Help, my horse is eating sand! What should I do now?






17 January '23 4 min reading time

Help, my horse is eating sand! What should I do now?

Two times a year we see a peak in questions about horses eating sand. Typically around February/March and usually around September/October. This is quite logical, as these are periods when the molting process is in full swing and the nutritional needs of horses are changing due to a seasonal shift. But what should you do if your horse starts eating sand? Should you just let it happen or should you intervene?

Sand-eating is a natural phenomenon

All horses eat sand, this is a natural phenomenon and wild horses do this as well. Sand, or rather soil, is a rich source of minerals. From white sand, horses cannot extract much, as it mainly consists of silicon in a form that is not absorbable. Black soil, on the other hand, is richer in minerals, contains more types of minerals, and in forms that the horse can make better use of. If you see your horse eating black soil, don't panic immediately. It is a sign to review your horse's diet and monitor whether your horse stops eating/licking sand again. Occasionally eating a bit of soil is not a problem. However, it is more important to watch out when they eat white/yellow sand. From this sand, the horse cannot benefit and they often continue licking and eating sand in an attempt to fulfill that need. This can lead to the horse ingesting large amounts of sand and increase the risk of sand colic.

Limit sand intake

Eating sand is a risk because it can lead to sand colic, which can be fatal. Therefore, sand-eating should always be taken seriously. It is a natural phenomenon, but horses no longer live in the wild and do not have complete freedom in choosing their diet. Therefore, as horse owners, it is our responsibility to recognize these signs and take action. Always take measures to limit sand intake. Provide hay in hay nets and ensure there is no sand underneath so that the horses do not pick out the last (spilled) bits from the sand. Also, make sure your horse always has roughage available in the paddock so they do not eat sand out of boredom. Roughage does not always have to be hay, it can also be straw or branches. The less sand your horse ingests, the lower the risk of sand colic. Also, regularly give your horse a sand cure (psyllium pellets are preferred) to remove excess sand from the intestines.

Give your horse silicon to prevent sand-eating!

Sand/soil mainly consists of the mineral silicon, but in a form that the horse cannot make much use of. When horses eat sand, there is often a lack of silicon. Horses do not need much silicon, but it is essential for many processes in the body. For example, silicon is involved in the skin, coat, hooves, the production of natural glucosamine, and overall support of the body.

If you see your horse eating sand, it is likely that there is a deficiency of the mineral silicon in your horse's diet. Make sure to supplement with a highly absorbable form of silicon preferably in hydrolyzed form. This form is bound to water, fully absorbable by horses, and does not contain any strange additives.

Usually, supplementing with silicon for 4-8 weeks will eliminate the sand-eating problem. If your horse continues to eat sand after a good silicon treatment, there may be a deficiency in another mineral.

Horse still eating sand, even after silicon?

It may be that your horse does not have a (more) silicon deficiency, but that there are other minerals that have not been replenished. It is recommended to increase the amount of minerals for your horse during periods of shedding or seasonal changes. You can do this by slightly increasing your balancer or by giving loose minerals, such as liquid minerals extracted from Arctic Ocean water.

If you have given your horse silicon and it is still eating sand, provide extra minerals to replenish all minerals. Generally, most horses stop eating sand after a few weeks. This is a signal to review your horse's diet carefully and possibly make adjustments.

In exceptional cases, sand-eating becomes a habit (out of boredom) and then it becomes very difficult to break that pattern. Make sure to provide unlimited feed, sufficient company, and distraction. This problem often occurs on a sand paddock due to the lack of variation and distraction, while grazing on grass does not lead to sand-eating caused by boredom.

So what should you do if your horse is eating sand?

  1. Start supplementing with silicon

  2. Limit sand intake

  3. Regularly give a sand cure with psyllium pellets

  4. Add extra minerals

  5. Critically review the diet

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