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Water is the most important nutrient for life, whether plant or animal. Even in winter, water is essential for your horses' health. The lack of it can cause colic, dehydration and even hoof issues. While horses do drink less in the winter since they are not sweating as much, and in many places, the air tends to less dry in the winter months, so the horse looses less with evaporation in his breath, they still need a good drink.

In nature, horses find water sources from natural springs and rivers that have enough movement to prevent freezing over, as well as the option to consume snow when it applies. However, in captivity, we should not expect our horses to have to lick up snow because their buckets are frozen. It's your responsibility to provide clean water daily.

There are many ways to ensure a good water supply. First, is the automatic waterer that has an internal heating system to prevent freezing.  The pros of this are that it shortens chore time for you if everything is working. Just be sure to check daily that it IS working properly. Occasionally stick your hand in the water to make sure the heater is not shorting out in the water and shocking your horse when he drinks. The downside is, since it re-fills itself, you can't be sure just how much your horse is drinking, especially if multiple horses have access to the same one.

Next, there is the water trough. Metal, plastic, whatever. You can equip these with electric heaters, either floating, sinking or that fit into the drain hole. I prefer the drain hole heater, as I have nosy horses that will pull out the other types and still have frozen water, and a burned out heater.

Then there are the insulated buckets, electric heated buckets and the usual plain buckets and troughs, that may not be heated due to a lack of electricity. If you can't get heated water sources to your horses, try insulating the tanks and buckets you use. Plywood built around the trough and covering part of the top will help a lot to insulate the water. Black plastic secured over part of the top also helps, as the black absorbs any of the sun's rays and help speed up thawing of ice that forms. Some farms use water pumps (the same kind for fish ponds) to keep the water moving. Moving water doesn't freeze as easily as stagnant water. A block of wood, or foot ball floating can help break surface ice in the same way. Wind will help push it around, and horses may play in it and break it.

  • Keep buckets, troughs partially covered, this slows the rate of evaporation (fewer fill ups for you) and slows the rate of freezing. Plywood sheets built around the tank and over part of it make excellent insulation that will last. My husband made a water shelter with some 2X4s that attach to sheets of plywood. The tank sits on the 2 X 4s to hold the plywood in place in high winds. The plywood provides a wind break and shelter for the water. The tank heater works half as hard to keep water thawed, saving us money on the electric bill.
  • Keep the tanks as full as possible. Large bodies of water take longer to freeze, so are easier for the tank heater to keep warm than a shallow puddle. However, if your tank does freeze, it takes longer to thaw, too.
  • If there is no electricity available, the best option is to bring water multiple times a day, during hard freezes and exchange the frozen bucket with the fresh, and set the frozen inside to thaw. You need several buckets per horse with this method. Or, dump into the trough, but only enough to fill each horse or the remaining water will freeze on top of the old ice, and just fill up with more ice.
  • Drain the hose when you are done, whether or not you expect a freeze before you use it. Recently my (city boy) husband didn't know to drain the hose he used. It was frozen solid. So I went to use another and he had used it during the last of the warm weather, never drained it, and it too, was frozen. Unhook the hose, and let it lay downhill to drain, or pick up a section and walk down the length of the whole hose, slowly, to force the water out.
  • If ice forms on the top of the water, bust with a pry bar, hammer, etc and remove some the chunks.
  • Ponds may not freeze as fast and horse can bust a thin layer on their own, usually, but don't count on it. Check the pond to be sure if that is their only water source.
  • Horses like tepid, not hot water. So don't serve up scalding water, they won't touch it, or could burn themselves if very thirsty.

   Moist foods like bran mashes and watered down beet pulp can be good ways to up your horse's water intake on cold days. Keeping him well hydrated boosts his ability to digest food and keep warm from the heat digestion generates. Water also keeps his immunity up and prevents skin and hoof and lung problems.

   Don't underestimate the horses' need for salt, either. Horses still like some salt in the cold months, so keep some available for them to lick year round.