Thirsty Horses! Avoiding That Frozen Water Bucket on a Winter Morning

By Sharon Rogers

Horse in the Snow

Winter is coming! I am not really excited to be saying that, but it is a fact of life. So, as I have mentioned on this blog before, we need to be prepared to keep our animals comfortable as the weather changes. Everyone is aware of the dangers of dehydration in animals in the summer, but the dangers are just as high for dehydration in horses in the winter. Because a frozen water bucket is a real possibility, today we will talk a bit about how to avoid this problem and keep your horse from going thirsty or getting sick, regardless of the weather.

Dangers of a frozen water bucket

In the winter, it is likely that your horse’s diet is higher in dry hay than at other times of the year. Let’s face it, when the snow starts falling it hides all that delicious grass and clover until the spring thaw. The lack of moisture in the diet can lead to dehydration in horses. The most obvious danger of a frozen water bucket is no water for the horse to drink. No water means a thirsty horse with no way to quench the thirst. That lack of water can lead to physical problems and poor health, overall. Impaction colic, basically constipation, in horses can also result from too little water in the diet. An average horse who weighs 1,000 pounds needs to drink between 10 and 12 gallons of water a day. Failure to have access to their water will likely mean additional vet bills as your horse’s health suffers. Did you know that a well hydrated horse will produce about 10 gallons of saliva every day?

How to avoid the frozen bucket

I have seen an interesting assortment of tips regarding how to keep water buckets from freezing in the winter. Some of them sound silly, weird or maybe a little gross but don’t discount them without thinking about it first. There is some solid common sense and a little science mixed in this list of tips. First of all, you can go to any equine supply outlet and purchase a heated water trough or bucket. This option requires electricity but is probably the easiest way to keep fresh water available, no matter how cold it gets. The downfall to this option, as well as the heated coils that you can put in the horse bucket, is the potential for electrical shock. Look carefully at how well the equipment is made, and then recheck it every day. Remember that many horses are chewers and if they cause any damage to the electrical component of the trough or the coil, they could be in danger.

I have a friend that lives in the Northern Vermont, where the winters can be pretty rough. I checked in with Margaret to see how she handles the frozen water bucket possibility. Because she and her family live as far off the electrical grid as possible, I was pretty certain she was not using any additional electricity in the barns. And I was right! Margaret has a unique method of stacking water buckets inside the troughs and packing around them with fresh manure. As manure decomposes it creates heat, and this heat can help keep the water from freezing. It sounds a bit gross, but she swears it works.

Other friends, when the weather gets extreme, will go out to the barn every three of four hours with a bucket of warm water and that seems to do the trick. I have even heard of putting a ball in the water bucket and as your horse drinks the water the ball will move around. The movement will slow down the freezing process.

The answer could be as simple as heaters in the barn, itself. Whatever measures you decide to take, please keep safety in mind. Our beautiful friends deserve our care and our understanding of how the elements may affect them. You show how much you love your horse by how well you care for its needs. Now, keep those babies warm, fed and watered and then give them an extra hug!

If you’re interested in more information on winter horse care (you can never have too much knowledge!) please feel free to check out a recent article I wrote on the subject:
Caring for Horses During Harsh Winter Months by Sharon Rogers

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