Soaking Dusty Hay vs Water Intake

Hi there,
I am new to this forum and have a question regarding the need for increased water intake while soaking hay.

Background: My horse (16 year old Arabian gelding) had a couple of episodes of impaction colic this last December. The first episode required a vet, hydration, and Banamine, whereas the second episode just required encouraged hydration (salt, bits of small dry hay). He also went off his feed for a morning 2-3 weeks after the 2nd episode, but wasn’t ‘colicky’. This was the first time(s) he had ever had colic (we’ve had him since he was a foal), and so it was pretty scary! Since the first episode, we have been increasing his salt intake (now 2 tbsp per day), and are feeding him hay every 2 hours - from 8am to 8pm. He also gets small quantities of beetpulp mash 3 times per day, which includes soaked complete horse feed, soaked vitamins, some salt and ground flax. We also make sure his water is always warm and fresh.

We suspect that these colic episodes were due to dehydration. He had not been using his mineral lick (I suppose he did not like the taste?), we had not been adding salt to his feed (which we definitely are now!), and this was the first year he has had access to pasture during the winter. What we have noticed is that he doesn’t drink has much as he should - very little, while out on winter pasture. We live on Vancouver Island where it is quite wet, and he doesn’t seem to be thirsty on the wet grass. Although I would love if he could be on pasture during the winter, he just isn’t drinking like he should! So, we now only let him graze for a few hours during the day - he’s most happy with his head down, roaming around.

We experience the same problem when we soak his hay - he doesn’t drink as much, putting him at risk of impaction colic again. But on the other hand, the hay we now have is a bit on the dusty side - hence why we have been soaking it. I don’t want him to contract heaves either! However, when he eats it dry, he drinks more. So it is a bit of a catch 22 situation.

Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions in regards to this?? Thanks!

If the hay is dusty, definitely soak it. I find it easiest to put in hay net, let soak in a garbage can of water for 10-15 minutes then hang to drain. Wet hay (and grass) is less likely to lead to impaction than dry hay. It is the total amount of water per day from all sources that is important, not just what he drinks. Can you also make his other feed soupy?
I would also speak to your vet about how much salt to give him per day.


Thanks demidq for the quick reply. Yes, I definitely don’t want any respiratory problems to develop. I’ve been submerging the hay in one large bucket, then placing it in another large bucket (to keep it off the ground) - he’s quite content to eat it right from there. Question - what are the benefits of a hay net if he eats it before it spoils?

I’ve been making his feed soupy as well, but I still don’t think between the wet grass, soupy feed, and soaked hay, he is consuming enough water. I’ve tried adding electrolytes to some water too (a different bucket), as well as some apple juice - he’s not keen on either. He’s a difficult lad.

Regarding the salt, the vet said two tablespoons is a good amount. I’ve also looked online, and 1-2 tbsp of salt/day is considered what horses should be consuming for maintenance purposes. We also provide him with a salt lick (blue), which to my surprise was considered to be an addition to adding 2 tbsps salt to feed. Supposedly salt licks were designed for cow’s rough tongues and horses typically don’t consume enough salt from a salt lick alone. This was news to me.

Hi, @Charloux

I’m also on (mid) Vancouver Island and I too have had to try to ensure my horse drinks enough in winter time, (I have lots of posts about her if you search my name)

I think if you are soaking the hay he IS getting enough water, especially if he is getting soupy mash and grass, because it all counts as water intake, so the more he ingests the less he is likely to need to physically drink.

Have you tried tenting his skin to test if he is dehydrated? If is snaps back within a second he’s not dehydrated. Or by pressing his gum and noting the speed which the colour returns. Also, regarding warm water, are you giving warmed water, or are you providing it in a heated water bucket?

I wouldn’t change anything you’re doing, except I would (and DO) let my mare graze 24/7 free choice. The one thing that is best for her and seems to prevent impactions the most is MOVEMENT, so grazing is the thing that seems to keep everything moving through :wink: I have also noticed is (mostly during summer months when we are away at shows and she’s restricted to a stall) that grazing increases the tendency to drink. That is, if I hand graze her for 20-30 minutes the moment she’s returned to her stall she drinks! Quite a bit too!

To answer your latest question a hay net, especially a small hole net, will increase the time spent eating the hay and reduce wasted hay (if any) by reducing the amount he can grab in any one mouthful. Another thought, though a little more intensive, is to break up his hay into several piles or into several nets and hang or place them in several spots around his turnout so he has to keep moving to get from pile to pile :slight_smile:

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Hi @fanfayre, thanks for your input. I’ll search for your posts as you may share similar place-specific experiences/complications!

I don’t think he is or was (except perhaps for the first colic) dehydrated to the point of his skin tenting/gums white, but we think his colics were related to his not drinking enough as his manure was drier, smaller, and harder. I’ve looked at various online sources, and it sounds like a horse should be getting a minimum of 5 gallons/day. I find it difficult to believe that he could consume that much through grass, soaked hay, and sloppy mashes. To answer your question, we have been giving him warm water from our faucet, and as he has drunk it happily in the past and does when eating dry hay, I don’t think he minds it.

He lives with his buddy outdoors, and does amble around a fair bit. We get him out on walks almost every day, but I would like to up his exercise - he may be 16, but he’s still in good shape and loves to zip along. Maybe his gut is slowing down a bit?

I am really hoping that this is something that doesn’t reoccur every three weeks otherwise it may indicate something a lot more serious.

Is his manure still hard, dry and small, or has it returned to his normal?

If it’s still harder and drier, here are some things I’ve done when my mare’s became that way:

  • as you did. added 1 to 2 Tbsp salt in addition to the salt lick (and I’ve switched to the rock salt on a rope) This seems to have doubled her H[SUB]2[/SUB]O intake
    -Exchanged some of the long-stem dry fibre with short-stem, soaked fibre (soaked hay cubes or pellets and soaked beet pulp- quite wet and mushy). This gets lots of water into the system
    -Added some wheat bran (a large handful per meal) into the mash to soften the stools and act as a laxative
    -Once day a week, or 1 week per month, added 1/2 to 1 cup of psyllium to the mash
    -added magnesium to the mash (I have doubled the normal amount, as it acts as a laxative too)
    -added a digestive aid like G’s formula. Mad Barn Visceral++, or, at the moment Purina Outlast(this seems to be working the best of the 3)

All this is in addition to having a heated water bucket for her to access 24/7 October through April

As my mare has also been diagnosed with delayed gastric emptying I have reduced the amount of long-stem hay she receives and replaced it with short stem in the form of grass pellets and chopped hay (I chop it myself and replace 3/4 of her hay ration with the pellets and chopped over the unchopped hay, and only feed the long-stem in a haynet.

Hope this helps and Good Luck with your guy

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Nice, thanks for sharing this information. Your mare is getting some serious customized care. What we do for our horses… I will copy it down and try out some things if I notice a change in his manure.

Interesting about the rock salt on a rope - I wonder why it has that impact?

We also had been adding some mineral oil (not a lot - 60 cc’s) to his first beet pulp mash of the day. A vet had recommended it. I haven’t found much information regarding how long they can/should consume it for, or if it is even really effective - many schools of thought.

Oh, sorry I typed that wrong- I meant that the added loose salt is what increased her drinking! Although she does seem to like the hanging salt more than she ever did her blue brick, probably because it’s not designed for cows

Also I forgot to add, unless your guy is IR or Cushingsn and can’t have the sugars, I offer lots of succulents- carrots and apples in addition to the grass in her pastures. I buy bulk carrots from the farm markets.
And another thing- try switching from mineral oil to raw linseed oil 1/4 cup per day is all you need and there is evidence it reduces inflammation in the digestive system. Must be raw though not boiled

Oh, and I had another thought: I keep her blanketed slightly warmer than ‘normal’ horses, with the approval of me vet

How much loose salt have you been adding to your mare’s feed out of curiosity? And which kind do you use?

I don’t know much about linseed - I like that it reduces inflammation in the gut. I decided on mineral oil because it doesn’t get absorbed and slicks the digestive tract throughout. Whereas oils like corn, canola, sunflower, etc. get absorbed in the small intestine, thus not providing a lubricant (linseed may fall into this category?). The use of mineral oil is debatable too… but it hasn’t hurt…

1 to 2 Tablespoons a day of loose table salt (from Walmart actually- 99c/box. blue) split in her 2 feedings.

Linseed’s just the old-timey (therefore cheaper) name for flax oil
I too have fed mineral oil if I’m concerned she’s not passing enough manure. Touch wood, with the table salt and bran I haven’t used it this year, not even during our snow last week. Snow has always been the triggering factor to her impactions in the past but just maybe I finally have her guts figured out…

Sounds like you are dealing with similar problems. At first I was concerned that his colic was caused by ulcers, a tumour, displacement, etc… but he seems fine now - and I don’t see why a tumour (or another issue) would cause symptoms to come and go. After the first incident (and maybe even around the second), he was quite sensitive in the flank area, and would often hold his tail out. He is an Arabian and likes to hold his tail off to one side or a bit at times, but this looked like he was holding it uncomfortably out… hard to explain. He’s no longer sensitive in the flank area and his tail posture has resume to normal.

I’ve also been wondering about the quality of the hay. We got more hay than we had in the past, and I’m concerned that some are beginning to grow mold in some areas (near edges of enclosure). I’ve been feeling, visually inspecting, and smelling each bale and flake before feeding, but I’m worried that I am not catching everything… I don’t believe that the dust is mold related as when we got it, it was already a bit dusty, and it was supposedly a dusty year when it was baled. These bales may have been a bit older when we got them too…

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Thanks for providing ongoing feedback about this by the way! I’ve been discussing it with various people, but its helpful to discuss it with someone in similar circumstances (place, horse health issues, etc).

Any Time!!! That’s what this board is so great for! If someone has a question or issue, chances are someone else, or many others, have dealt with it too and are willing to share the knowledge. It’s because of other board members’ great suggestions that I’ve been able to tailor a system that (so far) works for her, along with my own experiences over the many years and my very experienced vet’s recommendations too (she suggested the linseed oil after receiving a suggestion from another vet with endurance horses)

We’re all here for the betterment of our horses :slight_smile:

My horse is boarded in the Cedar area btw, and we feed our own farm-grown hay, so sometimes it’s the older (unsold) hay too, but rarely is it dusty

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Cedar is a lovely area. We are on Thetis Island - just south of you :slight_smile:

It has definitely been a steep learning curve for us in the past couple years. We’ve had our horse, Kachari, since he was 6 months old, but we’ve always had him boarded at barns - and for the most part, in Ontario. He’s been only under our care since coming to Thetis, two years ago. The first year he was quite healthy with no problems, but this winter has been a challenge. We will be changing some things for next year, so hopefully it helps!

Know Thetis well, and Ontario too, since I used to live there also :wink:
This area (well the whole west coast, really) is challenging to grow and provide quality, dustless hay, and then there’s the storage factor too, but it sounds like you’ve got things under control for now. He’s a cutie if he’s the one in your avatar!

Yep, that is him. He has quite the character - super curious, verging on nosy, and a bit of a goof. What breed is your mare (is she the one in your avatar) - TB?

The place we get our hay from grows it/bales it in Washington… and typically it is less dusty. So maybe it was just a bad batch?

Yes, she is my avatar. She is 3/4Tb, 1/4CB, 2nd generation home bred, and by our wonderful CoTHer Fred’s late stallion A Fine Romance. My screen name is her (late) dam’s show name.

Your hay could have been a bad batch, or your supplier didn’t store it properly before you picked it up. So many different possibilities why it’s dusty, but you’re doing the right thing by soaking it to get rid of the dust, for sure

Have you gotten him scoped just to check for ulcers? Also when was the last time his teeth were checked? If one of them hurts, cold water would aggravate it even if it is a small bothersome spot on a tooth it could be enough for him to avoid cold water. Not sure if cold water would upset an ulcer but maybe do a round of ulcerguard just to try? Good luck!!

Cold water definitely upsets ulcers, or to say it another way, a horse with ulcers really doesn’t like to drink cold water