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How To Help Your Horses Drink Water, All Year Round.

 If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.  Mark Twain
Article by Ritchie Industries

Insert the name of your location above and this simple quote rings true for most of us throughout the country. The barn environment can go from pleasant, to frozen to dusty to flooded in a heartbeat. Horse owners, cowboys and ranchers routinely deal with unpredictable weather that can turn a chore like the watering the horses into a battle royale with the elements. Planning today to secure your water supply from future weather events and emergencies can go a long way towards keeping you and your horse healthy and happy.

Water is the Most Essential Nutrient in Your Horse’s Diet
According to Kentucky Equine Research, idle horses in a moderate climate will drink between 5 and 15 gallons of water a day. Horses on lush pastures may consume less because their forage contains 60 to 80 percent moisture, conversely horses eating hay that contains 15 percent or less moisture will need to drink more. Horses generally drink two quarts of water for every pound of hay consumed. Water should always be provided as “free-choice” so the horse can drink throughout the day. Horses who do not drink enough water can begin to show signs of dehydration and impaction colic within 48 hours.
Ritchie Automatic Horse Waterers

Hot Weather Water Issues – Temperature and Mosquitos  
Providing a source of cool, clean, fresh water is a cornerstone of good management practices in warm weather and warm climates throughout the year.

“We have several Ritchie waterers in operation on our University of Georgia Tifton Campus Animal Science Farm, specifically at the Blackshank Grazing Paddocks as part of the Better Grazing Program,” said Jennifer (Johnson) Tucker, Ph .D., Assistant Professor of Animal and Dairy Science at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. “While we aren’t collecting data on the performance of the waterers specifically, we do have permanent waterers installed at the location to allow producers [sic] to see these technologies in use.  All of the permanent waterers have the frost protection feature, although this far south we are less concerned about freezing. We do see that the ball/floating thermal cap waterer type tends to keep the water cooler for the animals, which is a big plus in this very hot environment.”

Your water supply and water use also can play a critical role in helping to reduce the disease risk from arboviruses, primarily spread by mosquitoes, such as Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), Western equine encephalitis (WEE), Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) and West Nile virus (WNV). These diseases cause major neurological symptoms, including death. It is important to note that horses cannot transmit these diseases to other horses, humans or birds. They are only transmitted through mosquito or other blood sucking insect bites.

WNV is the leading cause of arbovirus encephalitis in horses and humans in the United States. Since 1999, more than 27,600 cases have been reported in the U.S. with an average case fatality rate of 30 to 40 percent. While WNV is certainly dangerous, the triple threat of EEE/WEE/VEE looms large over the equine industry.  

“EEE is by far the most prevalent among the EEE/WEE/VEE arboviruses in the U.S.,” said Nathaniel “Nat” White, DVM and Director of the Equine Disease Communications Center. “EEE is primarily confined to areas east of the Mississippi River. Last year in 2020 most of our cases came from Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin and some in Canada. Birds are the reservoir for the virus and mosquitos get blood from the birds with the virus and then can pass it on to the horse through a bite. These arboviruses are common in the spring and summer, with cases typically peaking in late summer. There has not been a case of WEE in the United States for several years and there have been no cases of VEE since 1971. All horses are at risk for EEE but younger horses from one to five years of age seem to be the most vulnerable. EEE has a mortality rate between 75 to 95 percent, so this is a very serious disease that horse owners should take steps to prevent.”

The two biggest management practices you can do to reduce your horse’s risk of contracting an arbovirus are vaccinations and mosquito control.

The good news is that there are vaccines for all the arboviruses and they are highly effective at preventing the diseases. You should contact your veterinarian to discuss a proper vaccination plan that factors in your climate and the risk to your horses.  You can also subscribe to the Equine Disease Communications Center (EDCC) for email alerts at EquineDiseaseCC.org or download the “EDCC Disease Alerts” app for Apple and Android phones to be alerted about all reported infectious equine disease in North America.

Water and Water Use Mosquito Control
It is common knowledge to reduce standing water sources (buckets, wheelbarrows, debris, etc.) to take away mosquito breeding grounds but it is also important to reduce “sneaky” standing water sources. Hoses, hydrants and water troughs that leak, improperly graded drainage ditches and clogged gutters are a few easily forgotten sources of standing water that need to be accounted for.

If you are not using an automatic waterer, it is critical that you change out your horse’s water regularly.   It only takes 8-10 days for mosquitos to go from eggs to fully biting adults. If you are finding yourself dumping out a lot of water to manage the mosquitos or to keep your water clean, it might be time to consider an automatic waterer to reduce your water use.

“On our horse training property in Stephenville, Texas, we have all Classic Equine by Ritchie waterers and they just take the worry and stress out of keeping our horses’ water cool, fresh and clean in the summer,” said Billie Bray, noted Western equine sports marketing figure and Chief Marketing Officer for Equibrand Corporation. “If you are in an environment where bugs and mosquitos are a major problem, you can consider other Ritchie models in the farm line that use the floating thermal caps, where your horse pushes down on the ball to access the water and then the ball goes back up. The water stays cool and crystal clear year-round, no matter where you live and it’s perfect. We tested one of these at our first place and it was just the most amazing thing. Every time we checked the water it was absolutely, perfectly clean because the sun never touched it.”

When Cold Weather Strikes, Water Intake Can Be Sharply Reduced
Cold snaps can be difficult to deal with and the biggest concern is that your water source will freeze. However, cold weather in general can drastically affect how much water your horse will drink. There are three main factors to consider when thinking about your winter water supply.  

Changes in Exercise and Workload
During the winter it is common for horses to have limited opportunities to exercise and this can increase their odds of developing digestive issues. If horses are worked out in the winter, their water consumption needs may double but the horse may be reluctant to drink cold or ice-cold water in the winter.

Changes in Diet
Adequate hay and forage consumption during the winter months is critical for optimal gastrointestinal health and to keep the horse warm. Much of the horse’s body heat is produced by the fermentation of fiber in the hindgut. Grain provides extra calories, but to keep horses warm in winter, they need to have a steady supply of hay to maintain their body temperature.

 The quality of the hay or forage will impact how much the horse needs to drink. Dry, stalky hay is less digestible than leafier hay. If a horse does not drink enough water when they eat large amounts of lower quality hay or forage, they are at risk of impaction colic.

Variations in the Environment
Horses generally will not break through ice to drink. Horses are sensitive to cold or ice-cold water (55 degrees or lower) and may avoid drinking water at those cold temperatures resulting in dehydration and impaction colic.

“I think it’s critical for a horse not to stress because they are out of water at any time,” said Bray. “Stress is stress, whether it is cold or hot. With some horses, if they go without water for a few hours, especially during a critical time when they need to drink, then it could be colic in no time. It causes such a ripple effect. That is just one reason why I recommend using automatic waterers. People may think that they are expensive but the cost of one vet bill to treat colic can easily pay for an automatic waterer.”

Time to Evaluate Your Watering Options
The weather may be warming up now but the historic artic cold snap that gripped much of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana during this past February can serve as a wake-up call to horse owners everywhere. Social media feeds (#FarmOn) were filled with photos of frozen water tanks that left many folks trying to chop ice or light fires under their tanks to make sure their animals had water to survive. It can be difficult to plan for these outlier events but investing in quality automatic waterers that are designed to withstand the elements and keep the fresh water flowing should be a goal for horse owners everywhere. 

If you are still on the fence about automatic waterers, consider how much time you dedicate to watering your horses and time spent on the maintenance of your current system.

“I was raised in northern Montana on a ranch that had a cow-calf feedlot,” said Bray. “Summers were warm, and winters were brutally cold, 40 below zero was fairly common. We had those Ritchie red and yellow automatic waterers and they just worked in all conditions for over 40 years. When I moved to Texas, I discovered that a lot of the folks in the area do not have automatic waterers and they spend an awful lot of time filling tanks, checking on the tanks and floats, checking to make sure that the horses hadn’t chewed the hoses and just generally spend a lot of time worrying about their horses’ water. Everything that we all just went through this past February in Texas with all the cold, cold weather – my horses had fresh, warm water the entire time we were below zero degrees.”

Automatic Waterer Options That Make Sense for Your Barn & Budget
There are automatic waterers on the market that serve a single horse in a stall or units that serve up to 40 head in the paddock. The units themselves can range in cost from budget options at just over $200 to larger, insulated options over $800 (installation costs not included). Many units are installed on concrete pads with thermal tubes and buried electrical connections. If you do not want to permanently install a waterer, there are garden hose hookup founts that are very economical and convenient. Standard options available for automatic waterers include floating thermal caps, heaters, stainless steel troughs, attractive finishes, heavy duty polyethylene construction and energy efficient insulation.

“Our favorite waterers for the Better Grazing Program, if we had to choose, are the Genesis series,” said Tucker.  “These waterers provide so much flexibility in our rotational grazing system and are very easy to move, which can be a challenge for some other mobile watering options.  These are definitely a favorite among my crew who have to move waterers weekly, sometimes two or three times a week, during active grazing.” 

The industry leader in automatic waterers for livestock and horses is Ritchie Industries, headquartered in Conrad, Iowa. Ritchie was the first company to develop and patent the concept of an automatic waterer in 1921 and has since sold over 3 million units worldwide. In 2013, Ritchie partnered with Classic Equine to design and manufacture an entire line of automatic waterers with horses and equine athletes in mind. The Classic Equine by Ritchie line has four main models that cater to the equine industry. More options include the new Genesis series and over 15 additional Ritchie models with several options and accessories to accommodate any climate.

Ritchie Waterers for Horses“We have a Ritchie product that will fit any horse owner’s budget and provide a worry-free watering experience for their horses,” said Robert Amundson, President and CEO at Ritchie Industries, Inc. “Whether you are facing brutal cold or sizzling hot conditions, our products are engineered to keep the water flowing and to keep it at an optimal temperature. For 100 years, our products have been made in America, right here in Iowa. We know that you would rather spend your time riding, rather than lugging around buckets and hoses or spending time filling up tanks. Everyone at Ritchie strives to produce the best possible waterers for your horses and we continue to refine and enhance our product lines to serve our customers. Our Classic Equine by Ritchie waterers have been thoughtfully designed to add a touch of elegance and simplicity to your barn. Easy to clean bowls or troughs, low to no maintenance float systems, quick refill functions and an attention to detail are all hallmarks of our products.” 

A little water source planning now can save you a world of headaches when there is a weather emergency. Whether you are fighting mosquitos or freezing conditions, automatic waterers are a reliable source of fresh, clean water to keep your horse healthy in all conditions.

EDCC Sidebar

The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) founded in 2015 is an industry-driven initiative which works to protect horses and the horse industry from the threat of infectious diseases in North America. Horse owners can subscribe for email alerts at EquineDiseaseCC.org or download the “EDCC Disease Alerts” app for Apple and Android phones. You can access real time results as reports of infectious and vector-borne disease cases are received from a state veterinarian, state animal health official or attending veterinarian and are confirmed and formed into comprehensive alerts The EDCC is a non -profit organization based in Lexington, Kentucky and is funded primarily by donations from concerned horse owners like you. Consider supporting the EDCC today.


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