Why would I need to soak hay, and how are some easy ways to do it?
Well, there are several reasons to soak hay in water. Some horses need this permanently, some need it temporarily. Often the reason for soaking will dictate the manner in which to soak.
For horses that have metabolic issues (such as Insulin Resistance), soaking your horse's hay can reduce the WSC (water soluble carbs). Research tells us that the longer the hay is soaked, the more the WSC content if reduced. You will need to balance this with how your barn operates, and also the climate. Do you want to soak overnight if the temps are well below freezing, giving you a giant hay-cicle in the morning? Conversly, the summer heat could create a nasty stew of hay if soaked for a long time. (Of course - you will need to experiment.)
Some folks choose to soak the hay in scalding hot water for an hour before feeding to cook out the sugars. At night, the hay for the morning can sit in cold water. If you go the hot water route, please drain and rinse in cold water before you serve on that silver platter!
For horses that have respiratory issues, soaking hay will just plain reduce the amount of RDC's (respirable dust concentration.) More is reduced the longer the hay soaks. The RDC numbers will climb up if the hay is allowed to dry before feeding, so be sure to feed wet. With these types of sensitive horses, also be sure to keep the entire environment dust free, especially during feeding times. This means no mucking at meals for that and adjoining horses, keeping the stalls, fans, and rafters dusted, using special bedding, etc.
Sometimes your vet will prescribe soaked hay following a colic episode or if your guy is dehydrated. For these circumstances, the wetter is better, so you will just have to monitor the soaking process. I'll bet about 30 minutes or so does the trick for most types of hays.
So what are the best techniques for soaking hay? First, a few tools. A muck tub, big bucket, or maybe even a small wheelbarrow. Hose, and most importantly, a drain. (Be sure to fill your container near the drain, so there is no lugging of heavy hay and water concoctions across the barn).
To make draining easier, (and cleanup), make sure your drain is covered with some sort of mesh catch device. You can do the typical tip the bucket and wait, or you can line your bucket or tub with a haynet, and when you are ready to feed, just pull the net out. Tah-dah!
If you feed your hay on the ground, be sure that if your horse doesn't eat all of it, you clean it up, it tends to get slimy, moldy, and generally gross pretty quickly. Blech!!