Help For Horses With Drinking Problems

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Horses like plain ol’ water just fine, thank you, but sometimes a little flavoring won’t hurt. A dash of flavor can mask differences in the way water tastes when the horse will be away from home. Many horses are suspicious of water that smells or tastes different and don’t drink well when they aren’t home. Farms with municipal water may also run into problems with consumption if the level or type of chemicals used to treat the water changes. If your horse becomes accustomed to flavored water, adding the same flavoring when you’re on the road can help mask water differences.

Some things you can try as water additives include:

Peppermint extract. This is especially good for problems where the horse takes a sniff and decides he won’t even try the offending water. Extracts are extremely concentrated though. Just a few drops should do it. Not all horses like peppermint so check this first by offering a peppermint candy.

Carrot, apple or grape juice. Add 4 to 8 ounces to a bucket of water.

Molasses. One to 2 tablespoons/bucket. Drawback is that it’s messy and attracts flies.

A few tablespoons of a powdered ”green” drink from a health-food store works great, but the prices are outrageous. You can get barley grass powder or alfalfa powder

Spices can get the job done, but you’ll have to be sure to use one the horse actually likes. Anise is a favorite of many horses and a common additive in commercial feeds. You can get it in convenient to use/mix in an extract form at most grocery stores.

Vinegar works for some horses but may actually enhance a metallic taste in the water.

The distinctive taste of regular table salt (plain or iodized) will mask many off flavors in water but won’t help with any odor the horse is detecting. Try adding 1 to 2 tablespoons per bucket, up to a maximum of 10 tablespoons for a five-gallon bucket.

Equitea, from Equine America, 800-838-7524,, $8.95/3 lbs., contains dehydrated alfalfa meal, dehydrated molasses, salt, potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate. When mixed as directed, it supplies sodium, potassium and chloride at similar to isotonic blood levels and less than 1 oz. of magnesium per treated bucket. Several studies have shown that horses given isotonic saline solutions to drink immediately after exercise drink more and replace their fluid losses better than horses given plain water.

We tried this in a barn of eight horses and found four consumed it immediately. Three horses were what we’d call ”suspicious” of the flavored water, and one refused to touch it if plain water was available. Three of these horses were problem drinkers when away from home. Their home water was well water, and they usually were shipped to places where water was chemically treated ”city” water. One horse obviously drank better away from home after becoming accustomed to Equitea. The other two didn’t. Results may vary depending on the exact nature of the water problem. In this case, it we believe it was chlorine.

If your problem is a horse that is a poor drinker even at home, the most likely reason is inadequate salt consumption. Make sure the horse is actually taking in at least 1 to 2 oz. of salt/day, with more in hot weather, by either adding it directly to meals or syringing it in. (Always syringe in salt after a horse has eaten, to avoid stomach irritation.) You’ll see the difference within a day or two of starting this. Making sure the horse has adequate salt intake will also make them more likely to drink well away from home. (Note: 1 oz. of salt is two tablespoons.)

Of course, you can bring water with you, if you must. Five-gallon jugs of spring water are convenient, or you can fill a large picnic cooler with a drain spout and dispense from a convenient location like the tail gate of your truck or the floor of a trailer. Another thing to try is to bring your horse’s water bucket from home. The familiar smell of the bucket will help.

Remember that plastic will absorb odors, so be sure the container you purchase is clean and not one previously used to hold food. Along the same line, if your horse seems to becoming less interested in his water, you may try replacing his bucket with a new one or at least cleaning the old one with baking soda to remove any slight odors that might be backing him away from the water.