Watch Horse Cook His Hay

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 too. Ick.

Shiloh only dunks hay when provided with loose hay flakes close to a water source. I have not seen 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 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 It reflects my veterinarian’s thoughts as well as my experience with having a hay dunker in my backyard.

Why Does My Horse Dunk His Hay?

Have you ever met a horse who cooks his food like Shiloh does?

6 thoughts on “Watch Horse Cook His Hay

  1. I have never heard of a horse doing this before! All the waterers in my pastures are covered automatic waterers so that might explain why my horses don’t “cook” their hay. It was very fun to read about Shiloh’s favorite way to eat his hay!🤣

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    1. It IS an interesting behavior. I just hope it is not pain related- as in it hurts him to chew on some level and softening the hay helps him chew more comfortably. I don’t have any other indications that is the case, but I do wonder about it. I have to use various slow feeder systems to make their hay last longer and to conserve it on windy or muddy days, but I usually put some hay on the ground each day and Shiloh has the option to hay dunk then. I do enjoy watching him dunk and slurp away. Glad you enjoyed it too!


  2. That is so interesting. I didn’t know that some horses did that. I have no answers, but I loved listening him slurping while dunking. 😀

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  3. Our old boy Danny will let me know if his feed is not wet enough by taking mouthfulls of water & dribbling it into his feed so I am mindful to watch & wet his feed more if he wants even if I think I have soaked it enough he disagrees sometimes.

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    1. I imagine that Danny appreciates your thoughtfulness in the food soaking department. I’ve known a handful of senior horses who absolutely couldn’t chew their food anymore and needed their meals served as practically soup!

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