You Can Lead A Horse To Water, But Should It Really Be Drinking This Stuff?

| June 18, 2014 | 1 Reply
Ellie Fraser | August 2, 2011 |

Think about your horse’s water right now. Would you drink it?

horse-drinking-water-300x210Whether you use an automatic feeder, a rubber bucket, an old bathtub, a tank, or a cement, rubber or plastic trough, chances are you wouldn’t willingly take a straw and live off it for a day. Yet we expect our horses to live off it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and they need a lot more water than we do.

The first step to a healthy horse is hydration – but the water must be clean. Horses aren’t able to vomit, so once a horse has ingested bad water or food, it has to pass right through their system. However, the danger doesn’t only lie in the water – horses have a very good sense of smell and taste, and will refuse to drink (even to the point of dehydration) if their water is polluted, stagnant or even if their water supply changes abruptly. The equestrian digestive system requires a lot of water to help it work; a dehydrated horse is much more prone to colic, as the dry feed compacts in their stomach. So the danger lies in your horse refusing to drink just as much as it does in your horse willingly drinking bad water.

Water can become dirty in several ways. Algae grows quickly in warm weather and can contaminate your water in the space of a few hours. Perhaps your horse has decided that his hay or feed would look good floating around in his trough. Leaves, branches, bark, small animals, feathers and more can all easily make their way into a bucket. (I have two dogs, and they like to roll around in the arena then go sit in the trough, creating a not-so-lovely layer of mud.)

One way or another, your horse’s water is going to get dirty, and dirty water is dangerous for many reasons. Algae can quickly become toxic. Who knows what kind of germs those small animals so thoughtfully share with your horse when they decide to swim (or drown) in your tank? Perhaps your horse is ‘tucked-up’, and isn’t drinking as much as he should, slowly becoming dehydrated. So how can you prevent these issues?


1. Clean your horse’s water source regularly. It doesn’t matter what type of bucket or device you use, you need to make sure it’s clean. This can be something of a nuisance, as they tend to get very dirty very quickly.

  • If you use something small, like a bucket or tub, empty and wipe it out once a day – five minutes every day is much easier for you (and healthier for your horse) than 20 minutes once a week, or a whole day once a month.
  • There are some cleaning agents that can be used to help clean the water source, but be careful. One common household remedy is to clean the trough with bleach, and add a capful to the fresh water to prevent algae growing. However, even then, you will have to clean your trough every two or three days – and if you’re using town water, the water is already chlorinated for human use. Ask yourself: is it really necessary to bleach your horses water when the workload is the same anyway? Would you drink from a glass that had bleach poured in it?
  • Use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub at the sides of your water source, rather than simply wiping over them. Algae is very persistent, and you may find you’re simply wiping over the slime, rather than removing it from the trough walls.

2. Keep the water fresh. Change the water regularly – this will ensure clean, cool water, as well as discouraging algae and mites that thrive on still, stagnant water.

3. Look at ways to naturally keep the water clean. 

  • Aside from bleach (as discussed above), another popular household remedy is Apple Cider Vinegar. Apart from it’s numerous health benefits to your horse, Apple Cider Vinegar is said to deter most flying bugs and some algae growth. An extra bonus – when horses ingest water treated with a dose of Apple Cider Vinegar regularly, their coat becomes shinier, their digestive system healthier, and it acts as a natural fly spray!
  • If you use large tanks to water multiple horses (on a ranch or breeding farm, for example), consider koi or catfish. These will feed off the algae that grow in the tank, keeping it down and requiring no extra feeding from you. Most horses don’t mind the fish. However, keeping the water fresh by changing it over or perhaps leaving a hose on a slow drip for a few hours a day is still necessary to ensure clean water that doesn’t stagnate.

Common sense is usually all it takes to know whether the water sitting in your trough is suitable for your horse or not – but if you’re ever in doubt, just ask yourself, “Would I drink that? If not, why?”.

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About the Author

Ellie is an Australian university student studying Public Relations & Organisational Communication. Her horse, Felix, has been stealing her carrot cake for 11 years, & when she’s not pampering him, she can be found eating sushi, vaulting, or trying to plan the unplannable. You can get to know Ellie here.

Category: Health & Care

About the Author ()

Cindy Corwin is the CEO/Owner of Horse Family Magazine and is specifically interested in giving back to equine communities and bringing families closer together in their love of horses.

Comments (1)

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  1. Greta James says:

    Thank you so much for informing me that you will want to keep the horse water troughs clean as large algae buildups can be dangerous for their health. Thank you so much for informing me that you can put fish in large water troughs and they will help prevent algae! For the last few months, I have been thinking that I want to put a couple of horses on the land in our backyard. There is plenty of room! I will have to follow your tips and look for animal feeders and troughs that will meet my needs.

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