Ask the Vet, Part 4: The importance of steaming hay while travelling

Ask the Vet, Part 4: The importance of steaming hay while travelling

By Stephanie Davis, DVM

I have a feeling that by now that everyone knows that this topic is my “soapbox.” I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to steam your hay while traveling. There has been a lot of research over the years dedicated to the topic of hauling horses.

Everyone certainly has their opinions (as most horse people do!) about what position the horse should travel, whether or not they should be tied, and if you should put any bedding on the floor or not. These are all very good questions with probably several “right” answers. In my opinion, there is only one “right” answer for conditioning your hay when traveling with our horses. The hay must be steamed.

Now to support this reasoning, remember than one gram (a VERY small amount) of hay contains millions of mold spores, no matter the quality of the hay. Additionally, there are dust particles and allergens in the hay as well. A horse eating this hay out in a field has a very large “breathing space” and can move his head and neck freely to be able to expel any irritants he has acquired in his nasal passages while eating.

Now, when they are tied in a trailer and restrained to one position, they cannot expel the irritants as easily. In addition, the hay in a trailer is tied up high near the head (which is VERY important to do for safety reasons… me, it is very stressful for you and your horse if he gets his legs tangled in a hay net in the trailer) and therefore has more difficulty lowering the head and expelling insulting particulate matter. With steamed hay, the mold spores are killed and dust is reduced. This significantly reduces the insult to the airway that they otherwise could not escape from in a trailer situation.

Additionally, when most of us are hauling our horses somewhere, it is either for a lesson, a fun trail ride with friends, or a competition (which you probably paid a lot of money for).

So, in any of those situations, would you want to unload your horse from his travels and find him coughing, having a runny nose, and maybe even have a fever? Of course not!

We want them happy and healthy so we can ride, compete, and enjoy spending time with our horses. So, this is where I go back to my “soapbox” and cannot find a reason why anyone would not want to condition their hay by steaming to prevent possible airway inflammation or shipping fever.

There are so many ways that people carefully calculate their travels to make sure the horse has a safe trailer ride.

We make sure the trailer is hitched safely, tires have full and equal pressure, lights and turn signals work, the horse wears boots, bandages, sheets, fleece on their halters, the bedding is dust free, the tie is just long enough so they can reach their hay but not their neighbor….the list goes on and on. At this point, steaming the hay should join the “check list” of things to do before putting your horse on the trailer and you will know that you have done everything to be sure he travels safe and arrives to his destination healthy!