Importance of Fresh Water

Written by Kate Hore RNutr (Animal) Senior Nutritionist at NAF

Water is, quite simply, the most important aspect of your, and your horses’, diet. Essential to life, water makes up around 65 - 75% of the horse’s bodyweight. A lack of water is seen initially as reduced appetite and poor performance; but can lead to depression, bone and cartilage damage and, ultimately, be fatal to the animal if not rehydrated. Water is essential not only to hydration itself, but all aspects of general health. Research now links a lack of fresh water directly to an increase in gastric ulcers, so for all these reasons it’s vital that your horse always has clean, fresh water available in both the field and stable.

As water is lost through sweat it is essential that we replace it, but not just the water but also the essential body salts, or electrolytes, that are lost alongside.

Electrolytes in water

Of the essential body salts sodium, or basic salt, is key and should be supplemented daily year round. Having a salt lick available in the stable and field allows your horse to take what he needs; but beware that flavoured licks can sometimes be eaten like sweets! Once exercise is increased, and as the weather warms up, you should upgrade basic salt to electrolytes which provide all essential body salts, ie. sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and chloride. Failure to replace these body salts can affect the thirst mechanism by failure to replace lost water, thus leaving the horse dehydrated. Of course clean, fresh water should also always be available, as studies have recorded losses of up to 60 litres (110 pints) of sweat per day in competition*.

Horse drinking

It’s worth noting that electrolytes must be fed in a way that works with the body, or more damage can be done. For example using a very concentrated form of electrolytes (i.e. a paste) can actually draw water out of the gut as it passes through, hence leaving the horse more dehydrated than he was before, and has been identified as a risk factor for gastric ulcers. For competing horses look for electrolytes which can be easily dissolved in a bucket of water, or fed in a wet feed to ensure the horse is also rehydrating.

In conclusion, whether competing or just enjoying a summer hack, ensure you pay attention to your and your horse’s electrolyte and water requirements to stay alert and focused.

Recommended NAF products:

  • Himalayan Salt Licks
  • Electro Salts
  • Liquid Electro Lytes
Picture 5

* Top level endurance competition in humid climates have recorded these levels.