Whether you are new to the equine world or an experienced horse owner, seeing your horse display a new behavior can become easily alarming. Many times, a horse’s reactions or behaviors provide us with the first warning signs of an injury or illness. For this reason, it is important to carefully observe any new behavior that your horse displays. One such behavior that may appear in any age horse is eating dirt.
Why do horses eat dirt? Horses eat dirt for a wide variety of reasons ranging from nutritional deficiencies to boredom, and many things in between. Most times, your horse will not ingest enough dirt to cause significant damage. However, if sand is present in your dirt, it is important to stop this behavior as it could lead to serious health conditions.
So, how do you determine the reason behind your horse’s newfound hobby? Can older horses begin to exhibit this behavior out of the blue or does it present itself in young foals? In this post, we will share everything you need to know about why horses eat dirt and how to prevent this behavior from becoming a serious issue.
Essential Behavior Guide to Why Horses Eat Dirt
Horses of all ages eat dirt from time to time. Certain horses may be more drawn to this behavior than others. While some horses begin eating dirt as foals, others may not display this behavior until later in life. Still, others may go in phases of eating dirt depending on their daily routine, diet, and other factors. For this reason, it can be hard to determine exactly why your horse is eating dirt.
Why Do Horses Eat Dirt?
There are several potential explanations as to why your horse is eating dirt. If your horse has recently begun displaying this behavior, there is likely no reason for concern. More often than not, eating dirt is simply a sign that your horse needs more exercise or stimulation in their daily routine. Here are some of the most common reasons why your horse may be eating dirt:
Horses Eat Dirt When They Are Bored
By far the most common explanation for why horses eat dirt is that they are simply bored. If you notice that your horse begins to display this hobby during a season of rainy days, cold weather, or decreased activity, boredom is likely the culprit.
In the wild, horses graze throughout the day, combating boredom and depression with activity. Many times, horses that are kept in a stall for the majority of the day become bored and even depressed. Eating dirt is just one of many ways that this boredom may exhibit itself.
Horses Eat Dirt When They Aren’t Getting Enough Chew Time
Horses in the wild graze throughout the course of the day. This time is referred to as “chew time” and is important for a horse’s mental health. If your horse is not getting enough chew time each day, they may begin to “graze” on the materials at hand – oftentimes this is dirt.
Horses Eat Dirt to Compensate For Lack of Nutrients in Diet
While it is far less common with the high-quality feed that is available today, some horses may eat dirt to compensate for a lack of nutrients in their diet. It is important to make sure that your horse is receiving adequate nutrients and minerals in their daily diet. If they are not receiving the nutrients that they need, it is important to supplement their diet with these important minerals.
Mineral or salt blocks are a good way to get your horse proper nutrients. To learn more about these products, check out our article Does Your Horse Need a Salt Block: Read Before Trying.
Horses Eat Dirt Because of Stomach Ulcers
If your horse has recently begun to eat dirt out of the blue, it may be a sign that they have gastric ulcers. Horses that are in high-stress situations often suffer from ulcers, a wound to the lining of the stomach. Some horse owners believe that horses eat dirt to provide relief from the constant discomfort experienced because of gastric ulcers.
Horses that are eating dirt because of gastric ulcers would likely experience other symptoms such as weight loss, loss of appetite, irritability, lack of energy, or other behavioral changes. If you suspect that your horse has gastric ulcers, it is best to contact your equine veterinarian to confirm the issue and provide necessary relief.
These are just a few of the most common reasons why your horse may be eating dirt. If you notice any other strange behaviors or actions, it is best to contact your veterinarian to eliminate the possibility of a serious medical condition.
Is Eating Dirt Harmful to Your Horses’ Health?
So, what’s the big deal anyway? Is eating dirt harmful to your horses’ health? The good news is that, in most cases, your horse will not eat enough dirt to cause physical harm. In fact, some types of dirt do contain minerals and nutrients that can aid in your horse’s well-being. There are, however, two instances where eating dirt could harm your horse’s health.
If your horse is displaying this habit excessively, it is likely a sign of a more serious condition. If your horse suddenly starts eating dirt at a greater frequency or for longer periods of time, you must intervene. The other instance in which eating dirt could harm your horse is if there is sand mixed with your dirt.
More common in certain parts of the country, sandy soil or sand on its own can cause serious physical damage to your horse. Your horse must never ingest sand of any kind as it can lead to painful and potentially irreversible health conditions.
If your horse casually eats dirt and you do not notice other signs that something is wrong, it is likely a harmless behavior that requires no intervention.
Getting Your Horse to Stop Eating Dirt
While eating dirt is not necessarily harmful to your horse, it can be a great way to identify ways that you can better care for your equine companion. The approach you take to eliminating or minimizing this behavior depends greatly on the underlying cause.
Increase Daily Activity to Combat Boredom
If you deduce that your horse is eating dirt due to boredom, increase the amount of exercise they are receiving each day. This can be done through groundwork, riding, or other forms of training. Physically and mentally stimulating your horse is the best way to combat boredom, eliminating the possibility of destructive behaviors.
Offer Hay in A Slow Feeder to Increase Chew Time
If your horse does not have enough chew time throughout the day, consider offering hay in a slow feeder. This provides them with an opportunity to graze, taking advantage of chew time that increases their mental health. It is important to carefully monitor your horse during changes such as these to ensure that they aren’t overeating or prioritizing hay over their nutrient-rich feed.
Evaluate Your Horse’s Diet & Supplement As Needed
With so many high-quality equine supplements and feed available, it is easy to provide your horse with the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that they need. If your horse seems to not be receiving the proper nutrition each day, evaluate their diet and supplement as needed. As they receive the minerals they need on a daily basis, they will no longer look for those minerals in the dirt.
Look for Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers & Eliminate Stress
Finally, if your horse begins eating dirt while displaying other signs of stomach ulcers, seek professional care, and begin treatment. Work to eliminate stress for your horse by creating a calm environment, decreasing travel time, and easing up with your training regime. Once the ulcers have fully healed, you can begin to add these activities back into your horse’s routine while minimizing stressful experiences or environments.
Addressing Your Horse’s Alarming Behaviors
Eating dirt is just one of many alarming behaviors your horse may display throughout their lifetime. Some behavioral changes are due to age and maturity while others signal a serious illness or injury. As you begin to develop a deeper relationship with your horse, you will be able to more easily understand their responses and actions. By learning your horse in this way, you can provide them with better care and an environment that caters to their needs.
How do you get your horse to eat supplements? Horses, like humans, have a unique sense of taste. While one horse may easily eat any supplement you put in front of them, other horses may present quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to ensure that even the pickiest of horses is receiving the vitamins and minerals they need.
If your horse is hesitant to take their supplements, try masking the flavor with something that they do enjoy such as molasses, peppermint, applesauce, or banana. If you are unsuccessful with this trick, you may need to consider another form of supplementation or simply a similar supplement from another brand.
If you want to know more about getting your horse to take supplements, check out our article Getting a Horse to Eat Supplements: Complete Guide.
Before supplementing your horse’s diet, take a careful account of the minerals and vitamins they are already receiving in their feed. Equine supplements are expensive. Although your horse’s health is certainly worth the expense, it is not wise to spend money on a supplement that will not truly benefit your horse.
We have tons of articles about how to properly care for your horse! Here are some articles you can check out:
- The Ultimate Guide to What Horses Can (And Can’t) Eat
- Can Horses Throw Up? What You Need to Know
- Horses Lying Down: What You Need to Know
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