It’s that time of year again. The temperatures have dropped across the mid-south, and many horse owners are fighting the annual winter battle with Mother Nature: keeping the water trough from freezing.
Keeping your water tank thawed and your horses hydrated is paramount, as lack of water can cause dehydration-induced colic. In its early stages dehydration can be hard to detect in horses, so it is imperative they always have access to clean, fresh water.
While there are many commercial products available on the market that involve water-safe electrical heating units, there are DIY options as well. Michele Harn, MS, Equine Nutrition and owner, Kalos Sport Ponies, Wis. and Tenn., has numerous suggestions to help equestrians keep their horses’ water flowing freely all winter. She says, “Wind and contact with cold surfaces are major factors in stability of water temperature.” First, she suggests raising the trough off the ground. This can be done by simply placing wood underneath. Next, wrap the tank with reflective, flexible insulation material. If you’re concerned your horses will want to chew on this, wire fencing can be placed over the insulation. An insulated top which partially covers the trough will also be a great addition to reduce the surface area of water exposed to the wind and elements. Pink styrofoam-type insulation from a home improvement store and wood framing work well to construct the top, and this side of the trough can be placed outside the fence so horses aren’t tempted to pull it off or chew it. Michele suggests using a plug-in type water heater, as the float type can be pulled out by horses and can even burn a plastic trough if it doesn’t have a wire basket preventing it from touching the sides.
For those equestrians who may not have power in their barns or access to electricity near the trough, Laura Lutz, Barn Manager at Redemption Road Horse Rescue in Jackson, Tenn., provides many practical solutions to keeping your water tank from freezing this winter. She suggests wrapping the trough or tank in insulation- this can be aluminum stuffed with hay or even water heater jacket insulation. For a smaller water bucket, you can place an old tire stuffed with straw around the entire thing. A floating object, such as an old soccer ball, thrown in the trough can also be an affordable option to keep your water flowing. “Anything that can promote movement in the water will help prevent freezing,” Laura states. Another suggestion Laura offers is to fill milk jugs with a salt water solution. Saltwater has a lower freezing point than freshwater and should help your horses’ water stay in liquid form when the temperatures drop below freezing. However, if your tank does freeze, a sifting shovel works wonders for not only breaking up the surface ice, but for removing it as well. Leaving ice in the tank will only further drop the temperature.
After spending lots of time and effort busting up water troughs last winter, Mindi Harrison, equine trainer, did some research and found that powdered molasses added to the trough works wonderfully. She puts a couple of cups of powdered molasses (available at the Co-op) into her water tanks and says even when the temperatures become bitterly cold, the tanks don’t freeze, but take on a more “slushy-like” texture. She also sprinkles some of the powdered molasses right on top to encourage her horses to drink.
Tanks with little water in them will be more susceptible to freezing solid. So, if the temperature falls below 30 degrees for more than 12 hours, be sure to keep your water trough full. Whatever the way you offer water to your equines, it is important to remember that the trough still needs to be dumped and cleaned- even throughout the winter months. Offering horses fresh, clean water is a great way to encourage hydration and decrease the risk of colic episodes throughout the winter.