The Accidental Blue Bucket Experiment

You know how sometimes these random bits of horsey information just live in the back recesses of your brain until you actually see/do something that brings them to the forefront again? I’ve been having that experience over here this week.

I don’t even know where I originally heard or saw this, but I knew there had been some kind of study done about horses seeming to prefer drinking out of of blue buckets. Specifically light blue or turquoise.

I’m not crazy, it was a thing

Maybe I heard it on a podcast, maybe I’d seen someone post it on facebook… who knows. I had definitely heard about it, but it just kind of went in one ear and out the other since it was information that really didn’t pertain to me. I’ve never in my life owned a turquoise bucket, I always tend to buy ones that match my stuff, like navy, black, dark green, etc. I was skeptical that it was particularly true at all but reasoned that it probably just had something to do with how horses see color. I know that horses have dichromatic vision, so they mostly see blue and yellow with everything else in shades of gray or brown… mostly red is really indistinguishable for them.

6 Questions We Ask Ourselves About Our Horse's Sight | Equisense - Blog

I have an app that I like to use on XC at shows to see the jumps how the horses do – it’s always really interesting. What seems bright or crazy colored to us almost never looks like way to them.

Anyway, back to buckets.

When Grace got here and we got her stall ready, we originally pulled the two red buckets out of the stack of barn extras. Then we realized that one of the red buckets had a crack in it, so it got traded out for the next bucket, which happened to be turquoise. She had a red bucket and a turquoise bucket in her stall, and I didn’t think anything of it. Fast forward about a week and I started to notice that no matter where the turquoise bucket was (I dump and clean the buckets daily so sometimes it ended up returned to the corner spot and sometimes it ended up in the middle spot) she ALWAYS drank more of the turquoise bucket than the red one. Even when she came into her stall and went to get a drink, she would pass the red bucket and go straight for the turquoise one.

caught in the act

Once I noticed it I started moving the turquoise one around on purpose, and sure enough EVERY single night she would pretty much empty that one and barely touch the red one.

But, ya know… maybe it was just Grace? I figured a better test would be Henry. He had two purple buckets, and he ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS uses his corner one just for discarding his unwanted hay scraps into (he won’t drink it unless he’s absolutely desperate in the middle of summer and he’s already drained his other bucket). So I grabbed the second turquoise bucket out of the storage barn and put it in the corner position. I’ll be damned, y’all. I’ll be damned.

what is this sorcery

It’s been 3 nights now and he’s drank more from the turquoise corner bucket than he has from his previously preferred bucket every single night. I can’t even stress how bizarre that is, he just does not drink from the corner bucket ever.

I have to admit that I think there’s definitely something to this whole bucket color thing. I mean, I’m not sure that they’re drinking more overall than usual, but they definitely do seem to show a preference when it comes to which bucket they drink from if given a choice. Don’t mind me, just off to buy a bunch of ugly turquoise buckets…

17 thoughts on “The Accidental Blue Bucket Experiment

  1. So, Subi has 2 turquoise buckets in his stall and he’s just not a big drinker. He drinks a little, but not much. Nay Nay has 2 purple buckets and he empties 1 or both EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. (and fills the bottom of one with soaked alfalfa and/or hay sludge because he has to dunk his hay). So there you go?

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    1. The study isn’t necessarily about quantity though (at least not that they measured/specified), mostly about which color they more readily drank from. Would also be interesting to see if either of your horses showed any difference in habits if they had different color buckets… would Nay drink even more and would Subi drink even less? Or if they had one of each color would they drink from the turquoise one first/more?

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      1. Nay will pretty much drink from anything including a puddle on the ground so he’s probably not the best example. He also (tries) to drink from bath containers containing soapy water of all colors when in front of him after a ride because barn kids don’t clean up after themselves… He had a couple different color buckets his first week (1 purple, 1 blue) and emptied both. He just empties the one closest to his hay first unless he’s super thirsty then he starts with the one closest to his grain.

        As for Subi? He’s had all different colors over the 15 years I’ve had him and he never drinks much in a stall. He prefers water troughs. First thing he does outside is drink.

        But, I’ve heard this before and I have known a few horses that have had huge preferences (not necessarily for blue/turquoise, but I knew a few horses that would NOT drink from red buckets). So there is something there? Maybe?

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  2. Ever since I read this study I have been bringing only light buckets to horse shows! I already had light ones at home haha It’s so interesting. I wonder if the darker buckets make it harder for them to see where the water is.

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  3. I had heard that horses drink more out of lighter colored buckets, but hadn’t heard that there was a specific color preference. A few years ago I switched from purple buckets to yellow and it seemed to make a difference. Hmm.. interesting thought. I just put in a heated water bucket that is blue. He ALWAYS drinks that first…I always figured it was because he likes the warmer water but maybe it is related to color too…maybe I’ll have to be on the lookout for blue buckets and test this theory too.

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  4. I have purple and teal/turquoise buckets. I’ve hung both for my horse, in lots of different places and weathers (home, not at home, when travelling, etc) and she always prefers the purple one!

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  5. Whoa! Is this actually a thing? I’ve been puzzling as to why the little blue bucket way out in the field gets drained every day and the big black tub in the barn (where they eat and hang out most of the day) is second choice. Looks like I might need to try to find a blue water tub! 🙂

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  6. Had no idea this was a thing, but blue is a favorite color and so we’ve always had blue water buckets lol. Maybe then that’s why the girls drink so much? Come to think of it tho, I only have black extra buckets, so when I need to supplement water, I fill those and Amber never drinks much out of those. Very interesting…..

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  7. At work we have a herd of llamas and alpacas. They have two big troughs, a black one and a light blue one. The blue one always gets drunk out of more than the black one. So maybe it’s just not horses that prefer blue buckets!

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  8. So I have a big blue muck bucket and a red one and the minis never ever drink out of the blue one. Which is odd. They only drink the red (that could be because that one is the closest to barn, who knows). HOWEVER Remus has a red bucket and black one at Trinity. He always goes to the red one only drinks out of the black one out of desperation. So now I think I need to buy a blue one. ALSO Luna has auto waterer but they (the yearlings) will drink out of the auto waterer but prefers the outside (Black) water tub. Very interesting though!!

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  9. This is so true.. in the summer I had a small (100gallon) blue water trough and a black one. I would constantly have to refill the blue one and not the black. Seemed like all three horses would just drink out of the blue and only use the black as a last resort.

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  10. This is awesome. I love these kinds of studies. Did you see the one where they trained the horses to declare blanket preference? They may not be the most rigorous studies out there (says the scientist) but I think it’s great that people are thinking along these lines.

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  11. We have big red and blue water tubs at my parents’ barn. They are right next to each other. Without fail, the blue one is always used more often.

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