5 Reasons Horses Eat Dirt (and What to Do About It)

5 Reasons Horses Eat Dirt (and What to Do About It)

March 18, 2023

Sometimes I see my horse eating dirt or licking mud. Should I be concerned?

It can be disconcerting to discover your horse has developed a taste for dirt—especially if you don’t understand why. Is munching on dirt in the pasture or paddock a normal equine behavior? Will it cause colic or digestive issues? Should you allow a horse to eat dirt?

The short answer is yes. In small amounts, dirt—and we’re not talking straight sand here—is generally harmless and can even serve beneficial purposes. The trouble arises when horses consume too much.

So, let’s shed some light on this curious equine quirk! Read on to understand why horses eat dirt and how to stop it if they are consuming too much.


Why is My Horse Eating Dirt?

Dirt is a natural part of the equine diet. In fact, horses in the wild and our pastures have been eating dirt for… well, forever. This phenomenon—called geophagia in horses or horse pica—is common and usually rooted in a need. Here are five reasons horses eat dirt, and suggestions to keep it in check if your horse indulges too much.

Did You Know?  Horses eat sand for the same reasons as dirt, but sand has little beneficial purpose. Small amounts of sand consumed with forage are generally manageable for a horse's digestive system. However, excessive amounts can accumulate in the intestinal tract and cause gut irritation, diarrhea, or lead to colic and even death. Contact your vet if you suspect your horse has sand colic.

Horse eating sandTake measures to prevent a horse from eating sand to avoid a dangerous condition called sand colic.

1.  Missing Trace Minerals

Horses need a well-balanced diet that includes a full complement of natural minerals. Unfortunately, modern equine feeding programs often leave horses deficient in critical nutrients. This can lead to serious health issues and poor body condition.

Many essential minerals horses lack through diet exist in the soil. Horses know this, which is why it’s not uncommon to occasionally see them licking the ground. If you observe horses gobbling mouthfuls of dirt, however, that’s a clear sign of a mineral deficiency and should be addressed.

Resolve It

Ensure your horse's diet provides all the essential nutrients they need. This may mean adjusting feed or introducing a balanced mineral supplement to fill nutritional gaps. Consulting a vet or equine nutritionist can also help identify deficiencies and appropriate solutions.

2.  Experiencing Digestive Discomfort

Sometimes, horses experience intestinal issues from eating moldy forage, a toxic weed, or undergoing a diet change. When horses have gut disturbances, their instinctive response is to consume dirt. This natural behavior is driven by the beneficial properties of clay particles found in dirt.

By consuming clay, horses tap into a therapeutic solution that helps ease stomach discomfort. Clay binds toxins that cause horse diarrhea, settles the stomach, and helps maintain a balanced pH. It also relieves gas colic, aids hydration, and resolves diarrhea.

 Resolve It

Try a bentonite clay supplement formulated for horses. It binds toxins, balances pH and provides digestive support, while supplying critical trace minerals in a natural form horses seek.

Why horses eat dirt - causes and solutions

3.  Seeking Beneficial Bacteria

Horses rely on beneficial gut bacteria to maintain optimal health. These microbes are found in the feed and dirt horses consume and play a big role in supporting digestion. They help balance intestinal pH, neutralize toxins, and thwart harmful bacteria from proliferating. Good gut bugs also help break down forage into usable energy and fatty acids so the nutrients your horse consumes are absorbed and put to good use.

Resolve It

You can help nurture a community of beneficial gut microbes by providing a well-rounded diet and high-quality forage. A probiotic supplement may also help support a healthy microbial ecosystem.

4.  Grinding Down Teeth

Horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. That’s why we use the expression “long in the tooth” to describe an older horse. By munching on coarse and insoluble particles found in soil, horses naturally grind down their teeth and prevent them from becoming too long, jagged, or sharp.

Resolve It

Schedule an annual dental exam for your horse to see if teeth need to be floated. Floating involves filing or smoothing sharp edges that have developed on teeth and may decrease the amount of dirt your horse feels is necessary to chew on.

5.  Hunger or Boredom

Horses are wired to eat small amounts of food almost nonstop. If feed is limited, they are unable to satisfy the instinct to graze, or they are simply not getting enough to eat, horses may resort to eating dirt.

Obviously, this is not a healthy reason. By filling their stomachs with soil instead of nutritious forage, they are deprived of vital nutrients necessary for well-being. Excessive dirt consumption can also lead to digestive complications that cause irritation, discomfort, or blockages that jeopardize health.

Resolve It

Ensure your horse’s feed is sufficient and balanced, and provide ample access to pasture where possible. In general, keeping forage in front of horses is beneficial for digestive health and helps curb dirt eating spurred by hunger. Try a slow feeder if pasture isn’t always available

6. Stress or Boredom

It's not uncommon for horses to exhibit peculiar behaviors when stressed or seeking diversion. Eating dirt may be one attempt to find stimulation or ease restlessness. Relying on dirt as a source of entertainment or solace, however, may result in consuming too much and is not a healthy alternative.

Resolve It

Keeping horses mentally and physically stimulated can reduce their desire to snack on dirt. Providing ample turnout time for grazing, social interaction with other horses, and engaging activities will help keep their minds occupied and away from dirt cravings. You might also try a healthy mineral rock on a rope as an enrichment toy.

Janet's Horses Were Eating Soil and Looking for Missing Minerals

The next time you catch your horse enjoying a bit of dirt, remember in moderation it's natural and often harmless. Just keep an eye on the amount and take preventive measures, like Janet Lewis did below, if it becomes excessive.

Janet’s show horses started snacking on soil and she became concerned they were missing trace minerals. Read her story about finding Redmond mineral supplements and see if they can help your horse.

Before I discovered Redmond products, I never felt confident that my horse herd and show horses, which are on the road seven months of the year, were getting the full spectrum of trace minerals they needed.

I occasionally noticed some of my horses digging holes and snacking on the clay-based soil here in Virginia. It wasn’t a lot, but it was noticeable and made me question whether they were missing something in their diet.

My first exposure to Redmond mineral products was Redmond Rock. I liked that it was all-natural, and being mined in the USA was also a plus.

When I first introduced Redmond Rock to my horses, they didn’t immediately take to it like the candy-coated salt blocks they were used to. Over time, however, I noticed my horses were taking what they needed instead of consuming the whole rock. It seemed so much more natural, and my rocks would last for months.

With Redmond supplements, I now feel confident my horses are getting the essential trace minerals they need—and getting them naturally, as if they were in the wild and choosing for themselves. It feels good knowing I’m effectively and naturally helping my horses.

— Janet Lewis

Three foundational Redmond horse mineral supplements.

Resolve Deficiencies with Redmond Minerals

Redmond foundational minerals play a vital role in satisfying cravings and resolving issues that spur dirt eating. Try our simple three-step program to naturally support digestion and provide balanced minerals that promote a satisfied mind and healthy body.

  1. Start with a Daily Red loose mineral salt to nourish and aid hydration.
  2. Add natural bentonite clay Daily Gold to support digestive performance.
  3. Offer a free-choice Redmond Rock to meet additional mineral demands.

Redmond minerals are mined from our protected deposit in Utah, USA. Each product is unrefined and contains a full spectrum of bioavailable trace minerals. Give your horse the beneficial clay and minerals it needs in the natural forms it seeks. Click below to shop today!


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© Redmond Equine 2023. All rights reserved.

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