Skip to Content

Why Does My Horse Eat Dirt? Can It Cause Health Problems?

Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!


When my granddaughter and I were watching our horses in a paddock, she noticed one eat dirt. She asked me if eating dirt is typical for horses; her question took me by surprise. Honestly, it’s not something I had given much thought to, so I embarked on a quest to find out.

It turns out the act of horses eating dirt, known as geophagia, is not uncommon. This behavior can be triggered by several factors, such as dietary deficiencies, boredom, health issues, or even simple curiosity. In some instances, it’s just a part of their normal conduct.

Understanding this seemingly odd behavior is more than just a trivia answer; it’s about safeguarding our horses’ well-being. If you’re a horse owner or even just a horse enthusiast, you’ll want to keep reading. The information you find might just help you provide the best care for your equine friend.

Picture of a horse eating dirt.

Eating Soil: Understanding Nutrient Deficiencies and Equine Research

Although eating soil isn’t inherently dangerous, consuming large quantities of dirt can cause some health issues for your horse. Sand colic is one potential risk, especially if the horse lives in an area where the soil is sandy.

Sand can accumulate in a horse’s digestive tract and result in impactions or blockages, which can lead to colic. For this reason, if you notice your horse eating large amounts of dirt or sand, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to address any potential health risks.

Equine research offers some advice on ways to manage your horse’s dirt-eating habits. Ensuring that your horse has a balanced diet with access to appropriate forage, vitamins, and minerals can help address any nutrient deficiencies.

Providing fresh, clean water and access to a trace mineral salt lick may satisfy your horse’s salt cravings and discourage them from seeking out minerals in the soil. Another solution is to alter their environment.

Providing more forage, such as hay or pasture, can keep your horse occupied and reduce boredom that may lead to geophagia. Regular exercise and socialization with other horses, as well as being able to graze and browse, can also address some of the underlying causes of soil consumption.

However, it’s crucial to remember that some horses may continue to engage in this behavior despite efforts to correct it. In such cases, regular monitoring, dental check-ups, and consulting a veterinarian become essential to promptly detect and address any potential health, nutrition, or teeth issues that might arise.

Having horses as companions is a responsibility that requires understanding and adherence to their dietary and environmental needs. Don’t be distressed if you see your horse eat mud or dirt; it may be their way of communicating a need for something missing in their diet, or it might simply be due to curiosity or boredom.

Regardless, it’s essential to pay attention to your horse and address any issues to ensure their overall health and well-being. Equine research and learning from other’s experiences can be invaluable in understanding your horse’s behavior, so share your experiences and knowledge with your fellow horse enthusiasts. Together we can ensure happier and healthier four-legged friends.

Picture of a horse licking a salt block.

Geophagy in Horses: The Role of Nutrient Deficiencies and Horse Mineral Blocks

Geophagy in horses, or the phenomenon of eating dirt, is not an uncommon behavior. Although it can seem strange or worrisome, there are a few main reasons that horses may engage in geophagy. One of these reasons is nutrient deficiencies, which can be addressed by providing your horse with proper nutrition, including supplementing with horse mineral blocks.

Consuming soil maybe your horse’s way of trying to obtain the minerals it needs to maintain good health. Nutrition plays a significant role in the overall well-being of a horse, and they require a balance of nutrients and minerals for optimal health.

If their nutritional needs are not met, horses may seek out alternative sources of these essential minerals, resulting in behaviors such as geophagy. Minerals are vital for a horse’s proper bone development, growth, and reproduction, as well as for maintaining their coat, hooves, and overall vitality.

Providing your horse with a balanced diet that includes an adequate amount of minerals should be a top priority for any horse owner. One way to ensure that your horse receives all the necessary minerals is by offering them a horse mineral block.

Horse mineral blocks are specifically formulated to provide horses with the essential minerals they need, and they come in various forms, such as redmond rock, salt blocks, or mineral licks. By providing your equine companion with a horse mineral block, you can help to prevent them from developing mineral deficiencies that may lead to geophagy.

There are several types of horse mineral blocks available, each containing different minerals to address specific needs. Redmond rock, for example, is a natural mineral salt derived from an ancient sea deposit in Central Utah.

Redmond rock is high in trace minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, all of which are necessary for your horse’s health. Other mineral supplements may contain vitamins and other nutrients essential for equine care, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium, copper, iodine, and zinc.

However, it’s essential to remember that offering your horse a mineral block on its own may not be enough to provide them with the nutrition and care they need. A balanced diet that includes hay, grain, and forage is equally important for their health. Remember, horse mineral blocks are intended to supplement a horse’s diet, not replace it entirely.

While geophagy in horses may not always indicate a severe health problem, it’s still essential to monitor and address it if it becomes a persistent behavior. In some cases, geophagy could potentially harm your horse’s health, particularly if they’re consuming large quantities of soil that may contain harmful substances like pesticides, parasites, or poisonous plants.

Additionally, excessive geophagy may lead to dental issues in horses, as the abrasion from soil can wear down their teeth. Therefore, ensuring your horse has proper nutrition and supplements like horse mineral blocks can help prevent these health risks associated with geophagy.

In conclusion, geophagy in horses can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies that can cause health problems in your equine friend. Providing a well-rounded diet that includes hay, grain, forage, and horse mineral blocks such as redmond rock is essential for your horse’s health and care.

Monitoring your horse’s diet and behavior can help you ensure they stay in optimal health and minimize the occurrence of geophagy. If you’re concerned about your horse’s nutrition or health, consult with an equine veterinarian to develop a care plan tailored to their specific needs.

Picture of a horse eating hay from a net.

Identifying and Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies

If you’re wondering, “why does my horse eat dirt?” you’re not alone. Many horse owners have observed this behavior in their horses, and it can be quite concerning. Identifying and addressing nutrient deficiencies is a crucial aspect of horse care, and equine research continually strives to develop effective management strategies for preventing health problems in our equine companions.

One potential reason for a horse to eat dirt is a condition called pica, which can be caused by nutrient deficiencies in the diet. Pica is the consumption of non-food items, and in horses, it can manifest as the eating of soil, manure, or other inedible substances.

To understand the role that nutrient deficiencies play in this behavior, it’s essential to look back at how equine research has shaped our current understanding of horse care and management. Through the study of equine nutrition, scientists have been able to identify specific nutrients that horses require for optimal health, and many horse owners now rely on this knowledge to ensure their animals receive proper feed and care.

One area of horse care where equine research has made significant strides is in the development of specialized feeds designed to address nutrient deficiencies. Gone are the days when horses were simply turned out to pasture and expected to derive all their nutritional needs from forage alone.

Instead, we now have access to a wide range of products that can be tailored to meet the unique dietary requirements of individual horses. If your horse is exhibiting signs of nutrient deficiencies, such as eating dirt, a change in feed may be necessary to address the underlying issue and prevent future health problems.

While it’s essential to address nutrient deficiencies promptly, it’s also crucial not to overcompensate by providing excessive amounts of specific nutrients. Overloading your horse with certain minerals, for example, can lead to digestive issues and other health problems.

That’s why it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist who can guide you in determining the proper balance of dietary elements for your horse’s specific needs. This might involve introducing a new feed, supplementing your horse’s existing feed with specific nutrients, or changing the type or quality of forage available to your horse.

In some cases, horses may eat dirt simply because they’re bored or feel the need to chew. Providing ample turnout, engaging in regular exercise, and offering opportunities for your horse to engage in natural grazing behaviors can alleviate boredom and help curb destructive habits.

eat dirt, salt block, horses,

Supplying your horse with slow-feed hay nets, mineral blocks, or treat-filled toys can also encourage more appropriate chewing behavior, keeping them content and preventing potential health problems from developing.

As horse owners, it’s our responsibility to stay informed about the latest advances in equine research and apply this knowledge to provide the best possible care for our animals. If you’re concerned that your horse may be eating dirt due to nutrient deficiencies or other underlying health problems, don’t hesitate to consult with a knowledgeable veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

Together, you can develop a comprehensive management strategy for addressing any dietary imbalances and ensuring that your horse receives the proper feed and care to maintain optimal health. Whether your horse lives in a barn, enjoys pasture turnout, or splits its time between the two, it’s crucial to monitor its digestive health and overall well-being.

By doing so, you can swiftly identify and address any potential issues, such as nutrient deficiencies or the development of pica. Equine research continues to advance our understanding of horse care, and as horse owners, it’s our responsibility to apply these insights to ensure our animals enjoy long, healthy, and happy lives.

It’s essential to stay vigilant regarding your horse’s health and consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist about the proper feed and care necessary to address any nutrient deficiencies or other health problems. By staying informed and maintaining open lines of communication with equine professionals, you can help ensure your horse’s health and happiness – both in the barn and out in the pasture.

Whether you’re shopping for the latest in horse apparel, seeking expert advice on equine management, or simply looking to expand your knowledge of horse care, remember that a commitment to ongoing education is a vital part of responsible horse ownership.

Reasons horses eat dirt.

eat dirt, mineral block,

A bored horse may eat dirt.

Yes, horses that get bored or depressed and eat dirt. Tired and sad horses do strange things, like cribbing. Horses are natural roamers and grazers, spending long days munching on grass and roaming. They are open-range animals. When we take them from this environment and put them in a stall, they get depressed.

A study of horses taken from the wild and kept in enclosures noted severe behavioral changes. One modification was a change in eating habits, which included eating dirt. To bring a horse out of its mental funk, give him as much turnout time as possible. Some other suggestions you can try: provide a companion animal, put toys in his stall, or play music.

You have to be inventive, and horses are individuals; a once size fits all approach doesn’t work. But knowing the cause of the problem is the first step to combating the issue.

A horse with ulcers might eat dirt.

Eating dirt can be a sign a horse has gastric ulcers. An ulcer is a wound in the stomach. Horses in stressful situations, such as highly intensive training or competitive showing, are the most likely animals to suffer from gastric ulcers.

Some common symptoms of gastric ulcers include weight loss, irritability, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and cribbing or eating dirt. The cribbing and eating dirt may provide relief to the ulcer in the stomach. This hasn’t been proven scientifically.

Changing a horse’s diet can cause horses to eat dirt.

Sometimes a horse needs a transition period when changing feed. A horse’s digestive system is sensitive and needs time to adjust when introducing a new type of feed or hay.

The best method is to mix small amounts of new feed with the feed the horse is currently eating. Try a mix of 80% of the current food with 20% of the new feed for a few days. Increase the percentage of the new feed over two weeks until you reach 100% of the new feed.

During the transition period, keep an eye on your horses’ weight and eating patterns. If he begins to drop weight, quits eating, or his coat starts to look shabby, consider adjusting his feed or slowing down the transition. Sometimes it can take a month or longer for a horse to change his diet successfully.

Make changes to a horse’s diet slowly.

If you intend to change both hay and feed, pick one to start the process. Changing hay first would be the preferred choice. A change in diet can lead to colic, founder, or other health issues. Horses will eat dirt because of a transition to a new diet for a couple of reasons: 1) The new feed doesn’t have the minerals the horse needs, and 2) the horse is eating fast and then gets bored.

Horses munch on grass hay throughout the day. Chewing on hay keeps a horse occupied; grass pellets are eaten must faster, leading to a bored horse. When bored, a horse may eat dirt. To combat boredom, allow more turnout time and exercise.

eat dirt,horse,

Internal parasites can cause a horse to eat dirt.

Internal parasites have been linked to horses eating dirt. Internal parasites cause colic and contribute to respiratory, digestive, and performance problems.

The most common parasites that infect horses are bots, strongyles, ascarids (roundworms), tapeworms, and pinworms. All horse owners should have a deworming protocol for each horse they own.

The link between worms and eating dirt isn’t clear.

The following are some essential steps you can take to control worms at your facility:

  • keep pastures in good shape, not overgrazed and mowed;
  • during hot, dry weather, disperse manure piles;
  • cross-graze pastures with other species.
  • When feeding hay and grain, use raised containers,
  • Keep stalls and paddocks clean.
  • Keep your horses’ water source clean.

The reason horses with worms eat dirt is not completely understood.

Is Eating Dirt Bad For a Horse?

When my granddaughter and I watched our horse eat dirt, it made me consider putting him in a stall to prevent him from getting sick. But I wasn’t sure if eating dirt was bad for him, so I decided to find out.

Eating a small amount of dirt isn’t harmful to a horse and may provide a benefit. Horses kept in poor conditions without access to proper nutrients can supplement their diet by eating dirt.

Some soils have minerals such as iron, sodium, and calcium, nutrients they would usually get through a healthy diet. If you notice your horse eating soil, check your feeding regime.

Make sure you are providing the nutrient your horse needs. You can read our article on what a horse eats to learn about horses’ proper nutrient requirements. There is also a weight chart within the article providing the nutrient amounts a horse requires.

If your horse has a healthy diet and continues to consume dirt, he likely has a medical condition that warrants contacting a veterinarian.

Why Do Horses Need a Salt Block?

When watching our horse eat dirt, I noticed he often licked the dirt like a salt block. This made me think about salt and also wonder why horses need a salt block.

Horses need salt for proper organ and bodily function. Salt is vital to a horse’s health; it regulates body fluids, aids digestion, helps cell function, and more. Horses lose salt sweating, and this sweat must be replaced. See this research article on electrolytes and hydration in horses to learn more.

Horses eat dirt when they lack salt in their diet. Horses need to take in salt daily; the amount varies by climate, but usually between 2 to 6 ounces is adequate. Horses can get small amounts of salt from grass and hay but not an amount sufficient to replace the loss in sweat.

If you notice your horse showing signs of fatigue, loss of appetite, and their coat looking rough, it likely has a salt deficiency. Salt deficiency leads to a risk of impaction and colic. An excellent method to prevent salt depletion is by giving a horse free access to a salt block. Horses with a source of salt are less likely to eat dirt.

Related articles: