Keep Horse Water From Freezing

Keep your horses’ water from freezing without electricity.

Keep your horses’ water from freezing without electricity.


Does anyone have ideas for keeping a stock tank from freezing in a remote area with no electricity? My two horses usually drink from a creek that occasionally freezes.

Since my 16-year-old Quarter Horse went blind in April, he has grown used to his tank and scared of the creek. Being a paranoid blind-horse mom, I want him to have as many options for water as possible.

– Jen


America’s Horse Daily went into the archives of The American Quarter Horse Journal to see if this question had been addressed before. Columnist Dr. Thomas R. Lenz, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, had some tips that might be helpful, as well as general information on winter watering.

Horses drink anywhere from six to 20 gallons of water daily, depending on how much they sweat and the type of feed they eat. Soaked hays and feeds, mashes and pasture grass provide a lot of moisture. Pelleted feeds and hay, on the other hand, increase water needs because they’re dry and concentrated.

Learn how to safely tie your horse’s water buckets in AQHA’s FREE report, Tie It Right.

For maintenance during cold weather, the average horse requires 0.5 to 0.6 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight. That means even during cold weather when the horse is not being exercised, a 1,200-pound horse will need at least six to seven gallons of water daily. Some horse owners believe they don’t need to provide any water after the first snow on the premise that eating snow takes the place of drinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Horses run the risk of developing impaction colic if they don’t drink enough water, either because it is frozen or too cold to drink comfortably. Horses prefer water at 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Constantly drinking water that is near freezing or eating snow lowers the internal body core temperature and predisposes horses to chilling, which makes them vulnerable to disease.

For horse owners with access to electricity, permanent automatic waters with built-in heaters can be helpful. They come in a variety of sizes and contain heating elements that warm the water before it flows into the bowl or actually heat the basin itself. Most are insulated and have a thermostat that controls the temperature of the water and a float to control the water level. The down side: The owner doesn’t have to manually fill the tanks each day, a problem if the waterers malfunction and stop providing water. They should be checked daily to ensure that they are working properly.

There are also a number of nonelectrical systems that can be utilized to keep the water flowing during the winter. Concrete water tanks installed below pond or lake dams can be fitted with a small overflow pipe that allows water to constantly move from the bottom of the tank to the top and out a small overflow pipe. The constant flow of water through the tank and out the overflow pipe keeps the water from freezing, and the buried pipe carries the discharged water some distance away from the tank, which prevents water, ice and mud accumulation around the tank.

Or you can dig an 8-foot hole the same length and width as the water trough. Place two 8-foot lengths of culvert pipe vertically in the hole and replace the dirt around them. Place the tank on top of the exposed ends of the two 8-foot pipes. The natural heat of the earth rises through the pipes, warming the water sufficiently to keep the tank from freezing in moderately cold weather.

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Installing a water heating system for your horses is well worth the effort. Not only will the task of keeping the water flowing all winter be made much easier but the horses will also be happier and healthier.

A routine daily check of the water will ensure that your horses have access to plenty of clean, fresh water. If you have any questions about the best winter watering system for your horses, talk to your local equine extension specialist.

— Dr. Thomas Lenz

3 thoughts on “Keep Horse Water From Freezing”

  1. Back in the old days, they had tank heaters that burned wood. I bought a couple at a farm sale a few years ago (my husband gave them to a cousin who needed them!), but I don’t know if anybody still makes them…

  2. Don’t forget that insulation will go a long way, even if you have tank heaters. We use 150 gallon tanks with an electric element to keep the water open, but we also lay plywood with insulation attached over half the top of it, which helps to keep the electric bill manageable, too. We did notice a significant difference when we added the insulated half-tops to the tanks.
    Depending how cold it is, you can also build an insulated box just the right size for your bucket. It will surprise you how well that will work. I have made them to fit 5 gallon buckets and then I can change out the bucket when I need to, which is generally when its nearly empty and the little bit in the bottom has frozen.

  3. we put goldfish in it. Not only do they help keep the tank clean they also keep the water moving, less likely to freeze.

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