One of the biggest challenges you may face is keeping your horse hydrated while traveling. Horses can become dehydrated fairly quickly and this is doubly true during hot weather. The average horse (around 1,200 lbs) requires around 5 – 10 gallons of water a day just to survive. While it’s true that you can’t make a horse drink, you can certainly make them want to.
Here are some tips to help your horse stay hydrated on the road.
- Feed a moisture-rich meal before loading up. This can be done by soaking their hay in water for about an hour prior to feeding, making a soupy mash or grain meal or soaking alfalfa or hay pellets. If you’re going to be on the road for a while, consider hanging a hay net filled with soaked hay to provide a little extra moisture and keep your horse hydrated. Be careful to not allow wet hay to sit too long in warm temperatures — alfalfa, especially, can start to spoil fairly quickly when wet and exposed to heat. You can continue this practice when you arrive at your stopping point to give them that extra little boost.
- Take water from home with you. While it isn’t always feasible to take a full supply of water with you if you’re going to be gone for a long period of time, take enough for two or three days. Horses have a tendency to refuse water that is “foreign” or tastes or smells different from the water they’re used to drinking at home. This can go a long way toward ensuring that your horses are going to drink when you arrive at your destination.
- Supplement with electrolytes. If your horse is going to be exerting itself in any way, it might be a good idea to offer him an electrolyte supplement in his water.
- Flavor unfamiliar water. If you aren’t able to bring a large enough supply of water from home, try a water additive to help perk up the taste of the new water and encourage drinking. Many people have great success with apple juice, sweet feed “tea” (soak a couple of handfuls of sweet feed in a half-gallon of water for two hours, then add the “juice” to your horse’s water bucket) or Gatorade (they prefer the fruit punch flavor, in general). It’s a good idea to start this practice ahead of leaving so that he develops a taste for the flavored water and will gladly drink it anywhere.
- Stop frequently to offer water. Be sure to offer water while traveling — a good rule of thumb is every 2 – 4 hours.
- Let them off to pee. Some horses refuse to urinate in the trailer. If feasible, allow him to get off the trailer and walk around a bit and if needed, urinate. An animal that has an empty bladder is much more likely to be willing to drink.
Eliminating some of the travel stress for your horse will also help eliminate travel stress on you. If you have a horse that will willingly drink on the road, you are helping ensure that they won’t experience colic or other dehydration-related issues that can plague dehydrated horses.