How to Install Automatic Waterers for Horses & Why Get One?

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Have you ever wondered how to install automatic waterers for horses?

I spend a lot of time dragging heavy buckets around the yard. Being at a livery yard/boarding stable, I’m stuck with this, but if you keep your horse at your own barn, you could save yourself a lot of time and hassle by installing automatic waterers.

Horses drink between 5-10 gallons of water per day. That’s a lot of buckets. One that refills itself can be tempting indeed. (1)

But they aren’t the panacea for all horse-keeping hassles. Read on for information.

Key Takeaways

  • Automatic waterers can save a lot of time, effort, and water, especially if you are caring for multiple horses. If installed correctly (in a cold environment), they can also stop your water source from freezing.
  • Installation of outdoor ones requires digging holes and laying pipes and understanding your area’s building codes for waterworks and electrical lines.
  • Installation of indoor ones requires knowing how to plumb in new pipes.
  • All brands of waterers have specific installation instructions.
  • Automatic waterers can break, either flooding or not working at all, and some horses really dislike them. Buckets, at least, are simple.

CHECK: BEST Automatic Horse Waterer No Freeze!

What is an Automatic Waterer and Why Would You Want One?

Simple. It uses your underground or mains water supply to fill a water trough automatically, using a stopcock, so you don’t have to drag buckets or wrestle with hoses.

It can supply cleaner water to your horses than buckets or troughs filled with standing water.

Once the level in the trough drops, it should automatically refill with fresh water.

Other commonly used waterers refill when the horse pushes a lever on the bottom of the bowl with its nose.

It should provide your horses with clean water, and if you live in a cold place, you can get ones designed to keep the water from freezing.

This helps maintain above-freezing water temperature, which encourages horses to drink more in the dead of winter.

Because a small volume of water constantly flows in and out of the bowl, it can also provide more ice-free water than a bucket.

Not only does it save you a lot of work, but not having sources of standing water prevents mosquito infestations (if you live in a place where they do), and it also reduces algae growth.

Buckets usually need to be dumped and scrubbed every day, which can be labor intensive and leads to high rates of water waste.

A system that conserves water is preferable if you’re in an arid climate where water consumption can be restricted.

You can acquire waterers designed for paddocks or outdoor use or waterers designed for stables.

Don’t forget to check our guide about cleaning horse water troughs.

Installing Automatic Horse Waterers in the Field

The exact method of installation depends on your waterer’s specifications, so it’s best to consult the instructions and hire professionals if you’re not confident in DIY plumbing.

Proper installation is important because you don’t want problems with pipes leaking, bursting, or becoming blocked.

These are some general instructions. This video will help as well:

1. Locate the nearest water line. The closer, the better.

2. Work out how deep your pipes will need to be laid. This is determined by how deep the ground freezes in your area. Check the building codes with your council or local authority, but it can be from 24 to 48 inches, depending on your area and weather conditions.

Cold climates require the pipes to be deeper underground, and you may need to insulate them.

3. Rent a trencher. This might seem expensive, but it will be a lot easier than manually digging a hole for your pipes.

4. Check local zoning laws about the allowable distance between water and power lines. You may need to run power out to your waterers (not all require it). Best to do it while you still have the trencher.

5. Follow instructions for the type of waterer you have bought. Some require you to lay cement at the bottom or build a cement pad around the trough. Others require tires or gravel as a base. Some you can just bury. 

6. Connect your pipes and check for leaks. If all is copacetic, bury your pipes.

Installing Automatic Waterers in the Stable

Automatic waterers can also save labor (and water) in the stable.

The installation will depend on the manufacturer and the plumbing setup in your barn. If you’re not experienced with DIY plumbing, my recommendation is to hire a plumber.

Although it’s for one brand of waterer, this video gives an idea of what’s involved:

1. Secure it to the wall with whatever fastenings it comes with. You don’t want your horse ripping it off the wall.

2. Run pipes from your barn’s water supply to the waterer and follow instructions for installing the fittings. This will be the manufacturer’s dependant. Pay attention to your installation guide.

Disadvantages of Automatic Waterers

Before you run out and replumb your barn or field, you should be aware of the pitfalls of automatic waterers. They solve some problems but create others.

First of all, they can get clogged up with dirt, hay, bedding, manure, and freeze despite your best efforts to prevent that from happening. It’s not uncommon for them to flood when blocked with debris.

If your horse likes to dunk his hay in his water bucket (many do!), it’s probably not a good candidate for an automatic waterer.

If your horse likes to play with or destroy stuff in his stable, he’s probably not a good candidate either since the automatic water valve or lever that allows the waterer to refill is an easy target.

It’s a more complicated system than a bucket, which means there are more things that can go wrong. That could be burst or leaky pipes or additional fire risk in a heated system. If it uses electricity, it won’t work at all if you have a power outage.

Again, flooding is probably a common problem people encounter.

Some horses find them scary or difficult to use. They often make noises when automatically refilling.

If you live in a hard water area, you might have problems with limescale. A commercial water softener can help.

Lastly, you can’t monitor how much your horse drinks. For stabled horses, this is an important indicator of their health.

This makes less of a difference for horses living out in a herd since you won’t be able to monitor any individual’s drinking habits anyway.

You may need additional buckets of water as a backup anyway since your horse requires a constant supply of clean water.

FAQs

How much does an automatic waterer cost?

It depends on the type of system you buy and how much work you are able to do yourself. My research suggests that installation costs can be anywhere from $500-$4000.

Do automatic waterers need electricity?

Some livestock waterers use a gravity-fed stopcock, while others use an electric one.

How high should a horse waterer be?

It should be 55cm to 90cm for ponies and 100 to 120cm for adult horses.

How do you clean an automatic waterer?

Clear the debris, especially from the valve. Use a clean, damp cloth but don’t put any chemicals into the trough. They are more work to clean than buckets.

Conclusion

Whether or not an automatic waterer is right for you depends on your barn setup and your horse. It might save you a lot of work, but it can also create more.

Choose one that suits your barn, your climate and city regulations, your budget, and ease of installation.

If it’s right for you and your horses, it will save both water and labor.

horse drinking water

Reference

1. Penn State Extension. How Much Drinking Water Does Your Horse Need? [Internet]. Penn State Extension. 2014. Available from: https://extension.psu.edu/how-much-drinking-water-does-your-horse-need

Emily Donoho
Emily Donoho

Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.

Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
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