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Automatic Waterers Provide Fresh Water For Your Horse

In this Arizona pasture, an automatic waterer provides a ready source of fresh, clean water while conserving water that might otherwise be lost to evaporation.

Drink Up

  • Check your automatic waterer daily to be sure it's working properly.
  • Evaluate your horse, too, so you know he's getting enough water.
  • Install the waterer away from the feed tub and at a proper height to keep out hay, grain and debris.
  • Choose a unit with smooth, rounded edges so the horse is less likely to injure himself if he bangs into it.
  • Consider ease of cleaning and maintenance, keeping in mind that stainless or galvanized steel bowls won't pick up odors.
  • Consult an electrician if you choose a heated system that requires wiring. Plumbing depth and insulation are also important installation factors in cold climates.

Horses consume a great deal of water each day-anywhere from 5 to 15 gallons. Since water weighs about 81/3 pounds per gallon, you can get quite a workout simply hauling that 5-gallon bucket of water from the faucet to the stall each day. You've also got the chore of wiping the buckets clean before refilling them each day. Many barns keep two buckets of water in each stall, just in case the horse happens to drink one dry overnight, so it's no surprise that we're all wondering if an automatic watering system is worth the investment.


That's the "glass half full" side of the story.

Automatic waterers aren't perfect. When one goes awry, the horse is without water until you realize it. Or you could return to the barn to find his stall filled with three inches of standing water, which is still flowing out of the bowl.

Valves can jam. Floats can stick. Water lines can freeze. (Sure, the waterer itself might be heated, but what about the pipes feeding it?) Filters can fail. Some horses can destroy almost anything they set their minds to, and most automatic watering systems aren't cheap to install or repair.

Certainly, we'd like to have the convenience of a waterer in our barn. Fortunately, most modern barns can easily accommodate the additional plumbing required to have automatic waterers in each stall. Antique barns, however, might require a bit more effort, if they can be converted at all. Check with the manufacturer or your plumber to ensure your water pressure is adequate, especially if you're running water throughout a large barn.

With a little bit of ingenuity and a how-to book, you may be able to handle the plumbing yourself. However, we recommend that you contact an electrician if wiring is involved. And it will be if the unit includes a heater. Horses and electricity historically don't mix well. In many instances horses mysteriously stop drinking from waterers. Upon investigation, it's usually due to a tingling or electrical shock when they touch the water. Plus, of course, all electrical wiring should be in a conduit for extra safety.

Check your water quality, too. A debris-filled water line may jam up the waterer and cause malfunctions. Even something as tiny as sand grains can cause huge problems. The water source should be consistently clean and clear. If it's not, discuss with your plumber a way to install a replaceable filter on the line.

Jamming and clogging are among the most frequent problems with waterers. Be sure you flush all installed lines clean before hooking them to the waterers.

And once in use, you'll want to keep the bowl free of hay/grain before it mucks up the works.

Nearly all manufacturers equip their units with some degree of insulation, and many have heating elements. Even so, we recommend that you install pipes, lines and the waterers themselves away from direct drafts to help protect them from freezing. A good plumber will know how to do that and how deep to set the lines. Unless you live in a climate that never, ever goes below freezing, we recommend super insulation and heat.

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