Heated water buckets are pretty straightforward as to purpose and function. Ranging in size from 5-16 gallons, these buckets have a heating element built into the wall or base with a thermostat that maintains water at about 42o F.
The cord that extends from the back or bottom of the flat-backed bucket is usually six feet long and plugs into a GFI circuit. Just as with any electrical equipment, a cord that isn’t already shielded should be sheathed in plastic PVC or metal pipe so a horse can’t bite into it. It is best not to use extension cords to run a heated bucket.
Make sure you select a water bucket that has a flat back so it lays flat against a wall when hung and doesn’t twist the electrical cord. Some buckets also allow you to coil the electric cord under the bottom of the bucket so you can easily use these buckets all year.
There are many of these plug-in buckets available on the market. Check at your local tack shop or search for them online.
As an alternative to incurring the cost of running electricity into one or more buckets, you might choose to opt for cloaking water buckets within an insulated cover. These won’t keep water unfrozen all day and all night, but if you are refilling buckets twice a day, they might be a good option.
The Thermo-Bucket (http://www.countrymfg.com/thermo_bucket.htm) provides a practical and cost-effective solution. It is an insulated bucket holder in which you insert a 5-gallon water bucket. This product works much like a thermos bottle and is reported to hold water from freezing for 6-12 hours while outside temperature hovers around 0o F. A Styrofoam float maintains insulation on the drinking surface – a horse easily learns to push it down when he wants a drink.
Another option is a Water Bucket Cozy (http://store.wildangelcozy.com/water-bucket-cozy/), which helps insulate a bucket for hours when it is filled with warm water. The cozy also covers a portion of the top of the bucket, leaving just enough room for a horse muzzle to fit and drink.
Yet another version of an insulated water container is simply called the Insulated Bucket Holder–it secures to the side of a stall and a 5-gallon bucket inserts directly into it. The thick foam insulation has a good R value (measure of thermal resistance). Some models come with a heat retention cover that is configured with a drinking well on top to reduce water contact with the air. The claims report that at least a portion of the bucket of water won’t freeze in a horse-occupied stall or at temperatures above 15o F.
Keeping fresh, unfrozen water available to your horses at all times is important. Horses cannot eat enough snow to make up for the water they need to take in each day. Horses without access to water in winter run a higher risk of impaction colic. And research has shown that horses prefer cold water to warmed water, but actually drink more warmed water when it is available.