Breathing Easy: Wetting, Soaking, or Steaming Your Horse’s Hay

Treating hay with water in some form has proven its benefits to horse owners and their horses for decades. Research and testing on tried and true methods along with new protocols continue. Financial and environmental priorities change as do results in both the competition venue and the veterinarian’s office. Whether horse owners choose dipping, soaking, or steaming hay, breathing easy and eating healthy remain the highest priorities to achieve no matter where in the world horses and their partners live.

Hay is the main course not the appetizer for many horses, but how can something as simple as grass that has been cut, dried, and stored for domesticated horses become such a headache for their owners?

Grass, itself, may be conventional, but environmental influences like allergens or a horse’s digestive challenges can present mealtime challenges for many horses and humans alike.

Allergies, inflammation, or metabolic disruption may change the way horses enjoy their main entrée. Respiratory allergies develop when a horse inhales dust, mold, mites, pollen, or other airborne particles present in the hay. Mild symptoms or a more severe case of airway and lung inflammation like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease commonly known as heaves may develop.

Catherine Whitehouse, M.S. with Kentucky Equine Research (KER) commented in an article written by KER that “Managing horses with respiratory difficulties can be demanding on owners but building in a few minutes for plunging or soaking hay in water is an easy way to reduce wheezing, coughing, and breathing effort.”

Dust and allergens only present part of the problem, however. Even good quality hay isn’t immune from mold or fungal spores. Grass also may be high in sugars and pose a risk for laminitis, insulin resistance, or equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), particularly in overweight horses. Potassium features in hay as well. Horses with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis require a diet low in this mineral.

Testing the level of sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals or the presence of dust and allergens determines not only what hay your horse eats but how it will ingest it. A sprinkle, a soak, or steam in water are three options for minimizing environmental and nutritional hitches in your horse’s hay.

This week, Nicker Notes explores these competing options for readers.