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test water horse drinking stream

When to test water a horse drinks?

If you want to analyse or test the water a horse drinks then Forageplus™ can answer your questions. Analysis to test water will make sense if you use a borehole or natural water source.

Why worry about horse drinking water?

Most people understand that horses should have clean, fresh drinking water available at all times. However, not many people consider the impact that the mineral status of water has on the maintenance of healthy horses. This is why it is important to test water that horses drink.

Just as forage, water has a significant impact on the mineral status and thus the health of horses.  If your horse has access to a borehole or natural water source then analysis to test water to determine whether it is fit for livestock consumption and whether mineral levels are impacting on health is wise.

How much water does my horse drink?

Water is the most essential nutrient needed to sustain life. In horses, it accounts for 50 to 70 percent of body weight.

Horses should have free access to fresh clean water at all times. 

As a guide a 500 kg horse will drink between 35 to 70 litres of water each day depending on:

  • The water content of feed; the water content of green and growing grass can be very substantial whereas in hay it could be very low. The resting horse, grazing grass with a moisture content over 70% may not need to drink any water at all.
  • Ambient temperature; a rise in temperature from 15 degrees C to 20 degrees C will increase body water loss by 20 per cent and therefore increase an adult horse’s water requirements by about 5 litres.
  • Water loss from urine condensation and sweating: sweating from activity will increase water consumption dramatically.
  • Salt levels in the diet will increase water consumption.

What effect does water quality have on my horse?

Where water contains high levels of some compounds or elements this can play a big role in impacting horse health. Water quality may have a tremendous impact on water palatability, and water intake may decrease substantially when water palatability is poor. Signs that a horse is drinking water at poor and unhealthy levels include:

  • Decreased dry feed intake
  • Hard pea/bullet like droppings
  • Lethargy
  • Slow to sweat or not sweating
  • Colic caused by slow moving digestive contents or impactions

Is my horse drinking normally?

It is always worth monitoring your horses’ water consumption over 24 hours to determine if the horse’s drinking falls within normal limits, especially if any of the above signs have been observed. Many horses will restrict intake if the water has problems.  Others will be affected by a general shortage of sodium in their diet and drink less to conserve sodium supplies within the body.

When is horse drinking water safe?

To be unreservedly accepted by all horses, water must be free from pollution by sewage (this includes human and animal sewage), farm chemicals, or industrial contaminants.  If you have any doubt over water source quality, it is always best to prevent access, test water and or provide human tap water as the drinking water because this is always monitored extremely carefully by the water authority.

Ideally, levels of compounds and elements in the feed should be considered when evaluating the suitability of a water supply for horse consumption.

test water horse drinking

How might water affect a horse?

The short-term intake of a toxic substance or mineral at high levels may have no observable effects, while long term consumption may result in serious harm. Toxic compounds in water do not necessarily reduce water palatability and they are therefore more harmful than those that affect palatability.

Young horses may not respond in the same way as mature healthy adults and the rate of consumption may also be a factor in the animal’s reactions. 

The intake of toxic substances may not cause a measurable effect on growth or everyday outward health yet may cause sub-cellular damage.  This damage can be expressed as increased susceptibility to disease or parasitic invasion.

Be aware that water sources from springs, shallow wells or natural courses such as streams and ponds can be subject to sudden or seasonal changes in composition from human or natural causes.

Water can be high in calcium and areas with high calcium can contribute significantly to the amount of this mineral in the diet of horses. As calcium is often oversupplied in both forage and commercial feeds it is important to check levels to make sure the correct balance with phosphorous and magnesium is being maintained. It is also important to check iron and manganese levels and test water as excessive levels of both these minerals can be antagonistic to other minerals like copper and zinc.

Water from natural water sources such as ponds, streams and rivers can be high in certain minerals. In addition, some can be contaminated with nitrates from agriculture.  In some situations where contamination might occur it may be best to consider limiting or stopping access to these sources of drinking water for horses.

High nitrate levels can affect breathing, weight and general failure to thrive.  Young horses are more susceptible than adults. Pregnant mares will be at risk from abortions when levels are high. High levels will cause death. Levels in water need to be added to that in forages for the true impact on horse health. A nutritional and mineral analysis of grass, hay and haylage will confirm the likely hood of a high forage nitrate content.

When to use Forageplus to test water a horse drinks

Water contributes to a significant percentage of a horse’s diet and has the greatest impact after the grass, hay or haylage a horse eats upon health. Analysis to test water is important in some situations.

If a horse drinks tap water then you don’t need Forageplus to test the water a horse drinks. You can check the mineral status of tap water by asking your local water provider for a report.  All water providers will test the water to make sure it is fit for human consumption. However, some areas will have high calcium and if you are balancing minerals in the horses’ diet then it can be useful to understand the levels in a horses’ drinking water.

Check and test water for horse drinking if you want to check:

  • Calcium levels
  • Heavy metal contamination
  • Nitrate contamination from farmland fertiliser run off
  • Levels of minerals which might affect water intake and palatablity
  • Levels of minerals which might act as antagonists especially when added to minerals in the daily forage and bucket feed
  • Borehole suitability for horse drinking
  • Other natural water source (stream, river, pond, lake, spring) suitability for horse drinking.
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