Water is the most vital component of the equine diet, but it is often overlooked when considering your horse’s nutritional needs.

Hydration influences several aspects of horse health, including exercise tolerance, digestion, and temperature regulation. Not only do you need to ensure that your horse drinks enough water, but also that your horse has good quality water available.

Testing water quality helps to determine whether your horse’s water supply is safe for consumption and whether you need to consider a water treatment or filtration system.

A water analysis will also tell you about the mineral levels present. This can help you address any potential dietary imbalances caused by water intake.

To learn more about water analysis for horses and how horse owners can promote healthy hydration with correct management, continue reading below.

The Importance of Hydration for Horses

Water makes up roughly 70 percent of an adult horse’s body. It is involved in nearly every bodily function, from circulation to digestion and joint lubrication to waste filtration. [1]

A lack of water is an imminent threat to your horse’s vital systems. Dehydrated horses can suffer serious problems such as lethargy, gut impaction, colic and impaired kidney function. [2][16]

Water Intake

An average 1,100lb horse with an idle lifestyle requires 6 to 9 gallons of water daily to support normal bodily functions in thermoneutral conditions. [3]

Higher temperatures and heavier workloads can increase daily intake requirements to 12 to 18 gallons. Lactating mares also need extra water to support milk production. [4]

A horse’s diet also affects water consumption. Horses on pasture get significant amounts of water from eating lush green grass with high moisture content. [5]

If a horse has a high protein diet, it must excrete excess nitrogen via urine. These horses will drink more water to support the increased urine production. [5]

Some environmental conditions can reduce voluntary drinking. For example, some horses drink less water in winter if the water temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. [6]

Water impurities can also cause reduced intake. Water often contains minerals, bacteria, algae, and other dissolved solids. These substances can impact palatability and voluntary intake.

Preventing Dehydration in Horses

Horses should have free access to clean, fresh water at all times. [3]

Most horses prefer water between 45 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However, evidence suggests that providing lukewarm water with a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit promotes better hydration in cold weather. [6]

Adding plain loose salt to a horse’s diet can also encourage hydration. Salt is a source of sodium, which is an essential mineral that plays a role in stimulating the horse’s thirst response and maintaining fluid balance. [4]

You can also support hydration by feeding your horse an electrolyte supplement in hot weather or after exercise.

Another way to provide water in your horse’s diet is to soak hay or feed. Providing access to grass pasture where available can also increase water intake. [5]

Can Horses Drink Too Much Water?

Yes, horses can drink too much water, but dehydration is much more common. [3] Excessive water intake is most common in horses with PPID/Cushing’s disease or other health conditions that cause abnormal drinking behavior. [7]

Drinking too much water stresses the horse’s kidneys and can interfere with electrolyte balance. [2] However, most healthy horses won’t drink beyond normal limits.