Keeping Water Clean
Water is, of course, one of the most important things you can provide for your horse. Horses are large animals that need a lot of water daily. The American Association of Equine Practitioners says even a resting horse can consume 6 to 10 gallons of water a day, and this number increases in hot weather or if the horse is working, possibly rising to 20 gallons of water a day.
While keeping a horse supplied with that much water is a big job, don't underestimate the importance of keeping a sufficient water supply available at all times. But it's not enough just to make sure water is available. It's also critical to keep the water containers clean. Horses are less likely to drink stale or dirty water, which can lead to dehydration or other health-related concerns. Thankfully, it's easy to incorporate bucket and trough cleaning into your day. Below are a few tips to get you going.
How to Clean Water Buckets
Basic 5- or 6-gallon water buckets are easy to maintain. Empty the bucket daily as part of your regular barn chores, and give it a nice rinse to remove small debris like hay or dribbled grain bits. Even if the bucket appears clean, scrub it daily or every other day with a stiff-bristled brush. This helps keep algae, hard water stains, and general horsey mess like hay and grain bits at bay. Rinse after scrubbing, then you're ready to fill.
How to Clean Troughs
It's usually best to use the drain valve on the bottom of the trough. You can attach a hose to this and redirect the water to a low-traffic area. If your trough lacks a drain valve, you can usually apply a bit of muscle or maybe a helper or two and tip a full trough over to empty it for cleaning, but doing this has a few downsides. It adds a great deal of moisture to the topsoil, which can easily turn to mud when your horse walks over it; plus, you'll create a mess with the runoff. Alternatively, you can always empty a trough with buckets. Once empty, use the same process as the smaller buckets: rinse, scrub, rinse again, refill. Don't forget your automatic waterers. Depending on the particular device, you may need to remove the bowl for a quick wipe down, or you may have very little to clean at all.
Ideally, you're cleaning the water buckets regularly so larger messes never become an issue (although it's not impossible in hot weather). Remember: frequent, easy cleanings are best. The same holds for your water trough, but keeping it clean may not be as easy. Their size isn't as conducive to frequent cleanings, and outdoor troughs are often more exposed to environmental conditions that make them dirtier faster.
Occasionally, algae or other issues like mineral deposits may build up. Sometimes, it's necessary to sanitize a bucket or trough due to an equine health issue in the barn (like an equine virus). If your buckets or troughs need a deep cleaning, you have several options:
- Dishwashing liquid. A simple bath with a mild dishwashing liquid (not the kind you use in your dishwasher) works wonders on buckets — a drop or two will create all the suds you need. Armed with your scrub brush, you can get plenty of grime out of that 5-gallon bucket your horse rolled through the mud — or manure! Be sure to rinse the bucket thoroughly after washing to remove the soap.
- Bleach. For more serious cleaning, try bleach. After cleaning the bucket or trough as usual, just rinse with a small amount of bleach, like a 9:1 water/bleach mix and let it sit in the bucket or trough for the recommended time for sterilizing (be sure the bleach you choose is actually a sanitizing bleach). Then rinse the container thoroughly with plain water until it's completely bleach-free. Now you're ready to fill and use.
- Apple cider vinegar. Your horse might really dislike the smell of bleach (horses are fussy about that sometimes), or you might have some hard-water scaling on your trough if your water source contains a higher iron content. Either way, apple cider vinegar can help you thoroughly clean your water containers when necessary.
Use Clean Hoses
At some horse facilities, hoses are used to fill horse water containers, especially troughs, since they require so much water. It's a lot easier to use a hose than to transfer water with small containers, but you need to ensure the water coming out of your hose is clean.
- Use drinking-water-safe hoses. Not all garden hoses are created equal. Some are specifically designed for basic lawn use, while others are dedicated as drinkable, "it's-safe-to-take-a-sip-of-this-water" pure. The latter are the types of hoses you want for filling your horse buckets and troughs, as the plastic and fittings used are more suitable for this purpose. If you use additional hose fittings, like shut-offs or "Y"s, be sure they're also suitable for drinking water (no lead, etc.).
- Monitor the hose for algae. No rest for the weary! Hoses can also suffer from algae buildup, especially if they sit in hot weather with water. Monitor your hoses closely to watch for algae.
In addition to clean water, encourage your horse to stay hydrated by offering him a free-choice salt block. (After all, horses aren't always the best drinkers.) It can be especially useful during colder months when horses may be less inclined to drink as much as they should. Also, electrolyte products like Farnam® Apple Elite Electrolyte can encourage drinking in both hot and cold weather and help replace electrolytes lost through sweat. Apple Elite is available in two forms, pellets and powder, so you can use the type that's more palatable to your particular horse.
Keeping Your Horse's Water Clean Isn't Hard
Horses are obviously much larger than humans and require much more water every day than humans to stay healthy. But they really need clean water to encourage maximum H2O intake. Keeping clean water available for your horse is an important responsibility, but it isn't a hard task. Try turning it into an enjoyable chore; joke around with some barn friends, play some music, and scrub your cares — and some dirt — away!