A horse’s reasons for splashing water don’t differ much from a human's: he could be uncomfortable or simply fooling around. If splashing water is unusual behavior but your horse seems and otherwise acts healthy, don’t fret too much about it. If, however, the behavior is out of the ordinary and accompanies other odd behaviors or symptoms, contact your veterinarian for an examination.
Some horses simply like to play in water. The good news is that you likely won’t have difficulties crossing creeks and streams on a trail ride or cross-country course, but use caution: horses who love water typically enjoy lying down and rolling in it, which can be problematic if he tries this while carrying you on his back. Your horse may also splash water to break up boredom, or because he is curious, particularly if he is young.
Whether by instinct or experience, when the temperatures soar or your horse has exerted himself in play or while being ridden, he understands that water cools him off. If he has no large body of water available to cool off his entire body, he may simply stick his nose in his water trough or bucket and raise his head up and down so the water splashes on his head and neck. Sticking his feet in the bucket and splashing is another common behavior when a horse tries to cool off.
Horses who suffer from anhidrosis—an inability to sweat—may splash water in a desperate attempt to cool off. Check that your horse is sweating after exercise or when it’s hot outside. Anhidrosis can occur suddenly if a horse moves to a different climate, or during an unusually hot and humid summer.
If your horse eats alfalfa and starts splashing water with his nose without drinking, check for a blister beetle infestation in the alfalfa. These beetles contain a poison called cantharidin that blisters the inside of a horse’s mouth—thus causing your horse to seek relief from the splashing water.
Both anhidrosis and cantharidin poisoning are potentially dangerous conditions; contact your vet if you suspect either.
Taste and Temperature
Some horses are fussy about changes in their water sources. If you move from a city water supply to a rural area that uses well water, he may balk at the taste differences and indicate his distaste by splashing the water with his nose without drinking. Try adding a flavored beverage powder to make the water palatable until he becomes accustomed to it. Many horses balk at drinking very cold water, or unseasonably warm or stagnant water, and will splash with their noses when they attempt to drink it. Monitor your water quality and temperature. Always observe your horse’s water intake to prevent health problems.
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Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.