Water, the Most Important Nutrient

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Clean Water Supports the Entire Body

by Eleanor Blazer


April 2017
Photo courtesy Eleanor Blazer

The most important equine nutrient is water.

A horse can live several weeks without food, but will die in five to six days without water. Every organ in the body needs water. The digestive system requires it to dissolve nutrients and help move feed through the intestinal tract. Water carries waste products out of the body, aids metabolism, and regulates body temperature. It helps send electrical messages between cells so muscles move, eyes see, ears hear, and the brain functions. Water helps lubricate joints and maintain healthy skin.

The amount of water needed by the horse varies with circumstances. Temperature, humidity, type of forage, age, overall health, and activity level play a big part in water requirements. A healthy horse at rest, in a cool environment with low humidity, eating lush green grass, and not producing milk may only have a requirement of one-half gallon per one hundred pounds of body weight per day. This means a horse weighing 1,000 pounds may only need 5 gallons of water in a 24-hour period.

A performance horse or lactating broodmare may have a requirement of more than 1.5 gallons per hundred pounds of body weight per day. These horses need to replace the fluids being lost through exertion and milk production. A 1,000-pound broodmare or performance horse may need 15 gallons or more per day.

Due to the wide range of water requirements and the importance of water to the digestive system, fresh clean water must be freely accessible. Even a horse that has been working should have access to water in a managed form. Allowing a hot horse to have several swallows every five minutes while cooling out is recommended.

Water consumption directly affects feed intake. If a horse is deficient in water he will decrease the amount he eats.

Lack of water is one of the main causes of impaction colic. Feed in the digestive tract becomes dry and will not move through properly, resulting in a blockage and colic.

Water quality is very important. If the horse has access to water, but won’t drink it, or it is contaminated, severe health problems can occur.

Water sources come in many forms — public water supplies, wells, ponds, streams, and runoff. Water from a public supplier is probably the safest, as the system will have filtration, purification, and testing procedures regulated and continuing. As long as there is no breach in the line and the delivery system within the barn is clean, the water should be safe for consumption.

Water from a well should be tested. The health department or local agricultural extension agency can test water for bacteria, minerals, and pH levels. These tests should be conducted annually.

Ponds, streams, and water from runoff should not be used as the source of drinking water. Fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, bacteria, and other forms of contaminants can be present. The water supply can dry up or become stagnant. Blue-green algae growth in a pond can cause a type of poisoning which may result in the death of the horse. You can lead a horse to water, but he will be more prone to drink if it is clean and fresh.

Copyright @ 2016

* Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better lifestyle by taking the online course “How to Feed for Maximum Performance” taught by Eleanor Blazer. Go to www.horsecoursesonline.com for more information.


Originally Published April 2017 Issue

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