During warm weather, making sure your horse drinks enough water is a top management concern. To avoid dehydration, horses need access to water 24 hours a day, in paddocks and fields as well as in stalls. To ensure they keep drinking, you’ll need to be be vigilant in making sure water troughs and other containers are safe and accessible.
• Cast-off bathtubs have long served as animal watering troughs, but their knee-banging rigidity, sharp edges and tendency to rust make them poor serving choices. Instead of these relics, choose inexpensive fiberglass tubs engineered for livestock use. They do not rust, crack or develop skin-snagging protrusions, making them a safe choice for watering even the largest, rowdiest herd. If you need a watering trough for a single-horse enclosure, cut a plastic barrel, which was previously used as a bulk container for a safe liquid, in half to create two ample water containers. The wholesale-good industry is likely to have such barrels for free or a nominal fee.
• Be diligent in maintaining your water stations. Check all troughs daily to monitor the cleanliness of the water and the volume of the horses’ intake. When the water level is low, scrub the sides with a clean toilet brush or similar long-handled tool, and bail out the remaining water so you can drain it outside the immediate vicinity. Simply turning the trough over on the spot produces quagmires that create dangerous footing and insect breeding grounds.
• Fill the trough with no more than a three-day supply for the pasture population. Stagnant, dirty water loses its appeal, and horses tend to drink it only when they must. On average, each horse drinks about 12 gallons of water per day, so calculate your water needs based on how many horses you have and how much of each day they have access to that source. If horses are on full-time turnout, put in no more than 36 gallons per horse at one time. Partial-day turnout may drop the needed volume to a third that much. Of course, you can never go wrong by having more water available than the horses can drink; only the opposite matters.
• Your horses won’t be the only imbibers at the trough. When thirsty rodents, birds and other wildlife drop by for a drink, they won’t cause harm unless they drop in and drown. An animal carcass in a water source can cause any number of illnesses in horses forced to drink the tainted water. To avoid this toxic possibility, fit every water trough with an animal escape route: A two-by-four plank anchored to the edge of the container so that it floats at the varying water levels can as a life raft and escape ramp for small animals that get stranded inside the tub. Finally, impose an absolute swimming ban on any dogs who have been treated with flea-control products.