Horses who dunk hay in their water buckets can make a real mess, with water and soggy debris splattered everywhere. Often it's just a harmless habit that might even help a horse get more water into his system. In some cases, however, hay dunking may be a sign of discomfort that warrants further investigation.
- Sore throat. If a horse has recently scratched his throat a little on some coarse forage, he may be adding water to his hay to make it easier to swallow.
- Dental problems. Dunking hay can soften it and make it easier to chew. If a horse has dental issues that cause pain he may discover that chewing wet hay feels better.
- Nasal irritation. A horse may dunk his hay to avoid the nasal irritation caused when the dusts in hay are inhaled.
Ask your veterinarian to evaluate your horse to rule out any of these possibilities if your horse is a hay dunker, especially if the behavior started suddenly.
If everything else is normal, wetting hay prior to feeding it may reduce any messiness—but if not, you might just have to accept the behavior as one of your horse's special quirks.