The cold-water myth

The belief that cold water cannot be given to a hot horse is not only incorrect, but potentially dangerous.

One of the most persistent myths in horsekeeping is that you can’t let a hot horse drink cold water or even rinse him off with it. That is not only incorrect, but belief in it could allow horses to become overheated or dehydrated.

A horse drinking water from a green bucket.
There is no scientific basis for the notion that allowing a hot horse to drink cold water is harmful.

The notion that cold water and hot horses are a bad combination might be rooted in the fact that extremely overworked horses may have indeed colicked, cramped or developed laminitis after being rinsed with or drinking cold water. But the cause of the problem was the overwork, not the cold water.

Multiple studies done around the time of the 1996 Olympic Games showed that there was no physiological harm in sponging a very hot horse with cold water. And, while some studies have suggested that horses prefer to drink slightly warmer water during the winter months, there is no scientific basis for the notion that drinking cold water is dangerous for horses, even immediately after work in warm weather.

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If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: It is common practice in endurance races to rinse horses with cold water at every checkpoint and to encourage them to drink. If this caused serious health problems, very few endurance horses would ever complete an event.

Once you finish work, or even midway through a workout if it’s hot outside, allow your horse to drink his fill, and feel free to sponge or hose him with cold water to lower his body temperature. He will recover faster and feel better.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #441.

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