Best Tips for Soaking Horse Feeds & Hay

There are several reasons why horse owners may want to soak the feedstuffs they are giving to their horses

  1. The horse is prone to choke and you want to slow down his feed consumption, especially grain or pellets.
  2. The horse has dental issues and you want to assist him by making the horse feed easier to chew.
  3. Horses with metabolic issues are often fed soaked hay to reduce the amount of sugar they are ingesting.
  4. Horses with respiratory issues need dust removed from hay.
  5. Some owners think soaking feed will get more water into their horse’s diet.

Let’s look at the art and science behind soaking grains, pellets, forages, and feedstuffs for horses.

Hot, Warm, or Cold Water for Soaking Horse Feed?

Try to use warm water for soaking hay pellets, fortified horse feeds (pellets or grains), or hay. Keep in mind that soaking with water that is too hot (close to boiling) or for too long can be detrimental to the protein, vitamin, and mineral levels of the feed.

If any feedstuff remains in water too long—especially during hot weather—it can promote the growth of mold, which can cause health issues.

We will talk below about soaking hay to remove sugars/carbohydrates, but soaking hay too long might leach out good nutrients along with the “bad stuff” you are trying to remove!

As we all know, it can be difficult to get warm water to the barn to soak feed or hay during cold weather. Some horse owners have hot water heaters (permanent or portable) in the barn to help solve this problem. Others use thermoses or coolers to keep water warmer for a longer period of time during soaking.

While you can use cold water to soak pellets and hay, it will just take longer for the pellets to absorb the cold water.

Soaking Hay Pellets for Horses

Hay pellets usually are bigger, harder, and denser than fortified horse feed pellets. That means they will take longer to soak all the way through. For hay pellets, make sure you use enough water. Experts recommend two to three parts water to one part hay pellets.

If you have a horse that has a risk of choke, you want to make sure the hay pellets are soft in the middle. That means you might have to experiment a little on how long to soak those pellets. Check some of them by breaking a few pellets open to make sure the insides are soft and soaked. Time the soaking on a few rounds until you know how long the hay pellets you are feeding need to soak before they are soft through and through, as you don’t want to run the risk of having the horse gobble down some pellets that are soft on the outside, but still have a hard center.

If you live in a hot climate, you don’t want to let soaked feed (hay, pellets, or grains) sit around in water or after being soaked. That is a sure way to get mold to grow in the feed.

Soaking Hay for Horses

How you soak and how long you soak hay depends on why you are soaking it!

If you have a horse with respiratory issues such as heaves, you want to minimize the dust and mold that come along with feeding hay. The good news is that soaking hay for respiratory issues doesn’t take as long as soaking it to remove sugars/carbs for metabolic horses.

For a horse with respiratory issues, you can put the horse’s allotment of hay in a hay net. Then dunk the entire net in a muck tub or trash can of clean water. Make sure all of the hay in the net is wet. One tip for doing that is to hold the net full of hay under water until there are no more bubbles coming up, which should only take a few minutes.

If you need to soak hay in winter, you can use slightly salted water for soaking to lower the freezing point of the water. You can put a cup of salt in a muck tub of water, stir, then soak the hay. The horses will actually enjoy the added salt.

When soaking hay for metabolic horses, time soaked depends on the temperature of the water. It is recommended that you soak hay for 30 minutes in warm water or 60 minutes in cold water to remove sugars/carbs. Soaking for longer than 60 minutes might run the risk of leaching out too many nutrients from the hay.

Research has shown that for horses that require a low-sugar diet, soaking Orchardgrass hay for an hour reduced the NSC by approximately 40%.1 That means if the hay started out with 14% NSC and you soaked it for an hour, after soaking the NSC would be below the 12% recommended level for feeding horses with metabolic issues.

You should always rinse the soaked hay once you remove it from the tub where it was soaked to remove even more sugar.

Tip #1: Make sure you dispose of the water used for soaking hay into a grassy area, especially if soaked to remove sugars/carbs. You don’t want to give it to horses to drink.

Tip #2: Rinse out the soaking container and/or hay net so it doesn’t grow mold or have sugar water dried to the insides.

Keep in mind that crude protein, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium concentrations all decrease with soaking. And the longer you soak, the more nutrients you leach out.

Some horse owners like to soak enough hay for an entire day at one time. However, that can run the risk of having the wet hay start to grow mold, especially if you live in a hot climate.

If you don’t have the time to soak hay to remove sugars, purchase pre-tested hay that has a lower NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) level. Or you can purchase hay cubes or pellets that have low NSC.

Soaking Beet Pulp for Horses

If you want to start a fight among horse folks, ask a group of them if you have to soak beet pulp. While nutritionists say you don’t have to soak the feed pellets that just contain some beet pulp, it won’t hurt to soak anything that has beet pulp in it.

The size of the shred of beet pulp contained in a fortified, pelleted feed is so small that it generally doesn’t pose an issue if it isn’t soaked. However, it won’t hurt to soak it. And, it is recommended to soak those feeds if they are being fed to a horse that has a history of choke.

If you are feeding shreds of beet pulp or beet pulp pellets as a supplement, go ahead and soak those ahead of time just like you would hay pellets. And remember that beet pulp can absorb a lot of water!

A Final Warning

Horses can have a very noticeable or a “silent” choke. Choke can result in aspiration pneumonia. Therefore, it is important to check on horses after feeding to ensure they are acting normally.

Choke is an equine emergency.2 If you catch choke early, it can be resolved quickly by your veterinarian. Don’t neglect to check horses after feeding. Any horse can suffer from choke.

When checking for choke, you should look for:3

  • a horse that quits eating suddenly;
  • a horse that is anxious;
  • a horse that seems to be trying to swallow repeatedly;
  • a bulge in a horse’s throat (most often the left side) where the impaction is located;
  • a horse that stretches its neck out in an unusual manner;
  • a horse that rolls and seems uncomfortable, especially after walking away from a meal;
  • discharge from the nostrils, often containing food material.


  1. To Soak or Not to Soak Hay? University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs, 2014.
  2. Understanding Choke in Horses. AAEP.
  3. Choke Fact Sheet. University of Edinburgh.
Article By: Kimberly S. Brown
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