Horse Care Tips

You Can Lead a Horse to Water… (Horse Hydration 101)

source: canva
Written by Natalie Gasper

Your H20 Questions Answered

Water is considered king for a reason. While horses need six classes of key nutrients to survive, water is the most important.

An average horse will drink anywhere from five to fifteen gallons of water every day. Horses can only live about three days without water, but problems like colic can show up much sooner.

Monitor your horse for signs of dehydration, such as pale gums and increased pulse. Be sure your horse has access to fresh, clean water twenty-four hours a day.

Water: The Most Essential Nutrient

Water is the only nutrient horses can’t survive more than a few days without. Horses need constant access to clean, fresh water to stay healthy.

How much water does a horse drink each day?

An average horse will drink five to fifteen gallons of water daily. A horse in heavy exercise or hot temperatures may drink up to twenty gallons of water per day.

How long can a horse go without water?

Turns out, answering this question is a bit difficult. Not only are there a lot of variables, but who wants to actually test this theory?

Most sources say that a horse can only live about three days, possibly up to six days, without water. Major health problems can start in 48 hours (or less).

How long can a donkey go without water?

Horses and donkeys are both equines, but donkeys have evolved to handle heat and dehydration better. A desert animal, donkeys can also go about three days without water.

However, a donkey can lose more of their body weight (approximately 30%!) in water without negative consequences.

Donkeys have adapted to survive for longer periods without water and can rehydrate in as little as five minutes.

How long can a horse go without food?

A horse can survive for about three weeks without food. They shouldn’t go more than four hours without forage, however.

Horses evolved to eat twenty hours a day, so prolonged periods without forage can cause health problems such as ulcers or colic.

horse water hydration

source: canva

Dehydration in Horses

Dehydration can be a frustrating problem, especially if your horse refuses to drink. The signs are subtle at first, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your horses.

How can you tell if a horse is dehydrated?

When a horse is dehydrated, his pulse will increase, his gums will lose their pink hue, and his skin will become less elastic.

What happens if a horse doesn’t drink enough water?

When a horse doesn’t drink enough water, he becomes dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to problems like poor performance, colic, and decreased organ function.

How long can a horse go without water in the heat?

Just like humans, horses can overheat, so it’s important to provide them with continuous access to fresh water when it’s hot. Ideally, they shouldn’t go more than a few hours without water in the summer.

horse hydration water

source canva

The Importance of the Water Source

While natural sources are convenient, always provide an artificial source, like a bucket or trough, that you can monitor and keep clean.

Do horses only drink clean water?

Dirty water may not stop some horses, but most horses prefer clean water. Drinking dirty water can make them sick (it’s often contaminated with manure, dirt, or algae).

Make sure to scrub out buckets and water troughs at least once a week (more is better!)

How does temperature affect drinking?

Most horses prefer lukewarm water. Horses also tend to drink more water when it’s hot out and less when it’s cold. It’s important to supplement with salt even in the winter to encourage your horse to drink.

Watching water consumption is especially important in the winter, as horses tend to not want to drink as much.

Troughs may need to be equipped with water heaters to keep them from freezing over, or you may want to invest in a heated bucket. Electrolyte supplements may also be helpful to encourage drinking in the coldest of temperatures.

horse hydration

source: canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can a horse go without water overnight?

A horse could, but they shouldn’t. Horses need access to clean water 24 hours a day.

Q: How much water does a donkey drink per day?

A donkey will drink three to six gallons (or 10 to 23 liters) per day.

Q: How often do horses drink water?

Most horses will drink water several times a day for a total of about five to six minutes of drinking time.

Q: How much water will a horse drink overnight?

If on pasture, a horse might drink very little since grass is high in water content. In a stall, a horse might drink three to seven gallons overnight.

Parting Thoughts

Water is critically important for a healthy horse. Make sure to keep your horse’s bucket full and his trough clean, allowing access to water 24 hours per day.

horse water drinking

source canva

Further Reading

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About the author


Natalie Gasper

Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!