Winter has sneaked in and hit many parts of the northern United States. For those not fully prepared, now is probably your last chance to set up a water supply that won’t freeze or get icy cold. A horse drinks 8 to 12 gallons of water per day, and horses prefer water temperatures of about 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit and tend to drink less when water is cold. Keep in mind that research tells us that a horse cannot stay hydrated by eating snow alone. Decreased water consumption can lead to colic, so make every effort to ensure your horses are drinking enough. Avoid a frozen water supply by insulating pipes and faucets with heat tape or other insulation materials -- check with your local hardware store for recommendations. If you use a hose, find a way to drain it each night so it doesn’t freeze. Read on for a few ways to manage winter water supplies for horses.

The simplest, low-tech way is on very cold days break ice in water tanks in the morning and again in the evenings. Be sure to remove the ice after breaking it so it doesn’t refreeze quickly. You can clear ice with a pool skimmer or a manure fork designated just for that purpose. If you only have one or two horses, this method isn’t too taxing. A reminder: Older horses or those with dental problems may not be able to drink very cold water and may require additional warming of their water. In these cases you can warm water in their stall bucket with some hot water from your teakettle each morning and night.

The next option, if you have access to electricity, is to consider getting a stock tank heater or heated stall bucket. Many nice options are available, including heated muck buckets, which you can research on the Internet or at your local feed store.

What we have opted to do at our new place is to install heated automatic waterers. They are a bit pricy, but the pay-off is huge in chore efficiency and knowing horses having constant access to fresh water. We had them at our last place in Maple Valley, WA and loved them. The peace of mind they brought us knowing our horses always had water, whether in the dead of winter or heat of summer, was priceless.

So this week’s project at Sweet Pepper Ranch is getting waterers installed, digging trenches to lay water and power, and hoping the winter weather will hold off just a bit longer ‘till we get them in place.