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Prevent Winter Dehydration In Horses

When it comes to keeping our horses hydrated, we usually think of hot summer days and long rides under the sun. But what about when it’s cold out? Dehydration in horses is rampant in the winter, when troughs freeze over and the lush pastures have gone dry.

What Happens When Your Horse Gets Dehydrated?
Did you know that dehydration is the number one risk factor for colic during the winter? Dehydration combined with winter’s dry hay diet commonly leads to impaction colic, which can sometimes be life-threatening.
Horses need to drink about 10 to 12 gallons of water per day. If you suspect your horse may be dehydrated, you can do the “skin tent test,” similar to how you might test for dehydration in humans and other animals. Gently pull up a fold of skin just above your horse’s shoulderblades with your thumb and forefinger. A hydrated horse’s skin will be elastic, snapping back into place almost immediately. If the horse is dehydrated, the skin will wrinkle and may take up to five seconds to sink back down.
A dehydrated horse may seem stiff, and their performance may be impacted. They may tire out more quickly than usual. Their gums may be pale, rather than a healthy shade of pink. Their manure may be hard and dry. All of these signs indicate your horse may be chronically dehydrated.

Can Horses Eat Snow To Stay Hydrated?
You may catch your horse eating snow from time to time, but it will not provide adequate hydration. Even when the ground is covered in fresh snow, you will need to make sure your horse has access to fresh, unfrozen water.
Water expands when it freezes, so your horse will have to eat a lot of snow to replenish moisture in their body. What’s more, your horse’s body will need to work harder to melt the snow and warm it to their body temperature, using up energy your horse needs to stay warm.

How To Keep Horses Hydrated In The Winter
One of the biggest reasons horses do not drink enough water in the winter is because their trough may be very cold, if not frozen. Horses will drink more when their water is at a moderate temperature, and they may not drink at all if their water trough has frozen over.
It’s best to use a heating element in your horse’s water trough to keep it at a drinkable temperature. Studies suggest that horses drink more water when it’s warm, at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than when it’s just above freezing.
Your horse should also have constant access to a natural salt lick. Salt licks help supplement electrolytes and trigger your horse’s thirst response. Flavorings in water, such as electrolyte additives or sweet feed, can sometimes encourage drinking, but fresh, clear water should also be available at all times.