Ever seen a horse who “cooks” his food? I have met other horses who display this behavior, but Shiloh is the first horse in my backyard to do so.
Most commonly known as “hay dunking”, it is a deliberate behavior. Shiloh gathers a big chunk of hay in his mouth. Then he places it carefully and directly into his water trough.
I must say that Shiloh looks so happy when he is cooking and eating his hay this way. He drinks, chews and slurps with abandon.
But it does create a mess in and around the water bins, making the water dirty and reducing the amount of water available. And while hay dunking is a great way for Shiloh to stay well-hydrated, it could leave my other horse Bear in a lurch.
Of course, Bear has his own way of personalizing the water bins. He likes to cool himself off in the summer by standing in them and splashing himself with water. If he leaves behind any water at all, it is muddy and dirty from his hooves. Sometimes oily from the fly spray coming off his legs. Ick.
Shiloh only dunks hay when provided with loose hay flakes close to a water source. I have not seem him hay dunk using bites of hay from a hay bag. He also doesn’t seem interested in picking up hay and carrying it more than maybe 20 feet or so. These facts allow me to somewhat control the behavior, but he enjoys dunking his hay so much that I don’t really mind it.
It takes extra effort to try to accommodate everyone’s preferences and still keep clean water available 24-7. Through the warmer months, I routinely put out two water bins (15/20 gallon size).
This all begs the question of why. What causes horses to do this? What benefit do they derive from it?
Shiloh’s veterinarian suggested that there are lots of hypothesis, but no one really knows. I asked about the potential relationship between Shiloh’s hay dunking and the injuries sustained to his jaw and teeth as a foal. His veterinarian noted that horses without any identifiable injury/pain also hay dunk so it might be related to the injury history but not necessarily.
In combing the internet, the link to my favorite article on the subject can be found below. It is from the well-respected website thehorse.com. It reflects my veterinarian’s thoughts as well as my experience with having a hay dunker in my backyard.
Have you ever met a horse who cooks his food like Shiloh does?