You can take a horse to water…

You can take a horse to water…

There are no two ways about it -  it’s been ridiculously hot in South Africa this summer, which means it has also become more important than ever that we closely monitor our horses drinking habits. Making sure that your horse is drinking enough will help them get through even the hottest days. But how can we do that?

The first step is making sure that your horse always has access to fresh and clean water in their paddocks and stables at home, as well as while waiting at horse shows, lessons or riding clinics.  If you’ve done that, half the battle is won… but you know what they say : you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

There are a lot of reasons for your horse not drinking water – they may be stressed, feeling unwell, or even something as simple as they don’t want to drink warm water (understandably). Either way, a horse that is not drinking is a recipe for disaster.  On an average day, a horse can drink 20-40 litres of water. On hot days this can almost triple to 100 litres! If your horse is not drinking enough, this can lead to dehydration, and make them more prone to issues like colic.

So, how can you tell if your horse is not drinking enough water?

The first step is to know what is normal for your horse. Make sure you know how much water your horse drinks on an average day – they should drink more on warm days, so bear this in mind. If you notice your horse is drinking less than average, you can check their hydration with two easy tests:

Skin test -  Pinch your horses skin (the neck area is great) between your fingers to life it up, and then let it go. How quickly it snaps back to normal can tell you about how hydrated they are:

Less than 2 seconds: hydrated
2-4 Seconds: getting dehydrated
4+ seconds: dehydrated

Gum test- Press down gently on your horses gums, so that the area goes pale. How long it takes for the pressed area to return to normal colour can tell you about your horses hydration.

+- 2 seconds: hydrated
3+ Seconds: Dehydrated

If you find yourself with a dehydrated horse,  make sure that fresh, clean water is available and urgently contact your vet for advice on how to get them back to a safely hydrated condition.

And how can you help your horse stay hydrated?

Even when water is readily available, your horse can still become dehydrated. Here are some other things to think about:

- Avoid riding during the hottest times of the day ( you and your horse will think you)
- Make sure to give your horse a cool down  session after riding – whether that is a relaxed walk or a hose down with cool water.

-Monitor the water temperature. Horses prefer to drink cool water in hot weather, and may avoid drinking water if it is too hot.

-Provide plenty of shady spots in the paddock to prevent overheating.

What about salt and other electrolytes?

Well, firstly think about how you feel after eating some salted chips – you automatically become thirsty after eating or tasting something very salty and want to drink something. This is one of the  main reasons we add salt to our horses diet. Horses who have low sodium levels are less likely to drink, and  giving them a little extra salt on the side is often one of the more effective ways to encourage drinking in hot weather.

Secondly,  electrolytes (Sodium other minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium) are a huge part of your horses ability to actually absorb and use the water they drink – making them an essential part of your horses diet. While these minerals are usually given through your horses feed, they are quickly lost through the sweat during hot weather or intense exercise. Because of this, your horse may need an extra boost during the summer to help them recover from a long ride or extra hot day. An electrolyte supplement for your horse is a tack box essential, and can be given in the form of a dissolved powder, paste or feed.

You don’t need to supplement your horse with electrolytes every day, but more on a once or twice a week basis, or after intense work and sweating. Electrolyte supplements are also especially useful during times of sickness or stress, where your horse needs a little boost.

Remember to look after your horse and yourself on hot and sunny days, and if you have any questions always feel free to reach out to us!