Do I need to soak or steam my horse’s hay?

Perhaps.  There are many benefits to soaking or steaming hay, and a few differences between the methods that might affect which method you choose. Generally speaking, the main reasons to soak or steam your horse’s hay boil down to respiratory disorders and metabolic disorders.  Steaming and soaking hay both reduce the number of particulates that your horse can breath in and can reduce the sugar levels in hay.  Both methods vary a little bit also. 



Steaming hay


  • Reduces the mold and fungal spores. 
  • Reduces bacteria. 
  • Reduces dust.  


Steamed hay smells sweet

Steaming is great for the horse with heaves or other respiratory issue, as there's barely anything left to inhale.  


The WSC (water soluble content, aka “sugars” to be really simple about things) is only slightly reduced, which may not be enough for the metabolically compromised horse. 


It’s also difficult to steam your own hay without the help of a hay steaming machine that does the work for you.  I have a hard enough time steaming vegetables at home, I can’t imagine trying to rig up a steamer at the barn for a few flakes of hay.  Depending on the steaming machine/method, the process can take about 45 minutes or so.  The sugar content is not reduced more if you let the hay steam longer.  



The temp gauge of a steamer. 


Soaking hay



  • Also super at reducing mold spores, fungal spores, and dust. 
  • Questionable results about the bacterial levels, as wet hay may create an environment for bacteria to thrive. 


  • Significant reduction in the sugar levels of the hay being soaked, therefore a good option for the metabolically challenged horse.  


Soaking is fairly uncomplicated. 

Soaking hay also reduced the levels of some vitamins and minerals, such as phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. For the horse with HYPP, reduced potassium levels are a benefit.  


The dust and other particles are removed in about 10 minutes, so this process is easy for a respiratory challenged horse.  The longer you soak the hay, the more “sugar” is removed, which greatly benefits the metabolically challenged horse. 


You can purchase automatic soakers that fill and drain on a timer (YES!) or you can create your own soaking rig.  It may be as simple as a tub of water.  For ideas on soaking hay, this article can get you started. 


Weather is an issue here, the hot days of summer can leave soaked hay rancid, and the cold days of winter can freeze your soaking tub.  



What works best for your horse?