We all know that saying about leading horses to water, not making them drink, haha very funny Uncle Mike, you told that the last time I was over for dinner… but as equestrians, we also know sometimes making horses drink is absolutely imperative to their health.
Contrary to what Uncle Mike and all your other non-horsey relatives think, there are methods to make horses drink. Here are a few tips for the next time you’re dealing with a dehydrated horse who won’t drink his water.
Horses just don’t get thirsty in the same way that humans do. A sweating horse loses more electrolytes per part than a human does, and that, plus a fluid reserve in their gastrointestinal system, keeps the horse happy well after their rider would be downing Gatorade. But when that reserve runs out, a horse can find himself dehydrated and possibly display colic systems very quickly. Unfortunately, when a horse feels sick, he really doesn’t want to drink anything.
That means that getting a horse to drink is a proactive situation, not a reactive situation.
Your best weapon against dehydration is salt. It’s simple: salt makes you thirsty, right? Free-choice salt is always a must for horses, but if you have a horse that isn’t in to that salt brick, top-dress their feed with granulated salt. It’s also a good idea to add salt to feed when your horse is traveling or showing, two situations when they’re more likely to suffer dehydration or refuse strange water.
Treats or alfalfa in a water bucket is also a nice enticement. You can also try feeding soaked hay for horses that just consistently don’t drink enough water.
If salt, carrots, and nice hay isn’t keeping your horse’s head in the water bucket, or automatic water, consider checking him for ulcers or digestive upset. Studies have shown that a large proportion of stabled horses have ulcers. An upset stomach can lead to decreased water consumption.
If you do recognize the signs of dehydration in your horse — dry gums, a slow capillary refill time, loose neck skin that “tents” when you pinch it, dark urine, colic symptoms — and your horse is refusing water, it’s time for a vet call. Electrolytes and fluids have to be returned to the system as soon as possible. And then you can start working on all those water-drinking tips we just talked about.