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September 7, 2011

Water for your horse 101 – post 1 of 3 part series

by DePaolo Equine Concepts

As we head into fall, the temperatures across the country continue to rise.  For much of the country these months are the driest of the year and with several states suffering from severe drought, it is important to be very conscious of your horse’s water consumption to make sure your horse is thriving and not just surviving.


Water is the essential to a healthy horse.  Despite the fact that water is necessary for cellular, electrolyte and digestive health, water is often the one nutrient that is neglected and overlooked when balancing a horse’s diet.  The amount of water that is necessary to maintain a healthy horse is dependent upon a variety of factors such as their activity level and food intake as well as environmental conditions.

Horses at rest in a moderate climate consume approximately three to seven liters of water per 220 pounds.  In a day, this works out to 5 to 10 gallons. Overall, water intake is directly correlated to the dry matter intake in the diet. For example, horses that are fed on a diet composed entirely of hay will drink more than a horse that is fed a combination of hay and concentrates or a horse that lives on pasture.  Factors such as exercise level or fluctuating temperatures can cause water loss and electrolyte imbalances that can be life threatening.

Where the Water is Located

The body converts water to intracellular fluid and extracellular fluid.  The intracellular fluid exists within the cells of the body and comprises about two-thirds of the total body water, or 40% of the body’s weight.   This is approximately 50 gallons in an average sized horse. The extracellular fluid stays outside is located in the non-cellular portion of the blood which is the plasma, the spinal fluid and joint fluid and other fluids in other parts of the body, such as the eye.  Water is a large portion of the blood as well as the cellular structure of the body.


The salt content of the body is actually the electrolytes inside the body

.  An electrolyte is a substance that is made up of ions which carry a charge.  The electrolytes in the body are primarily carried in solutes, or dissolved solutions.  The primary solutes are:

  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Bicarbonate
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate

These compounds are present in table salt, Tums©, baking soda and lyte salt. The extracellular fluid is rich in sodium and chloride.  The extracellular fluid is rich in potassium.  The two types of fluid must remain in perfect balance for optimal health and performance.  Bicarbonate plays an important role in the system by acting as a buffer for changes in acidity which needs to remain around 7.4.

The electrolytes in the body conduct all of the electrical charges necessary for muscle contraction and cellular exchange.  These electrolyte exchanges take place in nearly every cell in the body from muscles to internal organs. Electrolytes regulate the distribution of body water within the various fluid compartments in the body.  Electrolyte balance in horses is crucial because they are the only mammal besides humans who achieve body cooling by sweating over large portions of the skin surface.

Water requirements for healthy electrolyte balance and proper hydration vary greatly based upon a horse’s activity level, feed program, age, weight and metal state.  Next week we will be discussing water intake in depth.

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