A word of caution
Tis the season for tank de-icers and water circulators. These things are such nifty inventions.
But they can kill your horse. Especially if you have a plastic or rubber water tank. Most people think these things are safe if they are plugged into outlets using GFCI protectors. More frequently than you’d think, these GFCIs fail and either your horse receives a mild shock when trying to drink, or they get a lethal dose of electricity.
So what can you do? The best solution for the plastic/rubber ones seems to be to sink a properly sized grounding rod close to the tank and connect a copper wire to it. Wrap the other end several times around a heavy enough rock to keep the wire going to the bottom of the tank and sink the rock in the tank.
Make sure you are using the proper gauge of extension cord (and one meant for outdoor use) if you have to run yours with one. Also, invest in the plastic covers that go around the extension cord connections. Inspect all elements of your setup regularly. The de-icer itself, the cords, the grounding wire, the extension cords, the electric box/GFCI etc.
Metal tanks tend to be self grounding, so usually a person won’t experience problems with these. (For autowaters you do not want to place your GFCI under the tank. This is a nightmare because it often gets damp or condensate under there and trips it all the time)
ALSO, some types of electric fence can ‘jump’ to the heater causing the shock. You may need to move your water to a different area if this is happening to your tank.
No matter how small the shock is to your horse, this still can be a fatal problem. Horses will get trained not to touch the water with a minimal shock and die from colic due to this.
A word also about those enclosed, heated, 5 gallon buckets. They are terrific and we have some ourselves. But they have a history of overheating and melting and sometimes catching on fire. Be careful with those. As with space heaters, curling irons, and Christmas trees, they are meant to be used with supervision and caution.
and now a tale from someone who sadly experienced this problem a couple of weeks ago.
“Horse/livestock friends, I have some very sad news to share because I want to deliver a warning about a serious danger. Saturday I received word from family in Prineville that one of our Welsh pony mares was killed due to a tank heater in her water trough. She went to take a drink of water and was electrocuted. Thank God the other two big horses she was sharing a pasture with were not hurt. It was a drain plug heater like the one in the picture and had never caused any problems before. The breaker was NOT tripped and this one heater was enough to take her life. This mare was just 13 and is the dam to three of our ponies we have at our farm in Boardman. Shocked and saddened, but sharing this in hopes that you will check your water tank heaters this season, throw any away that look old or damaged, and keep horses from pulling on them. I don’t want to see this happen again to anyone, it is heart breaking! I have never used the plug heaters, but now I’m scared to even use the sinking tank heaters I have, not sure it’s worth the risk…Even GFI outlets are not foolproof and can still shock/kill a horse. It looks like this happened because another one of the horses was messing with the plug heater. **Side note: I have no experience using this type of plug heater before, I have only ever sparingly used the sinking heaters and never had a problem with them. So not sure if one type of heater is more dangerous than others? I also have always plugged them into a GFI outlet that will trip if they short, but I am learning that the GFI outlets are not foolproof and can fail. Using a grounding rod is even safer, but of all the people I know that use tank heaters, I do not think I have ever seen anyone who installs them until they know of the risk. Most people think the GFI is good enough.” Naomi