How to Stimulate Your Horse’s Thirst

Sometimes it's important to make your horse drink (even if he doesn't want to) to avoid dehydration.

1. Mix 1 teaspoon of table salt with 2 tablespoons of applesauce and squirt it on the back of your horse’s tongue, using a cleaned-out paste-deworming syringe. (Tip: Ivermectin and moxidectin syringes are too small; use a different kind.) While your horse works the applesauce around in his mouth, remove his water bucket, clean and rinse it thoroughly, and return it to the stall filled with fresh water. If the salt’s going to work, your horse will drink within 5 minutes. No luck? Don’t repeat this until he drinks at least 1 gallon of plain water. Try the next step.

2. Squirt 5 cc (1 teaspoon) of light corn syrup on the roof of your horse’s mouth, using a clean dosing syringe. While your horse works his tongue over the super-sweetness, add a second bucket of fresh water to his stall, placing it in a novel location so he’ll be compelled to investigate. Give this ploy 5 minutes. No luck? Don’t repeat this step until he drinks at least 1 gallon of plain water. Move to Step 3.

3. Remove the extra bucket, dump half the water out, and top it off with hot water. Adjust the temperature until it reads 120 F on an instant-read thermometer. Some horses will drink deeply when offered warm water, especially (but not necessarily) when the weather has turned abruptly chilly. Be sure to have a bucket of the room temperature water available also, so your horse has a choice. Still no luck? No problem, we’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeve….

4. Leave the warm-water bucket in your horse’s stall, and add a third bucket of room-temperature water mixed with a commercial electrolyte product labeled for equine use. (Follow the mixing directions for that particular product.) Wait 20 minutes. Still no luck? Keep going….

5. If your horse’s condition doesn’t forbid solid foods (ask your veterinarian, if you have any doubts), offer a bran mash laced with molasses, apple slices, and lots of warm water. Not interested? (Report this lack of appetite to your veterinarian, if he/she isn’t already aware of it.) You’ve got one more shot….

6. If your horse’s condition doesn’t preclude a little exercise, halter him and take him for a brisk 15-minute walk for some fresh air, a fresh outlook, and (if his condition and the season permit), a few mouthfuls of fresh grass. The boost to his circulation should brighten his eye and his outlook, and sharpen the sensation of thirst that you’ve augmented with Steps 1 and 2. When he returns to his stall, he’ll likely investigate his smorgasbord of buckets and drink. If not, consult your veterinarian.

If your horse does drink, keep track of the volume he takes in and the time passed. Your veterinarian will tell you how much water your horse needs to take in over a 24-hour period. Renew your efforts every few hours to keep the water moving.

Adapted from Hands-On Horse Care, the complete book of equine first aid from Horse & Rider. In cooperation with the American Association of Equine Practitioners. By Karen E.N. Hayes, DVM, MS; created and edited by Sue M. Copeland; additional editing by Thomas C. Bohanon, DVM, MS. (1997, HORSE & RIDER, Inc.; 400 pages). Order online at

Notice to Readers: These articles provide useful instructions and information, but we can’t anticipate all your working conditions or the characteristics of your horse, or his injury/illness. For safety, you should use caution, care, and good judgment when following the procedures described here. Consider your own skill level and the instructions and safety precautions provided. Neither the publisher nor the American Association of Equine Practitioners can assume responsibility for any injury to persons or horses as a result of the misuse of the information provided. Consult your veterinarian whenever you have a question about the care of your horse.

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