World of Showjumping

This week

Coming weeks

CSI5*/CSI2* Coapexpan

CSI4* Vejer de la Frontera

CSI4*/CSI2* Wellington

CSI3* Gorla Minore

CSI3* Arezzo

CSI2* Azelhof

CSI2* Villers Vicomte

CSI2* Cagnes-sur-Mer

CSI2* Myakka City, FL

Groom Guidance: Water – a serious life-and-death Kay Neatham

Thursday, 13 April 2017
Groom Guidance

Marcus Ehning's head groom Kay Neatham takes us through the life-and-death-issue that is water. Well, clean water that is. Actually, 567,000 litres of it in Kay's case. Here is the third part of our series 'Groom Guidance' and you don't want to miss this.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a bustling restaurant with friends ordering drinks, we were discussing my last blog when I said ‘But its so difficult to find a topic to write about’. There were then several suggestions, but one stuck and its taken me ages to to sit down and write about, because it’s a huge part of my daily routines, a serious life-and-death issue and so normal that I wasn’t sure what to advice on. The topic is water, and the first question – we were by now on our 2nd round of drinks – was: So how many water buckets have you carried in a life time? Now there’s a scary question!!!

At home I sat down to roughly work out an answer. I kept it simple because there are literally hundreds of variables. If I calculate that all shows I’ve been to were three days long and at each show I had three horses, each needing an average of five buckets a day – and then 42 weekends of showing in a year, multiplied by 20 years as a show groom we get a grand total of 37,800 buckets of water. Shit that is hard to take in, my poor little arms!

I of course, took this a little further and then multiplied the amount of buckets carried by how many litres in a bucket which I took to be 15. A whooping 567,000 litres of water carried, bearing in mind I didn’t spill a drop – far to precious for that!

Here are a few facts about how much water 100,000 litres is: Did you know that 100,000 litres is the equivalent of 212,766 Grande Starbucks coffee, for sure I’ve drunk that much and more in 20 years of grooming! The other thing I do a lot of is showering, nothing worse than smelling and being sticky and grimy when you climb into bed after a hard day work – a 100,000 litres would be 2,857 for five-minute shower using 35 litres of water. I drink a lot of tea too being English, with a normal tea cup I could get 285,714 from a 100,000 litres of water – and I always use the car wash to be honest so I could go 500 times to an average wash with 100,000 litres of water. I’m sure by now you are getting the picture of the awfully humungous amount of water I’ve carried in water buckets for my horses over the years.

Using water buckets to provide horses with water is in my opinion THE best way to let them drink. The first time I went to Florida, should I maybe say the only time I’ve been to Florida, I was so impressed to see that the horses all had two buckets in their stables and there was a system to open a tape above each bucket so you could refill them easily, only needing to remove the buckets for regular cleaning. This still makes me smile, it is a fabulous way to allow horses to always have a long satisfying drink. I am no fan of the water drinker system horses have to press on something, with a generally small cup and then guzzle down as much as possible, that is not natural and can by no means truly keep a completion horse well hydrated. When I was in Brazil they also had an automatic system, but in huge basins which refilled when empty, every now and again the system broke and flooded the box – nice surprise to arrive to in the morning, just a little extra mucking out – but the horse could have a full drink which is still a huge plus in my opinion. 

A horse can stay about 20-25 days with only water and no food, but only 3-4 days with no water at which point the vital organs start to shut down causing irreparable damage. Having said that, horses can tolerate going for extended periods, as in hours, without water depending on conditions. They probably like us wouldn’t fair well in the desert without water at least every hour, and like us need less water when in freezing conditions. If it is ever really cold at the show many horses are more inclined to drink well if the water is lukewarm, so get boiling that kettle!

Keeping horses hydrated is something I cannot express enough as an essential part of a groom’s job. At only 3-4% less than normal body water levels a horse can be dehydrated. This can be easily regulated by hanging a water bucket in addition to them having a water drinker with a small cup. Wetting hay is also a great way to provided extra moisture intake to the digestive system, a horse needs massive amounts of water to continuously digest and is easily dried out. In many cases this leads quickly to impaction colic, which can often be easily avoided if more attention is being paid to the amount of water a horse is consuming.

Horses like clean water, just the same as we do. Everyone has seen the bottom of buckets when they have not been cleaned for a while; green gank, would you drink out of a glass that had that shit lying at the bottom of it? Clean buckets and water drinkers regularly if you want healthy horses. It is also a good idea when you have a stable full of water drinkers to get this water tested regularly; say at least twice a year. Some pipes are very old and can cause impurities in your horses drinking water, this is generally an easy test to get carried out – but essential. Slaughter houses can be closed down if the water does not reach government standard and this is checked regular, so it seems only fair to check the water of our live animals!

When I arrive at a show, one of the very first things I do is look for the water tap and start filling buckets. After a long, or even short journey, most horses will have a drink once settled in. It’s important to notice which of your horses generally drink a lot when coming off the truck and which don’t drink. I've had a few that didn’t drink well, some when I added a handful of mash to the water start drinking, others need to be taken out for exercise so they get thirsty and their own natural system then tells them to drink, while others like to have some hay to dip in the buckets – which yes can be annoying because of keeping the water clean – but it’s a very health way to eat with fluids! Generally, I never fussed with the horses drinking but I knew exactly who had and who hadn’t drunk and how much and if that amount was normal for that horse.

I always tie up buckets on the front side of the stall and always two buckets. Generally speaking, if you change the water in the morning, you might need a top up during the day depending on weather, amount of exercise etc. – but then you don’t need to worry during the day. If I'm a long time at the ring or super busy, I know the horses have water. Then in the evening I take out, rinse and refill two buckets for each horse, just a refill at night check and I can sleep assured my horses won’t be wanting for water. For me very important is not to tie the buckets too high up, the horse should be able to stand with his head slightly lowered to drink out of the bucket. This way they stand relaxed and at a natural angle, as in the wild a horse like by grazing would have the head down to drink.

Travelling is a time when it is difficult for a lot of horses to drink. I have had very few that will take a long drink whilst on the road, but I make sure I teach them to at least drink something whilst on the move. I do this by adding a handful of their mash to a small bucket of water, they all love to eat mash, so a few bits floating on the surface of a not-too-scary little bucket is generally hard to resist. Till now I have managed to teach all my horses to drink even if its not much while we are travelling. I always try giving each horse water around every four hours of driving and I know the ones that will drink sooner, generally all my Cornet-offspring drink like fish! When horses come off the truck looking like they’ve lost weight or the stomach line is pulled in it’s generally dehydration, the body takes the fluids it needs firstly to the digestive system and organs. Another way to get some fluids whilst travelling is to hang a small hay net of wet hay, I always do this the last two-three hours of the journey so they are occupied, and the last couple of hours of a long journey is – in my opinion – where the body starts to use its reserves. Like this they are also not getting bored, generally nobody finishes first so the neighbour is not stressed that someone else is eating and not they. Chewing is also a great relaxant for the horse and something they do naturally nearly all day in the wild.

It is not always an easy job for shows to get fresh running water into the middle of what is sometimes fields, and even into the middle of cities. Many years ago I experienced this first hand... If you can imagine just for a minute having ridden your horse who’s sweated a lot because it’s 30 degrees, having boxes on dry sand, putting him in the box for a roll and a long satisfying drink, which basically empties his water supple for now, walking him outside to the wash box where there is already a queue and then learning that there is no water – not anywhere in that whole part of the city for the next foreseeable future. Some building site further down had drilled through a main water pipe!!

At this point not totally freaking out – but a little desperate – especially as it was a few years ago and when we all went to the office they looked at us blankly and said they could do nothing! Not a moment where I remained very calm, I’m pretty sure very angry was my status quo. It was only about 11am, and many people were still arriving who had not even one water bucket filled. In the end a friend knew a few contacts at the top of the FEI at that time, and after two phone calls and putting a guy from the FEI on a plane to the show ground, the very ‘nice' office people decided to get help. We have never been so happy to see a fire brigade truck and there has never been so many people and buckets lined up as that afternoon. Of course, we also didn’t ride anymore that day because we couldn’t wash or water our horses.

Lesson of this story: Don’t take running water for granted and always call the fire brigade when in need of rescuing and water!

Not only is having water sometimes a problem, but having pressure coming out of a hose also. There are still many shows where its possible to pee faster than the water coming out of a pipe to fill your water bucket, probably if it was like that at every show I would still be standing somewhere in a field waiting to fill my bucket. At some shows I plan the time I get up around the best time to get all my horses fresh water buckets before the pressure is gone, or there are too many people waiting at the one tap to get water.

If you’ve ever had to wash a horse in a fancy wash rack, which makes you happy because it has a good concrete floor and no mud to circumnavigate your clean horse around – or through – to get back to the box, you are then sometimes very disappointed to turn on the hose and have the water dribble out at you and your sweaty horse.

Yep, water can cause a good day or a strenuous day. It is the meaning of a healthy horse or a poor, and it’s necessary for our happiness – even if it is in the form of Starbucks and a shower. But, never underestimate how important clean water in a clean bucket is to every horse. 


– Kay Neatham –


This photo has been added to your cart !

Your shopping cart »
This website is using cookies for statistics, site optimization and retargeting purposes. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website. Read more here.