Most people don’t “think” about feeding water – they just do it. Water and air are more important than food as removing either will bring death within a minute to a few days. Water has two elements – Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O) – used in every compound and chemical reaction in the body. All sugar and all fat have H and O with the addition of only one more element – Carbon (C). Humans are about 70% water, and water is in every living cell.
Proteins make up almost every part of our bodies, built with molecules called amino acids. They, too, are made of C, H and O plus one more element – Nitrogen (N). This last element makes up 78% of the air we breathe. Surprised it isn’t oxygen? Now you see why air is so important. But what makes water so important is that H atoms gain and lose electrons easily, which drives almost every chemical reaction in the body. The most important is within the mitochondria within the cells, creating energy. Without water, this does not occur.
We all know that water can exist in 3 forms: ice, liquid and steam, depending on the temperature. However, a recent discovery of a 4th form of water called “exclusion zone” water, or “EZ water,” is found within the Kreb’s cycle of energy formation in the mitochondria. EZ water is more viscous, somewhere between liquid and frozen, with the consistency of honey.
Water pumped from the ground is also filled with minerals needed to replace lost minerals and should be considered the primary source of mineral supplementation along with consuming ground plants.
Most barns clean and fill the water buckets daily. However, on some farms, the opposite is true, with the water troughs having algae and scum. Some farms filter the water, and some heat the water in the winter. I have been to farms where the only water is from streams, artesian wells and ponds that freeze in winter. But all farms always give access to water. No matter how available water is, I prefer clean water and consider this a sign of the overall care provided for the horses on the farm. However, I have not seen horses suffer when given water in poor conditions and in fact, there are farms where the horses prefer the algae-filled water trough with fish swimming in it.
The most important part of making water available is the consumption of water. Heating water in the winter always increases water consumption and improves hydration. Hydration maintains all body functions, and the kidneys regulate hydration. For example, during hibernation, bears do not drink or urinate. Whales store water in their fat as they do not drink the seawater surrounding them. Horses limit their water intake in winter but maintain their hydration through a hormonal process involving the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the kidney. This regulation can be affected by the same dysfunction causing Cushing’s disease, which is called diabetes mellitus. This condition is when the horse can no longer concentrate their urine producing large amounts of water-like urine and subsequently increasing their water consumption to 5 or more buckets a day.
Offering water is a binary decision. If you don’t make water available, the horse will die. Simple! But offering water seems to take many forms and changes with the seasons, and the horse adapts to this effectively. Water is essential to life; therefore, horses have developed mechanisms to maintain what they have and get what they need. Offering clean and fresh water remains a reflection of the overall care of the horse, but not having free access to water is considered neglect. One more thing – dead mice, rats and birds left in water troughs and buckets are, in my opinion, not an option for maintaining health and are signs of poor horse care.
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