Horses & H2O

Your clients may not think of water as a nutrient, but it’s the most essential dietary ingredient of all

Any treatise on caring for horses that your customers have ever read probably includes one simple line: “Provide access to plenty of fresh, clean water.”

Though we all understand that this is good advice — after all, all living things need this simple, essential liquid — your clients probably don’t tend to give water a lot of consideration when it comes to planning the equine diet.

Why Water Is Essential

The reality is that water is the most important nutrient, bar none. Without water, almost all of a horse’s systems cease to function. It would be virtually impossible to list all the ways in which water is essential — but just to name a few, it:

  • Aids in thermoregulation (the maintenance of the horse’s body temperature).
  • Lubricates the joints.
  • Helps cushion the central nervous system.
  • Is involved with both sight and hearing.
  • Aids in digestion.
  • Acts as a solvent for toxins and helps eliminate them through urine and sweat.
  • Helps maintain an elastic skin tone.

To give you another perspective on water’s importance, consider that horses can survive without food for up to 3 weeks. However, they can only survive without water for a maximum of 5 or 6 days.

Water intake varies according to the horse’s exertion level, the ambient temperature, diet and whether or not a mare is pregnant or nursing a foal. Regardless, horses drink a lot. The typical 1,000-pound horse needs a minimum of 3 to 8 gallons a day to function at a maintenance level.

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Karen Briggs

As an equine nutritionist, Karen Briggs researched, designed and marketed a line of premium quality feeds for performance, pleasure and breeding horses. She’s also offered nutritional and ration balancing information to horse owners throughout Ontario. Located in Puslinch, Ontario, the award-winning equine writer is also a Canadian Equestrian Federal certified-riding instructor and has managed several Canadian farms and riding schools.

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