Leading a horse to water and getting it to drink (March 1, 2017)

Animal Science Update

By Carey A. Williams, Equine Extension Specialist, Rutgers University

Some horses may not like the way some water tastes, or may not like to drink when it is below or above a certain temperature.
However, if a horse suffers from chronic colic they need to drink more than the normal horse.
Colic is one of the most hazardous and costly equine medical problems, estimated to occur in one of every 10 horses each year as well as it is the No. 1 killer of horses.
In the cold winter months just a lack of enough water is enough to cause a deadly episode of colic.
So what is the best way to stimulate a horse to drink?
In this month’s column I will give a few tips in both cold weather and when traveling with your horse that could help encourage drinking.
If using two buckets in a stall, remove one bucket, dump half the water out, and top it off with hot water.
Adjust the temperature until it reads about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Some horses will drink deeply when offered warm water, especially (but not limited to) when the weather has turned abruptly chilly.
Be sure to have a bucket of the room-temperature water available also, so your horse has a choice.
Leave two buckets of water (warm bucket and ambient temperature bucket) in your horse’s stall, and add a third bucket of room-temperature water mixed with a commercial electrolyte product labeled for equine use or any other flavoring (some examples include Kool-aid packets, Gatorade, straight sugar, etc.). Mix one teaspoon of table salt with two tablespoons of applesauce and squirt it on the back of your horse’s tongue, using a dosing syringe (a cleaned-out paste-deworming syringe should work as long as it is large enough).
While your horse works the applesauce around in his mouth, remove his water bucket, clean and rinse it thoroughly, and return it to the stall filled with fresh warm water.
If the salt’s going to work, your horse will drink within five to 10 minutes.
Squirt one teaspoon of light corn syrup on the roof of your horse’s mouth, using a similar syringe.
While your horse works his tongue over the sweetness, add a second bucket of fresh water to his stall, placing it in a novel location so he’ll be compelled to investigate.
Give this five to 10 minutes.
If your horse is able to have a bran mash this could be an option to use on occasion.
Keep in mind that raw wheat bran has an inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio and should not be given daily, however, occasionally or even weekly will not hurt.
Another option would be to use a stabilized rice bran instead of the wheat bran.
Companies have added additional calcium to the product, this is called “stabilized.”
To make it tastier the bran mash can be laced with molasses, corn syrup, applesauce, apple or carrot slices, and lots of warm water to make it a soupy consistency.
If your horse is able to be exercised, a little light exercise could just do the trick.
Halter him/her and go for a brisk, 15-minute walk or even a quick lunging session if not able to be turned out regularly.
When he returns to his stall, he’ll likely investigate his smorgasbord of buckets and drink.
If your horse does drink, keep track of the volume he takes in and the time passed. Some of the above tips will work for some horses some might not.
These tips might be a daily process in order to be effective.
However, if you continue to have problems it is wise to consult your veterinarian before having to call them up because of an episode of colic.
Your veterinarian can also tell you how much water your horse needs to take in over a 24-hour period to keep them safe for their environment and activity level.
Good luck and wish for an early spring!