By: Dr. Lydia Gray
What is it?
Eating dirt is a behavior that horses share with many other species of animals, including humans. Some experts believe a craving for dirt is actually a craving for certain minerals in the dirt. As evidence, researchers in Australia analyzed soil from areas in the country where horses did the most dirt-eating and found that the soil in these areas contained higher levels of iron and copper than the soil in other areas.
What can be done about it?Because dirt-eating is seen in both domesticated and wild horses, there may be nothing owners can do about this unusual activity. However, the standard advice about good horse management applies:
- Provide plenty of long-stem forage for chewing time and gut health
- Provide plenty of turnout for exercise and socialization
- Ensure the horse’s vitamin, mineral and protein needs are being met or supplement with fortified grain or a multi-vitamin/mineral
What else do I need to know?
Eating dirt is generally considered safe unless the horse lives on sand. Then, owners should use methods to protect the horse from taking in too much sand (and developing sand colic) such as feeding hay on mats and adding psyllium to the diet.