Traveling to a new location can pose significant challenges to horse health. Not the least of these is hydration and water consumption. Adding flavors (such as Gatorade or other fruity powders) to a horse's water is a way to mask taste changes due to pH or other substances, therefore maintaining water palatability and intake at a new location. Horses are often expected to perform their best at new locations such as, shows, trail rides, or rodeos. Knowing taste preferences and how to encourage drinking are important for keeping your horse healthy on the road. A recent study was conducted at Ontario's University of Guelph to determine horses' preference and aversion tendencies to water of varying acidic tastes.
Prior research has demonstrated that most horses strongly dislike the sour taste sensation, which corresponds to the acidity of a substance. Citric acid, a natural preservative in many fruits and vegetables is acidic, therefore, lowering the pH value of a substance to which it is added. (A pH value of lower than 7 is considered acidic.) To study horses' ability to differentiate among varying degrees of acidity caused by pH changes, varying amounts of citric acid were added to twelve horses' water. It was found that horses showed strong aversion to the two lowest pH values of water presented, pH 2.9 and pH 3.6. (A pH of 3.6 corresponds to that of an apple.) Horses were not as opposed to water of pH 5 (which corresponds to the pH of haylage), signifying that horses do differentiate between and select water based on acidity reflected by a sour taste. The horses in this study were increasingly averted to decreasing pH values of water, meaning that the more acidic a substance is, the more obvious it is that the horse will avoid it.
The results of this study have implications for how we use additives to mask undesirable flavors for horses. Knowing that horses will tolerate small changes in pH to a certain point means that certain substances in water will be more or less preferred. We can choose flavors and additives based on their pH values, since acidity is one basic taste that our horses will react to.