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Published January 27, 2014, 09:17 AM

Water temperature important for horses in winter

During the extremely bitter temperatures throughout most of the Upper Midwest, it is critically important that horse owners ensure their horses receive enough water of the proper temperature.

By: SDSU Extension Service,

BROOKINGS, S.D. — During the extremely bitter temperatures throughout most of the Upper Midwest, it is critically important that horse owners ensure their horses receive enough water of the proper temperature.

“Horses should be eating more forage as weather gets cold. However, a horse owner must ensure that their horses are also getting enough water,” says Mindy Hubert, South Dakota State University Extension small acreage field specialist.

Unless they receive enough water, Hubert explains, the horse’s bulky gut fills and lack of water can lead to impaction colic.

“Horses naturally tend to drink less when water is cold, frozen or difficult to get to. Therefore, it is our job to ensure that palatable water is available to them,” she says.

Many horse owners wonder if it’s acceptable for their horses to eat snow to help meet their water requirements, Hubert says. She explains that although eating snow alone won’t directly harm horses, calories are being used to melt the snow that should be used for body warmth.

“Furthermore, it takes six times as much snow to provide an equal amount of water. That means to obtain just 1 gallon of water, your horse needs to consume the equivalent of 6 gallons of snow,” she says.

For the required 8 to 12 gallons of water needed per day, that same horse would need to eat 48 to 72 gallons of snow per day.

“Obviously, it is not feasible for a horse to consume sufficient amounts of water through snow alone,” she says.

If a horse owner is unable to provide a heated water source for their horses during cold temperatures, Hubert says they must provide fresh, frost-free water as often as possible throughout the day, keeping in mind:

• Water should be maintained between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and any ice crystals should be removed.

• Water should be checked at least twice daily and provided at all times.

• Under normal conditions, a horse will consume approximately 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight (a 1,000 pound horse will consume 10 to 12 gallons; working and lactating horses require more).

• Pregnant mares require about 10 percent more water than nonpregnant mares.

As the water temperature decreases, the same 1,000-pound horse may consume as little as 1 to 3 gallons of water daily when water temperature is 32 degrees. Because this decrease in water intake might contribute to an impaction colic, it is necessary to take the steps to keep water between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

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