The most important nutrient, water, is also the most neglected.
Horse owners worry about protein, carbohydrates and energy, but few think about the water.
A horse can live several weeks without food, but will die in five to six days without water.
Every organ in the body needs water. The digestive system requires it to dissolve nutrients and help move feed through the intestinal tract. It is needed to carry waste products out of the body. Water aids metabolism and regulates body temperature. It helps send electrical messages between cells so muscles will move, eyes will see, ears will hear and the brain will function. Water is needed to lubricate the joints and maintain healthy skin.
The amount of water needed by the horse varies with circumstances. Temperature, humidity, type of forage, age, over-all health, and activity level play a big part in water requirements.
A healthy horse at rest, in a cool environment with low humidity, eating lush green grass, and not producing milk may only have a requirement of one-half gallon per one hundred pounds of body weight per day. This means a horse weighing 1,000 pounds may only need 5 gallons of water in a 24-hour period.
The performance horse or lactating broodmare may have a requirement of more than one and a half gallons per hundred pounds of body weight per day. These horses need to replace the fluids being lost through exertion and milk production. An 1,000 pound broodmare or performance horse may need 15 gallons or more per day.
Due to the wide range of water requirements and the importance of water to the digestive system, fresh clean water must be freely accessible. Even a horse that has been working and is very hot should have access to water in a managed form. Allowing a hot horse to have several swallows every five minutes while cooling out is recommended.
Water consumption directly affects feed intake. If a horse is deficient in water he will decrease the amount of feed he eats.
Water is needed for digestion. Lack of water is one of the main causes of impaction colic. The feed in the digestive tract becomes dry and will not move through properly, resulting in a blockage and colic.
The quality of water is very important. If the horse has access to water, but he will not drink it or it is contaminated, then severe health problems can occur.
Water sources come in many forms; public water supplies, wells, ponds, streams, and run-off.
Water from a public supplier is probably the safest as the system will have filtration, purification, and testing procedures are regulated and continuing. As long as there is not a breech in the line and the delivery system within the barn is clean, the water should be safe for consumption.
Water from a well should be tested. The health department or local agricultural extension agency can test water for bacteria, minerals, and pH levels. These tests should be conducted annually.
Ponds, streams, and water from run-off should not be used as the sole source of drinking water. Fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, bacteria, and other forms of contaminants can be present. The water supply can dry up or become stagnant. Blue-green algae growth in a pond can cause a type of poisoning which may result in the death of the horse.
You can lead a horse to water…he will be more prone to drink if it is clean and fresh.
* Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course “How to Feed for Maximum Performance” taught by Eleanor Blazer. Go to www.horsecoursesonline.com for more information.