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Water for Horses

Way back in the early nineties, people found it trendy to drink bottled water. Today, most people will drink only bottled water that costs more per gallon than their gasoline. Few will trust municipally treated water and those on farms and other rural properties using wells are concerned with run-off contamination, pesticides, chemicals as well as bacteria that may make their water unfit for human consumption.

What about water for your horses? Many articles discuss the quantity of water that various horses need on a daily basis.

Estimated Water Intake For Horses

Activity Gallons/Day
Non-Working 4-8
Gestation 7-9
Peak Lactation 9-11
Medium Work 9-15
Heavy Work 12-15

(Reference: NC State University)

However what elements will affect their quality of your water? Are there different standards for horses as opposed to humans?

Not surprisingly, the answer is yes! You'll find that horses can tolerate a lower quality of water compared to humans, however it's important to know what these levels are. We're intentionally not going to discuss limits of various elements in detail, as opinions vary from medical institutions as well as universities on the levels acceptable to horses. However, we can highlight the main elements in water to evaluate and offer insight into how to determine whether your water is deemed acceptable or not.

Step 1

You should have your barn water tested every six months. Schedule your tests in the mid Spring and Mid Fall where your wells will encounter the most surface runoff. During these periods of the year, your well may encounter the largest level of pollutants. Shallow dug wells are more affected by surface run-off in comparison to deep drilled wells. Let the water run for a few minutes out of your source tap and capture a sample in an approved water sample container. These are usually available at no charge from your municipality and have a small amount of preservative in them to keep your sample stable until it is tested in the lab. Take your sample to a certified laboratory. Certified labs have been inspected by your State or Province and satisfy their criteria in testing methods and controls to assure accurate test results for your sample. Most jurisdictions will publish a list of certified labs in your area.

Step 2

Discuss the purpose of your water testing with the laboratory management. Explain that you want to determine water quality specifically for horses on your property. They can advise on which specific elements are important to your horses' health that may be suspect in your area. Ask about the following elements and test criteria:

Total bacteria count

Your lab may also test for trace minerals such as iron, aluminum, zinc and magnesium.

Step 3

Have your water test interpreted into plain language so everyone can understand it. Either ask the lab to interpret the results or refer to other reputable sources such as your veterinarian or a university that studies equine health. Your interpretation should list acceptable numerical ranges for horses and your results so that you can demonstrate to all visitors to your barn that your water is healthy for horses.

Within a short time, it will be a common practice to post water test results in horse barns. Those that start this practice will be ahead of the curve and demonstrate leadership and initiative in an area that will become increasingly important to all horse owners.

horses, equestrian, water, health, Total bacteria count, Total Coliform count, Fecal Coliform count, Nitrates, Nitrites, Total Dissolved Solids, water tests


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