By Kim F. Miller
Extensive, sometimes-complicated scientific research proves the benefits of Haygain Steamed Hay, but rising star eventer Caroline Martin has a simpler explanation for why she relies on it. “There’s no reason not to!”
Recently named to the USEF’s Pre-Elite Development List, 24-year-old Caroline campaigns several horses, including the current star of her string, Islandwood Captain Jack, aka “James.” As with most of her horses, Caroline has brought James along herself, in this case since the now-9-year-old was 5. They notched excellent CCI3* placings last year and are targeting their first 5* together with the Luhmühlen Horse Trials in Germany this summer. “He’s got all the talent in the world and is a jumping machine,” she says of the Irish Sport Horse.
Hay steaming came to Caroline’s attention four years ago, when one of her Advanced level horses contracted a heart condition likely stemming from a bacterial infection. “We had no idea where the infection would have come from, and that’s when my vets and I thought it would be a good idea to cover our bases by steaming hay.”
“Even though we buy really good hay, you never know what’s in it and steaming just makes sense,” Caroline explains. “Forage is 90 percent of a horse’s diet, so if you miss something that important, it just opens doors for anything bad to happen.” Her program’s portable and half-bale steamers are usually run by working students and fit easily into the management routine at home in Pennsylvania; in Ocala, Florida, where they winter; and on the road. “It’s so easy,” she shares of the Haygain steaming process. “There is no reason not to steam the hay.”
Steamed hay’s primary benefit is to respiratory health because it virtually rids hay of breathable particles, including the bacteria that was the suspected villain with Caroline’s Advanced horse four years ago. Haygain’s one-hour steaming cycle also kills mold and fungi and eliminates dust. All are among the microscopic particles found in even top-quality hay and all threaten the horse’s vulnerable respiratory system. It’s a system that can’t be strengthened or improved through training or conditioning, so preventing problems is the priority.
The prevalence of conditions on the Equine Asthma Spectrum is becoming better understood. That’s especially true of Inflammatory Airway Disease, which affects an estimated 80-plus percent of horses, often without obvious symptoms. With this trend, proactive horse owners like Caroline are embracing steamed hay.
Feeling The Heat
Since earning the United States Eventing Association’s Rising Star award in 2011, Caroline has logged many major victories, received industry recognition and earned several grants. She’s currently the country’s top U25 Eventer and, in 2018, received her second consecutive USET Foundation $25,000 Karen Stives Endowment Grant. These are just a few indicators of the sport’s hopes for her.
That kind of resume triggers high expectations, but Caroline wears any related pressure lightly. “I’ve had so many good role models and mentors throughout my career,” she says. “Every time out, I go out with the desire to represent our country, but I don’t feel like there’s pressure. I’m 24 and right now my learning curve is pretty steep. I’m building up my own business and clientele and I’m transitioning from having my parents support me to figuring out how to find owners. It’s been a really good experience. I want to win medals for my country and produce horses that win more medals for my country.”
To juggle it all successfully, she has pulled back on the breeding program she oversaw at the family’s Buckwampum Farm in Pennsylvania. But Caroline still has an affinity for developing horses herself. Galloping down to the imposing, immobile obstacles found on upper level cross-country, there’s no substitute for doing it on a horse you’ve brought along yourself. “You can feel, ‘Oh, I need to do this or that’,” Caroline shares. “And the horse knows me so well, too.”
Nerves of steel, a free spirit and first-class horsemanship help, too. As a teenager, Caroline and her longtime star Quantum Solace were champs in the Plantation Field Bareback Puissance, sailing saddle-less over a 5’8” brick wall to claim the win. Her partner in North American Youth Championships individual and team gold in 2013, Quantum Solace doesn’t event anymore, but expert management has kept him plenty fit for show jumping. In her unimaginably scant free time, Caroline is angling for a few stabs at the U25 Grand Prix on the hunter/jumper circuit with him.
Whatever horse she’s on or arena she’s in, Caroline considers Haygain Steamed Hay a critical part of her program.