How to Keep Horse Water from Freezing without Electricity

by | Nov 19, 2018 | Blog

Winter poses a whole new set of problems for the horse owner, from snowballs in their feet to protection from the elements. But one that many owners don’t think about is keeping your horse hydrated. Believe it or not, most horses actually need more water in winter than in summer because so much of their feedstuffs are dry in winter – so they don’t get any water from their food. Here’s how to ensure your horse doesn’t dehydrate in the cold.

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Freezing Water Troughs

Most of us always ensure that our horses have access to clean, fresh water. But in winter, it’s not that simple. If water from the sky is freezing into snow, water on the ground could be freezing, too – and that includes your horse’s water trough. And if his trough is frozen, then he can’t drink.

Being without water for even a few hours at a time can cause your horse all kinds of health issues. Colic is one of the most common problems caused by frozen water troughs. Without water to keep your horse’s stomach contents loose and fluid, the food can become hard and compacted in there, causing it to get stuck. Impaction colic can turn into a torsion (twist) or perforation (hole) in the bowel, both of which are often fatal.

In areas where the temperature dips below freezing for days or weeks on end, frozen water troughs could even kill your horse: three days without water and your horse will have permanent health issues; a week, and he’d be dead. It’s vitally important to ensure that your horse always has access to liquid water, but not all of us have the cash and facilities to install a heated water drinker. So what can be done to keep that water from freezing without the use of electricity?

Heated Poly Waterer, Red

heated water drinker

Tips and Ideas for Keeping Water Fluid

• Cover your water trough with a thick, dark (preferably black) tarpaulin. Cut a hole that’s just big enough for your horse to comfortably dip his nose through (about 6” by 6”), then weigh the tarp down with bricks. In moderate climates, heat from the sun trapped inside the trough by the dark tarp could be enough to keep it thawed through the night. Some curious or cheeky horses will try to play with the tarp, though, and end up turning over their trough or destroying the tarpaulin.

Super Heavy Duty Brown Poly Tarp Cover


• Add some molasses to your horse’s water. Its sweet taste will help your horse to drink more, and the sugars it contains can act as a mild antifreeze. Be careful, though – sugar can make your horse overweight, frisky, and prone to laminitis; keep a close eye on him for weight gain and don’t feed too much. Some horses will refuse to drink the molasses-laced water, so always be sure that you haven’t accidentally put your horse off his water. Check that he is drinking the molasses water and try to provide clean water all the time, too



• Beware, automatic waterers. Although they’re very useful and save plenty of labor and water, they’re very prone to freezing in winter, which means that your horse won’t be getting any water. Those frozen pipes then tend to burst due to ice expanding inside them, and once thawed, they leak everywhere. If you are using automatic waterers, be sure to check them several times a day to ensure they’re still functioning properly. It’s inadvisable to use these in winter if your climate is very harsh.

Stainless Steel Automatic Waterer

automatic waterers

• Drop a basketball in your horse’s trough (wash it very thoroughly first to ensure there are no harmful chemicals on the surface). The horses will probably enjoy playing with it, the wind will also bob it up and down, and all this motion will break up thin layers of ice as they form.

MacGregor Basketball


• Place your trough inside a hole in the ground or in an old stock tank, then insulate the gaps with straw, hay, polystyrene foam, or manure. Use expanding spray foam for extra insulation. This won’t keep the cold away from the water completely, but it could keep the edge off in moderate climates. If you’re using foam, be careful to seal it off with dirt or soil so that your horse can’t chew on it – these plastics can be very harmful if your horse ingests them.

• Elbow grease is still the best answer. Breaking the ice twice a day and adding a bucket of piping hot water is the best way to ensure that your horse’s water supply is still doing fine, although it is labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Tips to Increase Water Consumption in Winter

• Feed your horse extra salt or an electrolyte supplement to stimulate his thirst and keep his electrolytes properly balanced.

• Use a sturdy, heavy-duty water trough. Metal is best, as it expands alongside the ice and is almost impossible for your horse to break. If your trough does ice over or the water is unpleasantly cold, many horses will try to paw at it with their front hooves, which can easily destroy a lightweight plastic tub.

• Regardless of what method you choose to employ, ensure that the horse’s water is being checked at least twice a day.


Second to an automatic water heater, it’s best to simply add hot water to your horse’s trough at least twice a day, breaking the ice while you’re at it. Try the various methods and see what works best for you – just make sure your horse has all the water he needs.

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Firn Hyde</a>

Firn Hyde

I'm a young horsewoman living in a tiny home on a horse farm in South Africa with three dogs, two pigs, a longsuffering man, and God's grace. I run a stableyard and compete in dressage with two kind geldings who keep me happy and a psychotic mare who keeps me humble. For the past two years, I've been writing for a living, and I enjoy every opportunity to combine my two passions.

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