Can Horses Eat Snow Instead of Fresh Water
 By Winniefield Park   •   2nd Feb 2016   •   2,177 views   •   0 comments
Can Horses Eat Snow Instead of Fresh Water

Did you know that your horse may be more thirsty in winter time than in summer, and that its need for water can increase? The average riding horse weighing about 1000 lbs (450kg) needs about 10-12 gallons (37-45 L) of water per day. This is just a basic need and does not take into account, work load, air temperature, lactation or feed. Some horses can live on considerably less, but these are the exception to the rule. This is why itís so important to provide plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.

In the winter months, a thirsty horse might try to eat snow or ice. The snow/water ratio is an average of 10 parts snow equals 1 part water. That means to drink the equivalent of 10 gallons of water a horse would have to eat 10 times that much snow, or about 100 gallons of snow. That is a lot of snow! One study done in Iceland suggests that horses can live for a short time with only snow to quench their thirst with no ill effects, but the horses in the study were fed silage, which has a higher water content than hay. The study also suggested, that because horses are hind-gut fermenters, the signs of dehydration may be delayed.

Most of us donít have hardy Icelandic horses as were observed in the study. A thin skinned Thoroughbred or bulky Clydesdale might not fare as well. Eating a lot of snow lowers a horseís body temperature. To stay warm, the horse needs to burn more calories. This requires more feed - which requires more water to digest. Studies done in desert regions suggest that horses deprived of water will eat less, which of course leads to weight loss. And, if the horse does not get enough water, impaction colic is a real danger. Combine this with dry fodder and reduced turnout time and you have a recipe for disaster. Many vets will confirm that there are more cases of impaction colic in the winter than during the warmer months.

So why do horses generally need more water in winter than during warmer months? There are a few factors. Foremost is the type of feed they eat. During the warmer months, horses may be grazing grass, which has a high water content. Many horse owners notice that their horses donít drain the water trough as quickly when they are eating mainly grass as opposed to hay. Another reason is that the air is often dryer in the winter than summer. Horses lose moisture not only through urine and manure, but when they exhale and through their skin. To replace this lost moisture, to keep a normal blood volume and healthy digestion they need more water than just eating snow will provide.

How do you know that your horse isnít getting enough water? The manure will look dryer than normal. A skin pinch test will show that the skin on the neck stays tented for longer than normal. The horse many not eat as much. Eventually the horse will lose condition and impaction colic can occur.

To maintain your horseís health, even if you see it occasionally Ďgrazingí on snow, make sure it has plenty of drinkable (not freezing cold) water available. Two buckets a day might not be quite enough. Check manure and keep an eye on its condition. Some older horses with sensitive teeth may need their water quite warm. And, if you want your horse to drink more often consider adding a little more salt to its diet.

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