Although most of us realise that giving a horse fresh water is essential, how many of us have really considered the importance of keeping an eye on hydration levels?
A horse’s body is 70% water. Rapid loss of water, as little as 20%, can cause instant death. Monitoring drinking must therefore be a part of your daily horse care routine.
A horse consumes approximately 10 gallons of water a day – a need that increases with exercise, heat or lactation to as much as 24 gallons per day.
With the stress of travelling and competing, many horses do not drink. This isn’t something you want to take lightly as dehydration can cause many ailments including kidney failure, tying up, colic, coma and death, or can simply cause a horse to perform less brilliantly.
Have you ever had a hangover? Most of us have suffered one and it isn’t nice! Well, that’s exactly how your horse feels after he’s done some exercise and for any other reason has lost and not replaced his daily quota of H20. The main reason we feel rough after a night of inebriation is dehydration. Do you feel like performing at your best with a hangover? Well, it’s unlikely that your horse does either.
And did you realise that just travelling to an event can make horses lose precious fluids? In fact for every hour that your horse is travelling, even in cool weather, he can sweat 2-5 llbs of water. Which means that your horse may be suffering from a hangover before he even starts performing as the negative effects will kick in after just 15 minutes of exercise!
Dehydration is the most common cause of under-performance whether it’s a competitive horse that isn’t achieving the results expected or a pleasure rider having to work really hard to get their horse to move forward on a hack.
Some riders assume that if their horse is not drinking when travelling or at an event for instance, he isn’t thirsty. Wrong! Nature does some wonderful things but she makes a few gaffs too, as horses cannot rely on feeling thirsty as a reminder to replace fluid lost through sweat. This is because dehydration switches off the horse’s thirst signal. When we humans do some strenuous exercise we sweat mainly water leaving a build-up of salt which makes us feel thirsty. But when a horse works hard, he sweats equal amounts of salt and water, so the ‘early warning signal’ to drink is not sent to his brain, his thirst alarm. The horse does not think he is thirsty therefore it does not occur to him to drink. He fails to alert his senses to the crisis of his dehydration. All the more reason therefore, to get him to drink!
So, if you know your horse has been working hard and sweating, and yet is not drinking, do not assume he doesn’t need water. Use your head to make the right decisions on his behalf.
But it’s not all about performance because another major threat to a dehydrated horse is impaction colic. And don’t think just because your horse hasn’t been working up a sweat, he’s not at risk. In fact it’s during the cold winter months, especially when it’s been snowing, that vets see a huge rise in the number of cases and the main cause is low fluid levels brought on by a change of diet from grass to hay, lack of movement, and a reluctance to drink cold water.
The other high risk group of horses are those that were in work and then through injury have to go on box rest. And in fact any horse who may be staying somewhere new (like Pony Club Camp), may be stressed, or have a slight change in diet can be susceptible.
Some riders might look to an electrolyte to keep their horse from becoming dehydrated. However, taken with insufficient water, electrolytes can actually cause dehydration! Electrolytes are only useful when the horse is already hydrated.
Beware too the skin pinch test. Recent studies have shown that this test cannot be relied upon to assess your horse’s hydration, so is best avoided. This is because delayed skin tent times are normally not evident until a horse has reached at least 3% dehydration. By this time his performance will already be affected and the horse at this level of dehydration will require 5.5 gallons of fluid just to correct this deficit.
We tend to take water for granted but it’s the most important ingredient in the horse’s system and a horse can go quickly wrong when it’s not right. Even the slightest dehydration affects your horse adversely and prevention is the best medicine.
Horse Quencher is a great way to keep to get your horse to maintain hydration no matter where you are! For more information on Horse Quencher click here