Research has shown that horses prefer cold water to warm water, but they actually drink more warm water when it is available. There are many plug-in water buckets available to keep your horse’s water defrosted all winter long. And the more water a horse drinks, the less risk for colic.
Heated water buckets range in size from 5-16 gallons and have a heating element built into the wall or base. A thermostat that maintains water at about 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
The cord that extends from the back or bottom of the flat-backed bucket is usually six feet long and plugs into a GFI circuit. Just as with any electrical equipment, a cord that isn’t already shielded should be sheathed in plastic PVC or metal pipe so a horse can’t bite into it. It is best to plug the unit directly into an outlet and avoid using extension cords to run a heated bucket.
Select a water bucket that has a flat back so it lays against a wall when hung and doesn’t twist the electrical cord. Some buckets also allow you to coil the electric cord under the bottom of the bucket so you can easily use these buckets all year.
As an alternative to incurring the cost of running electricity into one or more buckets, another option is putting an insulated cover around the bucket. These won’t keep water unfrozen all day and all night, but if you are refilling buckets twice a day, they might be a good option.
The Thermo-Bucket (http://www.countrymfg.com/thermo_bucket.htm) provides a practical and cost-effective solution. It is an insulated bucket holder designed for 5-gallon water pails. This product works like a thermos and is reported to hold water from freezing for 6-12 hours while outside temperature hovers around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. A Styrofoam float maintains insulation on the drinking surface – a horse easily learns to push it down when he wants a drink.
Another option is a Water Bucket Cozy (http://store.wildangelcozy.com/water-bucket-cozy/), which helps insulate a bucket for hours when it is filled with warm water. The cozy also covers a portion of the top of the bucket, leaving just enough room for a horse muzzle to fit and drink.
Yet another version of an insulated water container is simply called the Insulated Bucket Holder. The thick foam insulation has a good R value (measure of thermal resistance). Some models come with a heat retention cover that is configured with a drinking well on top to reduce water contact with the air. The claims report that at least a portion of the bucket of water won’t freeze in a horse-occupied stall or at temperatures above 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keeping fresh, unfrozen water available to your horses at all times is important. Horses cannot eat enough snow to make up for the water they need to take in each day. Horses without access to water in winter run a higher risk of impaction colic.
By Nancy S. Loving, DVM