Beware: Horse Electrocuted by Automatic Waterer

I work as an equine appraiser & equine expert witness. After being called recently by an insurance company to do a death-claim reimbursement for yet another horse electrocuted by an automatic waterer, I felt it was time to share this information with horse owners.

The Chronicle of the Horse just published my article on the subject. I wrote this article in collaboration with my husband, who is a licensed electrician. I’m hoping this information will help educate horse owners and save at least one equine life.


Thanks for this PSA @Daventry. And thanks for your good work!


I read this article. Scared the beegeezus out of me. So, thanks. I think :grinning:


:scream: Well, that was a horrific read.
@Daventry thanks for your expertise.

I have heated 5gal flatback buckets in my stalls & a sinking de-icer in the 50gal barrel trough in front of the barn. All have GFI plugs.
Horses are drinking from all, so I have to assume the wiring is intact.
Buckets are 16yo, de-icer 10+.

But the de-icer is falling apart, I thought it might not function this Winter, but it did.
The barrel it sits in is the favored drinking spot.
Still, the business end is so corrupted with rust, I may use my TSC Friends & Neighbors discount to replace it ASAP.

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I do not remember this, but when I was a toddler, we had a pony out with our cattle (a giant herd of maybe 6). My mother says I was playing near the trough (most likely an old bathtub), pony came along and went to get a drink & was knocked to his knees by a short. So he probably saved me, inadvertently, as I often splashed around the water.

Of course, for the next 14 years he made up for it by trying to kill me in various creative ways.


This is priceless! :laughing: :laughing:

It’s what Shetlands do. I often say that anyone who gives their kids one of these things subscribes to the Nietzschean philosophy – what does not kill one makes one stronger. I should have a stronger fear response, but it is lacking. There is nothing that any horse can do to me that Lucky Pony did not try.

Ugh. What a tragic situation. It’s all about proper grounding and correctly installed electrical components.

What a great article @Daventry, thank you!

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Thanks for this! I once noticed my mini pawing at the water trough and bobbing her head above the water. There was a deicer in the trough. I went over and (stupidly) put my hand in the trough. I couldn’t feel anything but figured there must be a problem. I stuck my tongue in the water and could feel a slight tingle. It never occurred to me that there could have been a significant current running through!!! Yikes!! Earlier this winter I had a new de-icer catch on fire and burn down my rubber trough so I am now a lot more reluctant to use those suckers. Unfortunately, where I live, we need them for a few months a year. But I will now be much more careful about how they are set up!

Am I correct in assuming this is referring to some sort of heating element associated with the automatic waterer, NOT just a simple automatic waterer?

Most automatic waterers have a heating element, which requires electricity. Some automatic waterers, like the one we have at our farm, also has an electrical outlet inside the unit that is often used for heat tape. There are non-electric waterers available but they normally are not recommended for colder clients or when you only have one or two horses using them as they have a tendency to freeze up.

As a side note, we have an automatic waterer that was on the property when we moved to our farm 17 years ago and have never had a problem with it. It was installed properly on a cement pad with gravel fill around it and the ground is graded. That being said, my husband is an electrician so makes sure to check it regularly.

I have always used heated buckets in stalls in winter. I have a trough but putting an electrical device in the water has always made me nervous. I’d rather haul the buckets.

How fortunate hubby is an electrician, lucky you! :slight_smile: I was just looking for some clarification as to the root of the problem, I wish the title focused on the heating element versus the automatic waterer. In my part of the country, we don’t have need of a heating element, it’s a foreign concept, lol! Good to know that a simple, non-electric waterer is not a danger.

@Buster, me too. I had submitted different title for the article but the magazine opted to go with their own title. Writers rarely get a choice in the matter. :wink:


How scary! I’m going to start unplugging my water trough heater in the daytime when the horses are out. I’m lucky that in my climate it rarely drops below freezing during the day.

I will add a very sad electrical story - another reminder on proper grounding. Grew up with a young gal who also had a horse. She was standing at her family’s farm gas pump after rain and because the pump was not grounded properly, she was electrocuted and died. At something like the age of 8.

We were good friends and I still think of her and figure if she’s up there she’s smiling down that I’m still horsin’ around for the two of us.