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Written by Stephanie Davis, DVM
It is easy to think that if your horse is healthy and has no outward sign of respiratory inflammation or disease, that steaming hay is not necessary.
Of course, we all used to feed our horses dry hay "back in the day." However, I also remember many times back then where I would not feed hay because it seemed too dusty or the horses wouldn't eat the hay because it was not palatable.
These are issues that we still deal with today!
Even if you spend a lot of money on high quality hay, it still contains mold spores and allergens.
This means that your horse’s airway is going to be challenged no matter the quality of the hay. Additionally, whatever you choose to bed your horse on, (straw or shavings) will also create dust and carry possible allergens. Also, the set up and design of a barn and stall can affect the health of the airway. There has not been a solution to these problems until the advent of steaming hay.
Therefore, the idea with steamed hay for a healthy horse is PREVENTION!! Just because your horse is healthy now, does not mean that with the right circumstances, he may develop an allergy, airway inflammation, or chronic disease.
Steaming hay is also recommended for use with horses that have had a history of colic or choke. So, why wait until they have a history of problems? Why not do your very best to keep their GI tract and respiratory tract healthy so that you do not have to treat a problem?
Of course, steaming hay is only one factor in an array of things that need to be done to maintain a healthy horse, but because steaming is non-invasive and very easy to do, there is no down side!!
Another point which I always like to make is that traveling is a time of stress for any horse, even your healthy horse. The airway can be compromised at this time and what they could normally fight off could turn to an infection. To keep your horse healthy, you need to think ahead about what situation could lead to inflammation or disease, and long travel is one of them.
As always, prevention is the word of the day.
It is important to also mention that not only is steaming hay great for the health of your horse, but also for the “health” of your pocket.
From personal experience and the word of several clients, horses will waste less steamed hay versus dry hay. This way, the hay that you pay for will actually go into the horse instead of being spread around the stall. There are so many products on the market that it is sometimes overwhelming trying to decide how to manage your horse, but steaming hay is something that scientifically and anecdotally helps keep your horse happy and healthy with no “gimmick.” It is just clean, healthy, palatable hay.