Dehydration is a serious issue for all performance horses. Horse owners and trainers know that the use of electrolytes during the hot summers is an extremely important part of their feeding plan. This is also true in the colder months as many horses race using diuretics, such as Lasix.
In simple terms, when the fluid balance in the body of the horse becomes unbalanced, the body draws fluid from the GI tract to ensure that there is sufficient fluid in the blood stream for the organs and cells to function correctly. This, in turn, leads to the GI tract becoming depleted of moisture making the passing of wastes through the GI tract more difficult, leading to hard stools and in some cases colic.
There are many ways to check to see if your horse is dehydrated. There are multiple ways to check to see if your horse is dehydrated ranging from the horseman pinching the skin on their neck to a blood report that reads a combined high reading of RBC, Hemoglobin and Hematocrit. These are just two examples.
Obviously, plenty of IV fluids will keep the horse hydrated, but many barns cannot afford to have the veterianrian administer IV fluids on a daily basis. Many horseman use nasogastric intubation to hydrate their horse, but excessive use of this method can cause irritation and addition complications. Some horsemen/women insist on putting electrolytes in their water to make them drink. Most horses do not look to drink salt water when they are thirsty. If you are feeding them a high quality electrolyte and not a sugar based supplement, it will taste like salt water, not Gatorade. Would you drink salty tasting water if you were thirsty? They need the electrolytes in their system which will require them to drink. It is better to mix the electrolytes in their feed.
There is the old story that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. That may be true, but I can almost guarantee you that they will “eat” their water. At least once per day, make them a high quality mash that also contains high quality hay cubes. The mash should contain about 2-3 gallons of water. The mash could be warm in the winter and cold in the summer months. You can tailor the feed to the horse’s needs whether you use straight oats, sweet feed, a combination feed and also bran or no bran. You will be feeding your horse exactly the same way as you did in the past, but you will be adding hay cubes to absorb some of the water and also create a great “soupy” flavor for the horse to lap up. By doing so, you will be guaranteeing that your horse will be getting a daily drench of water, electrolytes and supplements (if you choose to add them). Believe it or not, they will also drink more because you are administering electrolytes into their system through that way of feeding.
Many horses will dive right into this feed. Some will not because they are afraid of change. Give those horses three days to one week and they will come onboard for your program.
Dehydration is a dangerous issue for your performance animal, so monitor your horse’s fluid intake regularly to ensure that they are taking in enough fluids to meet their needs. If your horse is not urinating regularly and their fluid intake is low, “feed” them water and you will turn them right around!