We all feed the feed we believe is best for our horse. We add on those pricey but necessary, and oh so carefully selected supplements. We choose hay that is good quality, and a pasture that is free of toxic plants. Our horses are our best friends, our athletes, our partners and our family. We strive to keep their well being in mind, and pour hundreds of dollars into their health every year. Yet so many of us overlook the most basic and fundamental substance that our horses need to consume not just to thrive, but even survive – water.
Giving your horse constant access to clean, fresh, water is one of the very basics of stable management. Many horse owners dedicate hours of research into their feed of choice, they meticulously gather information on any supplements they use, yet when it comes to water, why do so many of us fail to see its importance? We tackle feeding with a fine toothed comb, giving so much careful consideration to what we choose to input into our horses, yet so many of us let the most basic input of all go unchecked.
Water isn’t just consumed by your horse every time he dips his head to the bucket you fill each night in his stable. The automatic drinkers, the stream running through the pasture, the field trough or the pond he likes to wade in, all give him access to water too. This water isn’t pure just because it appears clean, and though we police what we put into our horse’s body feed-wise, so many of us forget to question, what exactly is water bringing to that mix? As a natural solvent, this liquid picks up little pieces of the environments it has travelled through. From minerals through to chemicals or bacteria, so much can be dissolved in water, while us, and our horses, are none the wiser.
One end to this uncertainty, and a safeguard against it, is water testing. Many barns today, draw their water from wells, making testing even more important as potential for contamination is particularly high. Even water from a main public or city line can, in some cases, be a cause for concern. Although this kind of water is filtered and tested extensively at the source, any fault from there on out, be it in the pipes, the storage, or the plumbing, still results in a problem with the end result – the water you provide for your horse. Though water may appear clean and safe, it is impossible to tell what levels of which harmful compounds are, or aren’t, lurking hidden inside that bucket, without testing it.
Test results show you the levels of the compounds and bacteria in your horse’s drinking water, and even the pH. One compound that can be tested for is Magnesium. Along with Calcium, these salts could be giving you ‘hard’ water. While this is usually no problem for your horse, at high levels, Magnesium can cause unpleasant diarrhoea in equines, meaning being in the know is important. Iron is also on most test panels. Underground, the compound is usually colourless, but on exposure to air or heat, it has the potential to stain water red or rusty in colour and carry a metallic taste. This iron can lead to iron loving bacteria, which feed on the compound and create a rusty slime that covers the inside of your pipes, reducing their effectiveness and lifespan. Another mineral worthy of mention, is lead. Although its effects on horses are not well understood, we’ve all heard the term ‘lead poisoning’ and it’s not hard to imagine high levels are best avoided.
Total coliforms levels check your water for bacteria that usually lives in soil and both animal and human waste. Though these bacteria themselves are not particularly harmful, their presence can act as an indicator that your water supply may be contaminated with run off water from a septic tank, or even the muckheap, paving the way for contamination with things you definitely do not want your horse drinking! Pesticides and extremely harmful substances such as blue-green algae can also be identified through having your horse’s water checked. Testing puts you in the know, and arms you with the information you need to make choices about exactly what your horse’s drinking water exposes him to.
As well as protecting your horse, water testing can also be beneficial for increasing the lifespan and integrity of your pipes and fixtures. For example, pH, which tests the acid or alkaline levels in water, is helpful in this area. Acidic water can contribute to corrosion of pipes, while an alkaline result suggests a high chance of deposits of crusty minerals lining your pipes, reducing their efficiency.
It is advised that water supplied by a well is tested annually, though if any changes in your water occur, it might also be time to get tested. This could include a change in colour, odour or taste of the water, as well as any horse, human or other animal getting sick with a water-borne disease, flooding occurring near your water supply, or work being carried out on the pipes or other fixtures.
In addition to testing, following a few common sense water tips can also pay dividends when it comes to staying in control of what your horse consumes, and making sure he stays healthy. All water buckets, baths, or troughs should be checked and filled daily, to ensure a continuous supply of clean water. This applies to automatic drinkers too. Be vigilant for any signs of contamination, be it build up of dirt, algae, or poop, and ready to clean accordingly! Don’t allow horses to have access to any stagnant or contaminated water, and if you’re not sure that the water is safe, remove access and find another source, until it has been tested and has the all clear.
It can be difficult to find specific guidelines for horse’s drinking water, as generally they are lumped into the livestock category. By undertaking water testing, you can at least ensure that the water they consume is, clean, safe, and is suited to their needs as possible. After all, the average horse drinks at least half a gallon of water for every 100 pounds of their body weight, per day, giving it the power to make a significant difference to their overall wellbeing. Water testing eliminates the unknown. It ensures that you really do have rule number one of good stable management down, by confirming the water your horse has access to really is clean, and safe for him to drink.
By Emma Doherty – Luna Sport Horses