By Tanya Randall

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Darn the luck. It can be extremely frustrating when you’ve hauled hours to a three-day barrel race and your horse refuses to drink.

CREDIT: Allyson Bottini

Photo credit Allyson Bottini

The lack of proper hydration not only hampers performance, but can easily become life-threatening. One of the leading causes of colic episodes is simply the failure of a horse to drink enough water. In the winter horses will drink less because of frigid temperatures, while in the summer they may not drink enough water on extremely hot days to offset water lost through sweat.

While on the road, the different sources of water can also cause a horse to turn his nose up at this vital nutrient. For example, a horse used to drinking well water in the country may refuse the treated water in the city.

If you have a picky drinker there are several tricks to try to keep your horse properly hydrated.

First, do your homework. You can prepare for such an occasion by giving your horse electrolytes in either their grain or water. Given in the grain, it encourages the horse to drink because of the salt in the electrolytes. If given in the water, it will encourage the horse to drink more and it also “flavors” the water just a bit. If your horse is used to having electrolytes in their water, they may be more apt to drink water away from home if “flavored” like the water at home.

In a pinch other products used to flavor water are apple juice, sports drinks like Gatorade, table salt and even Jello mix can be added. However, try the different flavorings at home to see what your horse prefers and give them from time to time so your horse more likely to prefer them over no water at all at the shows.

Electrolytes are also available in paste form and they can be given as needed especially to horses that have lost a lot of water through sweat.

One of the best tricks to get a horse to at least consume some water is hay soup. Take a few handfuls of hay and cover with water. You want enough water that the hay is soaked and the horse will get water with every mouthful of hay.

If you are fortunate enough to have plastic coated canvas mangers in your trailer, you can mix a little hay soup in the manger. This is also a great tip for feeding horses with allergies while on the road.

When all else fails, you can try mixing a large syringe, at least 60cc, of salt water. Mix enough salt and water to keep the salt in solution and then add a little more salt.

Although with the cost of fuel, few of us want to drag around more weight in our trailers, bringing water from home may be your only option. If you don’t have a living quarter’s trailer, you can have a corner water tank installed in your dressing or tack room. Or, you can use a five-gallon plastic container. If you have to make your water last over the weekend gradually add water from home to the water on site until your horse accepts the onsite water.

The longest you ever want your horse to go without water is 24 hours, so if the hay soup isn’t doing the trick you may need to seek veterinary assistance before the horse becomes dehydrated.


Tanya Randall is an avid barrel racer and longtime Barrel Horse News contributor. E-mail comments on this article to  [email protected].


Email comments or questions to [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Annemiek Tishauser Reply

    Could you tell me where i can buy the drinking bowl , the horse is drinking from?
    Thanks in advance.
    With kind regards,

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