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

March 4, 2021

I occasionally see my horse eating dirt in his pasture or paddock. Should I be worried? It can be disconcerting to see that your horse has developed a taste for dirt—especially if you don’t understand why. Is it normal equine behavior? Will it cause digestive or colic issues? Should I allow him to eat dirt?

The short answer is yes. In moderation, dirt (and we’re not talking straight sand here) is your horse’s friend. Learn the natural reasons why horses eat dirt and what to do if your horse is eating too much. 


Why is My Horse Eating Dirt?

Dirt is a natural part of the equine diet. It contains minerals that a horse may be missing and has beneficial microbes that benefit digestion. Horses in the wild and in our pastures have been eating dirt forever. This common phenomenon of dirt eating even has a name: geophagia. It's also known as horse pica—or the penchant to eat substances that possess little or no nutritional value, like wood, hair or dirt. Here are five primary reasons horses eat dirt, and why you shouldn’t (or in some cases, should) be concerned.

1.  A Need For Trace Minerals

Horses need a good balance and full complement of natural minerals from their feed. With today’s controlled and often man-made feeding programs, many horses don’t get the minerals they need. This creates deficiencies which can cause major health issues. These include a dull coat, brittle hooves, dehydration, weight loss, and decreased bone strength.

Many of the essential minerals horses lack through diet can be found naturally in the dirt. Your horse knows this and realizes licking a little dirt can be beneficial. Sometimes, however, we see horses gobbling mouthfuls of dirt. This suggests a significant deficiency of one or more trace minerals and needs to be resolved with a change in feed or the addition of a balanced mineral supplement like Redmond Rock natural salt licks or Redmond Rock Crushed loose minerals for horses.

2.  Experiencing Stomach Upset

On occasion, horses experience stomach trouble. This may occur if they’ve eaten old or decayed forage, a noxious weed, or experienced a change in diet.

The natural solution for a queasy gut is to eat dirt, or clay. Clay binds toxins, balances pH and settles the stomach. It also aids the digestion process, relieves gas, helps hydration, and stops diarrhea.

A natural bentonite clay for horses like Redmond Daily Gold offers both digestive support and provides 68 trace minerals horses need.

3.  Seeking Beneficial Bacteria

Horses’ digestive systems are aided by bacteria—the good microbes found in the feed or dirt horses ingest. These good bugs help balance intestine pH, bind and neutralize toxins, and prevent harmful bacteria from proliferating.

Good microbes also help break down forage into usable energy and fatty acids. Without these microbes, damaging organisms take over, causing imbalances in the digestion system.

Daily Gold bentonite clay for horses also aids the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

4.  Grinding Down Teeth

Horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. That’s why a horse that’s “long in the tooth” is considered old.

Eating coarse and insoluble particles in dirt, or grit, naturally helps grind down teeth and prevents them from growing too long, jagged, or sharp. Without the opportunity to grind teeth naturally, horses may need to have them floated, or filed, by a vet.

5.  Hunger or Boredom

Some horses will eat dirt if they’re hungry and aren’t getting enough to eat, or if they’re bored. This is not a good reason to eat dirt. Too much can cause sand colic, compaction, and digestion complications.

Make sure your horse’s feed is balanced, and provide access to pasture where possible. If your horse is stabled or paddocked, always have forage available to avoid your horse eating dirt out of hunger or boredom.

A regular check of water intake, manure composition and attitude will let you know if your horse is thriving on his current diet or is missing and seeking important minerals, digestive support, or diversion through eating dirt.

Resolving Mineral Deficiencies with Redmond Loose Minerals for Horses

Due to intensive farming practices, most soils today have become depleted of life-giving minerals and nutrients. That means crops grown in these soils, and which we feed our animals, are also deficient.

Redmond Rock and Redmond Daily Gold play an important role in providing horses the essential trace minerals missing from many forages. Redmond Rock natural sea salt licks, Redmond Rock Crushed loose minerals, and Daily Gold bentonite clay provide a full complement of over 60 trace minerals your horse needs to naturally bring him into healthy mineral balance.

At Redmond, our products are 100% natural and unrefined, so you can feel confident your horse is receiving the best source of minerals available. Nourish your horses and help them thrive with Redmond.

Daily Gold, Daily Red, Crushed comparison


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