Selecting a Horse Waterer

Meeting your horse's need for water.
Meeting your horse's need for water. - Gwendolyn Sams

Basic factors that affect horse water consumption

One option for providing clean, fresh water

One option for providing clean, fresh water

Most horse owners don't have a fresh clear stream that horses can access for water, so providing sufficient clean drinking water can be a major task.

Horses need access to fresh, clean water at all times. Insufficient or undrinkable water contributes to dehydration and illnesses, such as impaction colic. Needs of individual horses differ greatly and are affected by the following factors:

  1. Air temperature and general weather conditions
  2. Size of horse
  3. Feed (fresh or dried)
  4. Activity level
  5. General health of horse
  6. Pregnancy or lactation

Fortunately, many designers and manufacturers of horse waterers continuously work on improving their products to meet the variety of situations faced by horse owners in providing this basic necessity.

What Are My Choices?

Plastic waterer.

Common plastic waterer

Inexpensive plastic waterers are great for warmer areas.

Galvanized metal waterer.

Inexpensive galvanized waterer

Perhaps slightly more rugged, and easy to clean, a metal waterer is preferred by many.

Insulated waterer for cold weather.

Insulated waterer

In cold climates, an insulated and perhaps heated waterer is a works-saver.

  • Metal and plastic buckets
  • Automatic watering bowls and stall fountains
  • Molded high-impact polyethylene buckets, stall and pasture bowls, and troughs
  • Metal, rubber, and plastic water tanks and troughs
  • Garbage cans
  • Steel barrels cut in half
  • Enameled or porcelain-lined iron bath tubs
  • Ponds, lakes, and rivers
  • Other creative waterers designed by horse owners and handlers
  • Optional heaters, thermostats, consumption meters, and flow-regulating equipment

What do I look for in a horse waterer?

Dependability, durability, practicality, and ease of use are main considerations in determining how you are going to make sure your horses always have a plentiful supply of clean, fresh, drinkable water. Although buckets and watering troughs that are filled, drained, and cleaned by hand meet the needs of many horse owners, other waterers may cut down on labor and be more efficient in supplying your horse's water needs. In cases where horses are in stalls for part of the day and outside at other times, waterers need to be provided in both places.

An internet search for "horse waterers" will pull up pages of possibilities with prices ranging from $20 or less to well over $500 for the more technologically advanced models.

Design features of many waterers address a variety of criteria:

  • Fully automatic with insulation that minimizes electricity usage during cold and hot weather
  • Natural free-moving water or self-activated water flow
  • Good tasting water, free of algae and other contaminants
  • Horse-friendly
  • Low maintenance
  • No potential for electrical shock
  • Durable and made to last
  • Prevents invasion of mosquito eggs or larvae

According to research done by veterinarians, county extension offices, university animal programs, and other research centers, many of the best choices have several key elements in common:

  • Ease of Cleaning: In many areas, algae build-up is a problem and water can also become contaminated with bacteria and viruses. Since algae can produce toxins, being able to drain, clean, and disinfect waterers easily should be a priority in determining which waterer will work best for you. Removable stainless steel bowls in smaller models and fountains are preferred by many users. Larger watering troughs and multi-horse waterers also need to be made of user-friendly materials and be easy to maintain.
  • Minimal Effects from Weather Conditions: Frozen or cold water that limits drinking or water that is too hot because of summer heat result in dehydration, poor physical condition, and illness. Depending on the climate where you live, making sure that the waterers you choose can transition from season to season without affecting the drinkability of the water is extremely important. Fortunately, manufacturers have drastically improved materials and design of waterers for use in both cold and hot seasons. Since horses prefer water temperatures that range between 37 and 51 degrees F, use of insulation, space-age materials, self-regulating heaters, and thermostats help regulate the water temperature and keep it drinkable in any weather.
  • Durability: Although the old tin bucket or iron tub converted to a watering trough might last for years, other practical matters need to be taken into consideration. Given the qualities of stainless steel, plastics, including molded high-impact polyethylene, insulating materials, lightweight aluminum, and other products, horse waterers can last for years without fading, cracking, or deteriorating because of severe weather conditions.
  • Horse-Friendly; Your best choice in a horse waterer is one that doesn't frighten horses because of unnatural actions or noises. Some self-activated fountains and waterers provide an unexpected rush of water or create noise when switches or paddles are activated. Horses may be reluctant to drink from waterers that do unexpected things. Water tanks, troughs, bowls, and fountains should be located in places that are convenient for horses to get to and should be either installed at ground level or at a height that is convenient for horses to drink their fill without having to strain or reach. In many cases, a consumption meter will come in handy in determining how much water a horse is drinking, especially if health issues are involved.
  • Practicality: Automatic systems can deliver water efficiently, however, whether indoors or out, they should be checked often to be sure they are functioning and do not contain contaminants. Electrical heat for some waterers can be very expensive, so the monthly and annual cost of electricity should be considered. Energy efficient waterers are available, including solar-powered waterers for areas with plenty of sunshine, and, in some cold areas, power companies offer rebates on the purchase of energy efficient models.

Labor-intensive waterers and those that are uninviting to horses can be ruled out immediately. A careful evaluation of what is available and how each waterer might meet your needs is extremely important. The right waterer will not only provide your horses with fresh, clean water month in and month out, but can save you time, money, and labor to boot!

Dig deeperTM

If this article was of interest to you, you may also be interested in visiting our Horse Nutrition Health Center. Beyond hydration, the guide helps you understand the important issues regarding feeding your horse.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.