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How To Keep Your Horse’s Water From Freezing

Keeping your horse’s water tank clean and full is a chore in itself.  Add breaking ice during the freezing winter months and you have a full time job.  Access to clean water is especially important for your horse when the weather turns cold but it can be challenging for you to provide it in certain conditions. 

The easiest way to keep a horse water trough or stock tank from freezing during the winter is to use a floating tank heater that is always on.  When electricity is not available there are other ways to delay freezing which include using a larger tank, creating double wall insulation, adding a lid or floating a ball in the water.  

When it’s cold out, winter chores are hard enough.  Let’s talk about all the ways that you can prevent or extend the time between freezing water tanks.  These tips will make it easier for you and provide a better winter water source for your horse.    

Best way to keep a horse water trough from freezing

Water tank heaters or tank de-icers are by far the best method for keeping the water temperature in a stock tank warm enough to prevent freezing.  When electricity is available, this option is a no brainer.

Setup for most water tank heaters is easy.  Simply plug into a power source and drop the heater into the tank.  If you get a heater with a wire frame encircling the coils, make sure the wire is touching the bottom of the tank.  Even in cold water, the coils can get hot enough to melt a hole in plastic or rubber tanks.  

Most units turn on when you plug them in eliminating the need for an on/off switch.  Some heaters also have a built in thermostat that turns the coils on when the water temperature gets below 35 degrees.  

Best types of water tank deicers

There are three general types of water tank deicers that require electricity: floating, sinking and bubblers.  One style definitely works better than the rest at preventing frozen water troughs but let’s go over each so you can see for yourself. 


For smaller water troughs and locations where winter temperatures freeze but don’t dip into single digits, try using a floating tank bubbler.  They work by continually circulating water on the surface.  Water that moves takes longer to freeze.

However, tank bubblers can’t move enough water or provide adequate heat to keep the water from freezing solid in large tanks (300+ gallons) when the temperature drops significantly.  Keep tank size in mind when looking at this option.

Sinking tank heaters

Sinking tank heaters are another option when it comes to heating water in a stock tank.  These are great for smaller tanks where the surface needs to remain clear for your horse to drink from. 

Sinking heaters are also better for smaller tanks because they heat the water from the bottom up.  The entire tank must stay warm for the surface not to freeze.  If ice does form on the surface, it will definitely be thinner than if no heater was in place.  If you or your horse is comfortable breaking thin ice everyday, this is your best heater option.

Sinking tank heaters are the cheapest heaters to buy as well.   At about $40, it’s a bargain and it only costs around $2 a day to operate.  

Floating tank heaters

Floating tank deicers are by far the best at keeping water tanks ice free.  They heat the surface level of water which is where the ice forms.  They don’t have to heat the entire tank of water to be effective like submerged heaters.  

One API 1500 watt floating heater is recommended for 100-300 gallons but I’ve seen examples of just one heater keeping a 500 gallon tank clear of ice in Wyoming winters. 

Make sure to use the wire guard around the coils.  A floating heater can still bump into the sides of a plastic or rubber tank and melt it.  

API’s 1500 watt floating heater is priced at $60 and will cost an additional $3 a day to run or about $90 a month if you run it continually. 

If the cost of using a tank heater has you worried, just watch the weather and use them only when there is a chance of freezing.  

If you live somewhere where below zero temperatures are the norm and you want to avoid chopping through the ice, then you will have to give up the cash to run the heater.  You can always try finding one that uses less energy but it may not be efficient enough to keep the water from freezing. 

Water tank heater safety

Tank heaters are great at saving you time and effort when it comes to winter water chores.  However, make sure to check that they are in proper working condition.  If you notice your horse avoiding the water tank, it’s time to investigate.  The following safety considerations should be checked often.

  • A broken heater can cause an electrical charge in the water.  There is not usually enough power to kill you or your horse but a zap on their nose while trying to drink is uncomfortable. 
  • Use an outdoor extension cord.  These electrical cords are designed to insulate against harsh and wet conditions.  Make sure to route it away from standing water and don’t drive over them with a vehicle.  
  • Use a cord-lock.  Cover the plugs connecting the heater and extension cord.  This inexpensive plastic cover protects the weakest part of the cords from rain and ground water.
  • Avoid using a timer.  You might think that using a timer or turning the heater on only at night will save you money.  These heaters are built to be on continually and often have their own thermostat regulator.  Continual on and off with a timer will burn them out.  Also, it takes longer to heat up large amounts of water than it does to maintain a constant temperature.  If the water chills too much between on cycles, the heater won’t be able to warm it back up faster than it takes to freeze.
  • Don’t run dry.  These heaters are meant to run in water.  Make sure to turn them off if the tank runs low or when you remove them from the water.  

How do I keep my horse’s water from freezing without electricity

Water tank heaters are the easiest and most efficient for saving you time and energy when it comes to keeping a horse tank from freezing.  However, high electrical bills and access to electricity itself may prevent you from using a heater.  But do not despair.  There are 11 other non-electrical tricks to try when it comes to keeping your water troughs from freezing.  Combining several of these options will help even more!

Use a bigger trough.  Larger amounts of water take longer to freeze.  While the top layer of water may freeze, a large tank is unlikely to freeze solid.  Smaller tanks, less than 100 gallons, can completely freeze overnight in extremely cold conditions.

Use a black plastic trough.  A black, plastic or rubber trough soaks up more heat from the sun than galvanized metal tanks.  Warmer sides keep the water temperature inside above freezing longer.

Insulate the tank.  This can be done above or below ground.  Straw bails stacked around the water trough will help the tank hold onto any warmth it gained from the sun during the day.  Digging a hole in the ground and placing the trough in it also provides some heat-retaining insulation.

Create a double walled tank.  Much like a double walled beverage tumbler works, you can place a smaller water tank inside a larger one and fill the space between with an insulating material like straw or dirt.  Again, these systems don’t heat the water, they simply help contain any heat that the tank has acquired during the day from the sun or added hot water.     

Add a floating ball.  Adding a rubber ball that floats in the water tank is similar to the electric bubbler concept mentioned above.  As the ball moves around, it keeps the water circulating and delays ice formation.  A ball also gives your horse something to push on if ice does form, allowing them to break the ice easier.

Placement for sun exposure.  Mother Nature’s best heater is the sun.  Place your horse’s water tank so it gets the most sun exposure during the winter months.  Using black, plastic or rubber tanks will soak up the sun’s rays better than a metal tank will.   

Cover half with a lid.  Covering half of the tank helps slow heat dissipation and protects half of the water from being exposed to open air and freezing temperatures.  The lid can be clamped in place over the tank or you can make it float.  A floating lid also gives your horse something to push on to break the ice and access the water.  Bonus Tip: If you paint the top side of the lid black, it will soak up more heat from the sun.  

Haul hot water.  You may already be hauling water by hand in the winter since your garden hoses are most likely put away to avoid freezing.  Instead of adding cold water, use hot tap water.  Adding hot water will raise the water temperature in the tank for awhile but it will eventually cool back down.  

Running warm water.  If you have direct access to hot water at your tank and there is no risk of freezing pipes, letting the nozzle trickle continuously is your best bet for preventing a frozen tank.  You want to run enough warm water so that it never stops dripping yet not so much that the tank overflows before your horse drinks the level down.

Solar powered tank heaters.  With today’s technology, you can build a custom solar powered system to run a tank heater.  However, this is extremely expensive and will take up a large amount of room.  Combine initial costs with replacement parts every few years and you will probably never collect as much power as it cost to build.  The monthly bill for a standard plug-in tank heater is minuscule in comparison. 

Remove the ice.  Sometimes, the only choice you have is to deal with the ice.  If none of the above non-electrical tricks work to prevent ice buildup in your water tanks, you will have to manually break the ice.  A hammer or hatchet works great in small tanks.  The longer handle on a regular or fireman’s ax helps reach the ice in the center of larger tanks.  Simply hit the ice until it breaks apart.  

The easiest way to remove the ice chunks is with a rubber fishing net.  The water drips through and the ice won’t cut the rubber netting.  A shovel or hand held scoop can be used as well but will take longer to remove all the ice.  

If you are constantly removing large amounts of ice, you may want to save them in another bucket to thaw later and reuse. 

Final thoughts

Keeping your horse’s water thawed during the winter months doesn’t have to be challenging.  If you have access to electricity or you can run an extension cord for a floating tank heater, do it!  The little bit of money that it costs to run will be more than worth the time it will save you from breaking ice.

If your water tanks are too far away to accommodate electric tank heaters, try utilizing the above tips to maximize the natural warmth from the sun.  If all else fails, invest in a good wagon or trailer to help you haul those buckets of hot water.