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Encouraging your horse to drink

Quick facts

Horses that refuse to drink are at risk of poor performance, poor organ function and colic. Flavoring water or using electrolytes are two ways to encourage a fussy horse to drink. Make sure to consult a veterinarian if your horse experiences any health issues from poor water intake. 

Often, horses refuse to drink water while they are away from home. Getting your horse to drink can be frustrating. A 1,000-pound horse should drink about 8 to 10 gallons of water daily. However, under travel or in new environments your horse may not drink enough to meet their daily needs. Horses that don’t drink enough may suffer from:

  • horse and rider
    Working and sweating horses will require more water and may need electrolyte supplementation.

    Poor performance

  • Poor organ function

  • Colic

In general, horses will need more water when they are exercising or when it’s hot outside. The following tips can help encourage your horse to drink. Always consult your veterinarian if your horse experiences health issues related to poor water intake.

Refilling water pail
Toss stale or dirty water and replace it with fresh, clean water.

Provide fresh water

Always make sure your horse has free access to fresh, clean water. Frequently clean water buckets, troughs, automatic waterers and travel tanks. Empty and replace stale water in travel tanks before leaving for a trip. Keep water sources out of the sunlight to prevent bacterial and algal growth.

Keeping the water between 45 and 65 F can also encourage your horse to drink.

Bring water from home when traveling

Water may taste or smell different from one place to another. Providing your horse with water they are familiar with will better encourage them to drink.

Flavor your horse’s water

You may be able to entice a horse to drink by adding a little apple cider vinegar or molasses to their water. Washing water buckets with a minty mouthwash may also encourage them to drink.

You could try adding 20 ounces of clear soda to fresh water. If you add soda to water, it must be caffeine free. Giving horses caffeine is illegal and may trigger a positive drug test under the American Quarter Horse Association and United State Equestrian Federation drug testing programs and in racing jurisdictions.

Provide electrolytes 

Electrolytes can help trigger your horse drink. You can purchase commercial electrolyte products, which can be added directly to your horse’s water or given as an oral gel or paste. Always follow the instructions listed on the product labels when using electrolytes.

Adding a small amount of salt to your horse’s grain can also act as an electrolyte.

When providing electrolytes to your horse, make sure your horse has free access to water. Electrolytes can further dehydrate the horse if water isn’t available.

If adding flavors or electrolytes directly to water, always make sure a separate fresh water source is available.  Some horses do not like water with added products.

Use commercial water additives

Commercial water additives are available for horses to promote drinking. These additives consist of a combination of feed ingredients that enhance the water’s taste and smell. Make sure to follow the directions provided on the label of these products.

Carefully read the product label. Water additives may not contain electrolytes. Thus, you may need to supplement your horse with electrolytes if they are sweating.

Author: Jennifer Johnson, DVM, formerly with the University of Minnesota

Reviewed in 2021

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