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End Winter Water Woes
from Stablekeeping by Cherry Hill.
illustrations and photography by Richard Klimesh.
© 2006 Cherry Hill
Winter Tanks and Barrels
Plugging a tank heater into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) extension cord or receptacle can prevent shocks. A GFCI interrupts the circuit, or shuts down, when a ground fault (current leakage) occurs. Unlike a fuse or circuit breaker, a GFCI is triggered by miniscule amounts of electricity, 5 milliamps, and shuts down in as little as 1/40 of a second. Check the heater daily, because if a short in the heater wiring has tripped the GFCI, the water could freeze.
A tank located near a building or post must be placed so it can't trap a horse's leg. The tank should be either right against the structure or at least 16 inches (40.6 cm) away. It's dangerous to have a hydrant in a horse pen because a horse could turn it on or get injured on it. Be sure to break the ice in the winter so your horse can drink.
Electric tank heaters either sit on the bottom of a water tank or float on the surface of the water. Most have a thermometer that ensures the water doesn't get too hot. Many can't be used with extension cords, which limits their use. It's important but difficult to make sure a horse cannot get at the heater or the cord. If the tank is large enough, half of the top can be covered by plywood and the heater installed under the cover, as illustrated here. The electric cord powering the heater can be run through a steel or thick-walled plastic pipe that's fastened to the rails of the pen. When using a tank heater, keep a close eye on your horse's drinking routines and touch the water with your hand frequently. If the water has a charge, it will punish your horse when he tries to drink.
Winter Water Buckets
Freezeproof buckets use thermostatically controlled wires embedded in the walls of the bucket to keep water between 40-degrees F (4.4-degrees C) and 60-degrees F (15.5-degrees C). The cords on heated buckets are only 4 feet to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) long, so an outlet may have to be installed, or a heavy-duty extension cord used, to allow the bucket to be located where it's needed. The cord should exit the stall wall through a hole as near the bucket as possible to prevent a horse from chewing on it. The cord is permanently attached to the bucket, and must be unplugged from the outlet and pulled through the wall to remove the bucket for cleaning. Some need a special bucket holder, while others attach to a standard two-point bracket.
An insulated bucket holder uses no electricity and some hold a standard 5-gallon (18.9-L) bucket. Insulation in the walls and bottom of the holder conserves heat from the water to delay freezing. The colder the air, the more frequently the water in the bucket needs to be changed to keep it from freezing. Unless it is extremely cold, an insulated bucket holder will keep water ice-free for at least several hours.
A drop-in electric heater can be used to quickly warm a bucket of water before setting in an insulated holder, or to heat a small quantity of water for washing a horse, treating a wound, or thawing a frozen hose. There are several types of drop-in bucket heaters, available in most tack catalogs. They should not be used to keep a horse's water from freezing.
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