’s weight, hence a 600 kg (1322 lb) horse needs about 24 to 34 liters (6.5 – 9 gal.) per day. The horse should receive as much water as he needs to quench his thirst. Too much or too little water intake will have negative effect on the general health of the animal, as well as on his performance. The horse must not suffer from thirst, because with the lack of water he not only eats poorly but also becomes weak and sluggish. The thirst causes insufficient absorption of nutrients and the work (performance) output is significantly lowered. After quenching his thirst, the horse also accepts the food more readily. Large consumption of water before strenuous work (exercise) is detrimental, because the horse sweats too quickly, gets tired sooner, and during cold weather faces the danger of “catching cold”. The hot and sweated horse is best served with small amount of hay (not alfalfa or clover) and after he calms down the water is given to satisfy his thirst.
The familiarity with the digestive physiology of the horse is very practical for any horseman, like the fact that the horse secretes large amounts of saliva, about 40 liters (10.5 gal.) in one day. The amount of saliva produced by the horse depends on the types of feeds and the horse’s appetite (greed, desire to eat). The hay and straw use four times the amount of saliva, while oats and grains only twice the amount, but with the addition of cut hay (dengie) to the grain three times the amount. If the horse is fed green forage and juicy root crops like carrots, the amount of saliva significantly decreases.
As previously mentioned, the horse produces a great amount of saliva; therefore it is prudent to provide water before feeding to insure sufficient secretion of saliva and appetite.
According to some authors, the ingested water goes through very quickly between the full stomach and its walls without significantly diluting its content. This means that by drinking larger amounts of water the digestive function of the relatively small stomach is not disturbed or in some way impeded. By drinking, the content of the stomach increases only 10%, because the water is mechanically lead through fairly quickly. It gets absorbed fast in the intestines, thus there are no unfavorable disturbances to the digestive tract, which would be otherwise noticeable due to the large daily consumption of water by a healthy horse. The giving of water prior to feeding is important especially when corn is fed, whether whole or cracked, because the corn kernels, especially old ones, are very hard, hence they stubbornly resist the effect of digestive fluids. Besides, the kernel fragments of dry corn can have adverse effects on the mucous membranes in the digestive tract. The well-watered horse is producing plenty of saliva, which immediately moisturizes the corn; soaked or steamed rolled corn is easier to digest.
In conclusion one should take to mind the importance of water management in horses, the timely (regular) and sufficient watering of horses, especially under hard working conditions, mainly during hot summer days, when the animal’s physiological need of water is unusually high.
As the old saying goes: “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. The amount of water that the body is able to retain is closely tied to the diet and the mineral balance, specifically sodium and other electrolytes. It is also important to realize that water and electrolytes function together in the body fluids.
Approximately 70% of the body weight of the horse is made up of water, (about two thirds of the body in the adult horse and about three quarters in young foal, 50lb = 6 gallons). The body fluids exist in two major fluid “compartments”: the extra-cellular or sodium containing fluids, which make up one third of the body water, and the intracellular fluid, which accounts for the remaining two thirds. The thirst will cause death in a much shorter time than hunger. A loss of barely 8 % of body water causes illness and loss exceeding of 10% can result in serious dehydration. Horses require an average of between 6 to 12 gallons (22 – 45 liters) of water per day; the quantity varies according to the animal, the work, the weather and the diet.
Water is necessary for the following functions:
- temperature regulating, i.e. sweating
- replacing liquid lost in breathing maintaining blood volume facilitating digestion and enabling nutrients to pass through the gut walls in solution
- urine, which is necessary to get rid of the waste products of the various body functions
- milk production
(Often small animals (mice, rats) or birds fall in these containers in the barn or on the fields, which often go unnoticed. Further great attention must be paid to possible pollution by the bird feces, which can be of great health hazard to the animal.)