Fall is a great time to review your watering system for your horse and think about how it will work for you and your horse over the coming winter. Any changes that need to be made can still be done now before the ground is too frozen for digging or making changes. Read on for a few ideas on how to set up and manage winter water supplies for horses.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

A horse drinks 8 to 12 gallons of water per day. Research shows horses prefer water temperatures of about 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit and tend to drink less when water is cold. Keep in mind that research also tells us that a horse cannot get enough moisture by eating snow alone. Decreased water consumption can lead to colic so make every effort to ensure your horses are drinking an adequate amount. 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.

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. Just make sure that you don’t use an electric heater with a plastic tank, or that you don’t have a curious gelding that’ll go bobbing for tank heaters.

A non-electrical option is an insulated bucket with a lid. These options still require daily filling with a hose, but horses easily learn to push on the lid to get a drink.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

A non-electrical option is an insulated bucket with a lid. These options still require daily filling with a hose, but horses learn to push on the lid to get a drink.

What we have opted to do at Sweet Pepper Ranch is install heated automatic waterers. They are a pricy investment initially and require a bit of labor to install correctly, but the pay-off is huge in chore efficiency and knowing horses having constant access to fresh water.

Automatic watering systems conserve water since they only use as much water as the horse drinks. The horse health advantage is that cool, clean water is always available. Plus, the water is circulating and not stagnant so it won’t provide habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes. We chose a design that works on geothermal principles of warming the water using ground temperature. That, as well as insulation, helps keep water cooler during the summer and warmer in the winter. To guard against freezing in the bitter cold months we added electrical outlets inside the base so heaters can be installed. Our brand also has small water pans so when we regularly clean the pan we aren’t dumping many gallons of water. To save on costs we chose double pan waterers, one waterer for two paddocks.

Good luck in getting your winter water supply set up and let’s hope winter holds off just a bit longer.

Alayne