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The Real Reason Why Horses Pee So Much: Inside Look at Equine Hydration and Physiology

Last weekend, I decided to go trail riding with my horse Jack at the ranch.

It was one of the first truly warm and sunny spring days, so I was excited to get outside.

I tacked Jack up and led him out to the pasture, hoping to get a good long ride in.

However, we barely made it 50 yards before Jack came to an abrupt stop.

His ears were swiveling back and forth and he had that “look” in his eye.

Before I knew it, he was lifting his tail and letting loose right then and there in the grass. “Really Jack?”, I thought.

This horse of mine always seems to have to stop and pee at the most inopportune times.

It got me wondering – why does Jack, and horses in general, seem to have to urinate so frequently?

Their bladders don’t seem much bigger than a human’s.

Every time I take Jack out for a ride, it feels like we stop every 10 minutes so he can water the weeds.

I decided to do some research when I got home to find the real answers.

As it turns out, there are several physiological, dietary and evolutionary reasons why horses like Jack just can’t hold it for very long.

Horses drink a bunch because of their panting, size, diet, and evolutionary needs.

No wonder you see that darn Clydesdale stoppin’ every few feet when you’re out on a ride!

Their entire systems are designed to efficiently process water intake and output throughout the day.

And the next time Jack stops me for an unplanned tinkle break, I’ll know exactly why he can’t help himself!

Now that you know horses can’t help their frequent bathroom breaks, let’s saddle up and dive deeper into understanding the primary physiological, dietary and evolutionary drivers behind their need to urinate so regularly:

Horses are Constantly Hydrating

Did you know each pant can release over a cup of water into the air? And they pant at around 30 times per minute when it’s hot out.

So that’s over a gallon an hour just puffin’ alone! With body temperatures around 101 degrees, horses gotta keep those coolers runnin’ overtime.

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Plus, their digestive system produces a lot of heat. Digestion raises their internal temp by 3-5 degrees. So stayin’ hydrated is key for horses to dissipate all that warmth.

Even when it ain’t that warm out, a horse at rest will still lose a couple gallons of fluid per day just through breathing, poopin’, and peein’.

And don’t even get me started on how much lil’ Sebastian chugs after a hard day of work.

A horse can sweat out over 5 gallons during intense activity like plowin’ fields or competin’ in rodeos. So you know Fido ain’t takin’ any water breaks then – he’s guzzlin’ that hose nonstop to replenish what he lost.

With their bodies workin’ so hard just to regulate temperature, it’s no surprise horses need liquid refreshment around the clock.

And all that in-take means more out-take if you catch my drift! Their system is constantly flushin’ to avoid overheating.

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These Ponies are Packing some Pounds

Last time I gave a real brief run-down on horse sizes. But every horse is different – there’s pony-sized mustangs weighing 500 pounds soakin’ wet, all the way up to barrel-chested Clydesdales tippin’ the scales at 2,000 pounds!

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And muscle weighs more than fat, so don’t forget working horses are pure athleticism under all that fur. Draft horses can pull over 10 times their body weight with ease. Can you imagine lugging 2 tons of plow around all day? It’d wear you out for sure.

Even “average” breeds like quarter horses and Paints are rarely under 1,000 pounds. Hey, would you want to haul 1,000 Extra Value Meals around on your back in 90 degree heat without stoppin’ for a slurpee? I didn’t think so.

The bigger they are, the more grub and gulps they need to fuel all that size. And as the old sayin’ goes, what goes in must come out. So with horse bodies rangin’ from petite ponies to humongous Clydes, it makes sense their hydration needs vary considerably too.

Hay Now, Their Diet is Hay-vy Starch

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See, wild mustangs grazin’ the range nibble on grasses, which are lower in carbs than cultivated hay. But domesticated horses raised on farms are typically fed square bales of timothy or alfalfa hay, which are full of simple sugars and starches. This calorie-dense hay pack a major carb-load into their bellies.

For a 1,000 pound horse, daily hay intake can be 20-25 pounds. That’s like inhalin’ a whole Costco-sized package of spaghetti for us! All those spongey strands take forever to chew and churn through the digestive tract.

And the type of roughage matters too. Grass contains more soluble fiber that dissolves easier in the gut. But hay is higher in insoluble fiber that takes extra gut-grindin’ to break down. This fibrous fare ensures Fido’s business is boomin’ around the clock!

In Their Genes to Piss and Poop Freely

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Wild horses live in tight-knit family bands to avoid predators. Each mare teaches her foals survival skills from day one. Part of “horse etiquette” is leaving frequent scent markers so the whole clan knows who’s been where.

Peeing a lil’ here and there helps them map out their territory without leavin’ obvious trails for enemies to follow back to the herd. It’s like a subtle “We was here” signpost without puttin’ a big target on their own backs.

Their bodies are hardwired through millennia to disperse their scent liberally. So even tame horses raised on cozy farms still can’t help but follow their natural instinct to tinkle-talk all over. It’s coded right into Fido’s DNA.

So in summary, Lil’ Sebastian just can’t help himself from answerin’ the call of nature every chance he gets. With his physiology, diet, and inborn instincts all pushin’ fluids through fast, no wonder we’re always dodgin’ puddles behind him!

Horses’ Hip Anatomy Forces Frequent Urination

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The structure of a horse’s hips and hindquarters plays a big role in their need to pee often. Unlike humans, a horse’s pelvis is more tube-like than bowl-shaped. This narrower pelvis means their bladder and internal organs are compressed closer together with less room to expand.

Their urethra, the tube that empties urine from the bladder, is also very short compared to other mammals. This short urethra makes it harder for horses to hold back the flow once they start urinating. It all comes out fast without much control!

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With less abdominal space, a horse’s bladder can only hold about 2 gallons at most before it gets too squished and uncomfortable. Contrast that to a human bladder capacity of over 12 ounces! Their physiology just wasn’t designed for long-term storage.

Add in the frequent saddle pressure when riding and you’ve got a real plumbing problem. Chafing and potential bladder infections wouldn’t be great for any horse. So to protect their tender downstairs bits, mares especially seem to prefer emptying frequently to avoid issues.

Dehydration Risks Are No Joke for Horses

Unlike dogs or humans, horses can’t survive for long without hydration. Even mild dehydration of only 5% fluid loss can cause health problems fast for equines. Their systems tend towards becoming dehydrated much quicker than other animals.

Left untreated, dehydration leads to issues like colic, organ failure, and even death within a day for horses. Their bodies simply weren’t made to last long periods without water replenishment. Whereas humans can bounce back from moderate dehydration with rest and pedialyte.

Constant access to fresh water is crucial for horses since they can’t afford to store much liquid reserve in their bodies or compensate well later. It’s why they evolved to drink often rather than gulp huge amounts at once like camels.

In the wild, dehydration was a recipe for predator prey. So natural selection favored horses with an “urge to purge” plumbing system keeping them regularly hydrated for survival on the plains.

Stress Makes Matters Worse in the Washroom

Any stress, be it physical exertion, fear, travel or a change in environment, ups the urgency in a horse needing to urinate. Their fight or flight response kicks the kidneys into high drive to flush more water.

Horses traveling in unfamiliar vehicles or trailers will often start urinating frequently from the anxiety. New barn or paddock change-ups can cause similar stress urination too until they settle in. Even the stress of insects nibbling can make a colt feel rushed in the bathroom!

This stress-induced diuresis is another evolutionary adaptation. By purging more fluid, a horse lightens its load to better flee danger swiftly if needed. Though nowadays it tends to just leave us explaining more muddy puddles to the board!

Conformation Flaws Worsen Plumbing Problems

While normal equine anatomy promotes frequent urination, any conformational defects can exacerbate their lavatory issues exponentially. Common culprits include breeding-influenced trend problems like swayback or straight hock conformation.

Swaybacks, where the spine dips inward instead of forming an arch, put more pressure on internal organs and squeeze the bladder area. These horses usually leak without even realizing it during rides or work.

Straight hocks, with stifles facing too far forward instead of being angled back, hamper natural hip movement. This makes urination more difficult to initiate and control for straight-hocked horses versus flexed-hock breeds.

Overly angulated hind legs or loose pasterns can put analogous stresses on the plumbing too. Whereas horses developed through centuries with optimal conformation have less difficulties controlling their streams.

Gastric Issues and Medications Amplify Output

Any digestive upset from laminitis, ulcers or yearly spring changes hits a horse’s urinary urge hard too. Bellyaches induce priority purging through both ends to evacuate whatever’s irritating their insides.

Medications like anti-inflammatories or dewormers are also diuretics that up urine production as a side-effect. So the same drug treating one problem inadvertently causes more trips to the toilet instead.

Even supplements humans use as daily grooming aids, like MSM powders, derive their origin as medications increasing natural diuretic properties. Which results in showing ponies puffed with pride but also puffing frequently to the hedge for potty breaks instead of photo shoots.

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Mares’ Reproductive Cycles Regulate Bathroom Behavior

While most mammals have cycles all females share, mares exhibit more pronounced monthly fluctuations affecting urinary and appetite urges due to biological attributes like size and social structures.

Namely, a mare’s estrous cycle revolving around ovulation and potential pregnancy corresponds with a diuretic phase. In the days leading up to being in heat and receptive to studs, she’ll urinate more openly as a subconscious signal of fertility.

This coincides with appetite cycles too where mares eat almost constantly if not pregnant, but cut back radically in the winter. Their large bodies and seasonal breeding mean hormones exert strong, fluid-regulating influence beyond what bitches or ladies feel.

Understanding these natural patterns prevents misunderstanding a mare as “ill” when really she’s just excreting as biological programming dictates around her reproductive role within equine herds.

A Refresher Chart on Horse Urination Facts

Detail Result
Panting Horses pant to cool off, losing 1 cup of water per pant Drink more water to replace moisture loss through breathing
Size Clydesdales weigh over 2,000 pounds Bigger size means higher fluid needs
Diet Horses eat 20+ pounds of hay daily, high in fiber Bulky, fibrous food fills bladder more frequently
Survival skill Horses evolved to scent mark territory with urine Ingrained instinct to urinate regularly for protection
Hip anatomy Narrow pelvis and tubes means less bladder space Forced to empty frequently due to compact plumbing
Dehydration Horses can’t function without water like other animals Designed to drink and piss constantly to avert dehydration
Stress Fight or flight revs kidneys into overdrive Anxiety causes excess fluid release
Conformation Issues like swayback put strain on bladder region Physical flaws worsen urge frequency and control
Digestive woes Ulcers induce priority purging through bladder Stomachaches induce excess peeing
Medications Many drugs are diuretics that boost urine output Treatment side effect becomes more pee breaks
Mare cycles Estrous upcycles urination before ovulation Hormones strongly influence fluid excretion

The Poop on Pee: Horse Urination FAQs

  Answer Fun Fact
Why do horses pant so much? To dissipate excess body heat through evaporation since they can’t sweat well. One horse pant can release over a cup of moisture into the air!
How much water does a horse drink per day? Varies greatly based on size, activity level and climate. Can be 5-10 gallons on average for a 1,000 lb horse. After intensive work, horses have been known to empty an entire 55-gallon water trough!
Why is horse pee yellow instead of clear? It contains creatinine and other waste dissolved from muscles. The yellow pigment signals to other horses they were there. A foal’s first pee is a bright orange color!
Do male and female horses pee differently? Mares tend to pee more discreetly squatting. Stallions raise their tails and spray higher for dominance displays. Stallion “scent-marking” can shoot urine over 6 feet high!
Can stress cause more urination? Yes, stress triggers “fight or flight” hormonal responses increasing kidney output and urgency to pee. Even something like flies biting can stress out horses enough to make them pee!
Do some horse breeds pee less than others? Drafty breeds tend to pee more due to their larger body size needs. Ponies generally urinate less than tall horses. The smallest breed, Falabella ponies, stand only 28 inches tall!

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