Last Updated on March 10, 2022
We all take it for granted that our horses will quench their thirst without any assistance, but exactly how do horses drink water? If you think about it, they need to make water defy gravity, taking it from ground level up into their stomachs! So let’s find out just how do horses drink, and learn all about this fascinating process.
How Do Horses Drink Water?
OK, so prepare to be amazed! The way that a horse drinks water is fascinating, and a very clever function of the equine body.
When we drink water, we can lift the water to the height of our mouth and sip it through our lips. But for a horse, they are normally taking in water that is at ground level, and moving it upwards through the mouth and into the stomach, via the esophagus. If you have ever tried to suck water up through a siphon tube, or very long straw, you will know how difficult this is!
When a horse drinks, it will put its muzzle into the water and open its lips. It is important that no air can be taken in, so just the center point of the lips are pursed to create an opening.
The tongue is then lowered to the bottom of the mouth, creating an area of low pressure. This causes the water to be pulled upwards into the mouth. The swallow reflex is then stimulated, and a gulp of water is transferred through the esophagus into the stomach.
Hands up who is sitting there trying to mimic this right now?! And when you think that a horse drinks up to 10 gallons of water every day, that is a lot of sucking and slurping they need to do!
Each swallow will contain around 200 milliliters of water, and if you watch the side of your horse’s neck closely you will see the gulps of water moving down to the stomach.
Unfortunately, this process might be the best way for a horse to drink water, but it can be quite messy. When a horse drinks it dribbles water from its lips and tongue and will splash water over the floor. Some horses also like to play with their water, making even more mess!
Can A Horse Drink Too Much Water?
Most horses know exactly how much water to drink to keep themselves well hydrated. However, there are some situations where a horse may drink too much.
Some medical conditions of horses will cause them to become very thirsty and consume too much water. One example of this is a hormonal disorder called Cushing’s disease. This is a problem that many elderly horses develop, and one of the first symptoms is that they start to drink more than normal.
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If a horse has undergone a period of intense exercise, or lost large amounts of sweat, they may also feel the desire to drink too much water. It is important to let the horse drink little and often, rather than allowing him to quickly gulp down large quantities of water. You may also need to give electrolytes to replenish those lost through sweating.
Read more about Horse Bone Growth Chart – How Fast Do Horses Grow?
What Might Make A Horse Stop Drinking?
It is unlikely that a horse will stop drinking to the extent that he becomes dehydrated unless he is sick. However, you need to monitor your horse’s water intake as dehydration can occur in a short space of time.
Horses can be quite fussy and like to drink clean water that is neither too hot or too cold. Ensure that drinking containers are clean and that the water is refreshed regularly. If you change the drinking container this may confuse your horse and stop him from drinking.
If a horse is feeling unwell he may not drink enough, and this can lead him to quickly become dehydrated. Medical problems such as colic and infections can cause a horse to stop drinking.
Another situation in which a horse might not drink enough is ff your horse has a mobility issue, such as lameness or laminitis. He might find it painful to walk to his water bucket and will be reluctant to move. In this situation, it is a good idea to regularly take water to your horse to see if he wants to drink.
How Do Horses Drink Summary
So, as we have learned, horses drink water by pursing their lips and using their tongue to create an area of low pressure that pulls water into the mouth. This then triggers the swallowing reflex, moving the water down through the esophagus and into the stomach. Horses need to drink a large volume of water each day, normally by drinking little and often.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how do horses drink! Is your horse a very messy drinker who splashes water everywhere? Or perhaps you are having problems getting your horse to drink enough after exercise? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Do Horses Drink With Their Tongue?
Horses do not lap water with their tongues in the same way that cats and dogs do, but the tongue of a horse is used as part of the drinking process. To drink water, the horse must suck up water into the mouth through the lips - imagine drinking from a large bowl without use the edge to help take a sip! This is a messy process and you will see horses spill a lot of water when they drink.
But where does the tongue come into it? Well, as the horse sucks up water the tongue is used to create low and high pressure within the mouth, to firstly take in and then retain the water. This helps the horse move the water from the lips to the back of the mouth, ready to swallow.
How Do You Get A Horse To Drink?
If you are worried that your horse is not drinking enough, try cleaning the water trough and adding fresh water. If this doesn't work, the water can be sweetened and flavored with additives such as sugar, honey, apple sauce, and corn syrup. If your horse appears dehydrated then you must contact your veterinarian immediately.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then wenton to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE