Twice a year, we see a spike in questions about horses eating sand. Standard around February/March and usually around September/October. In itself very logical, as these are periods when the moulting is well established and horses’ nutritional needs are changing as the seasons change. But what should you do if your horse starts eating sand? Should you just let it happen or should you intervene?
Eating sand is a natural phenomenon
All horses eat sand, this is a natural phenomenon and horses in the wild do this too. Sand, or rather soil, is a rich source of minerals. Horses cannot get much from white sand, which is mainly silicon but in a form that is not absorbable. Black soil, on the other hand, is richer in minerals, also contains more types of minerals and in forms that the horse can do just a little bit more with. If you see your horse eating black soil, do not panic immediately. It is, however, a sign to take a closer look at your ration and keep an eye on whether your horse stops eating/licking sand again. But occasionally eating a little soil is no problem at all. When eating white/yellow sand, however, you should be more careful. The horse can’t get anything out of this sand and they often keep licking and eating sand to try to fulfil that need anyway. As a result, horses ingest too much sand and there is a risk of sand colic.
Limit sand intake
If a horse is eating sand it is a risk because it can cause sand colic, which can be fatal. Therefore, you should always take sand eating seriously. It is a natural phenomenon, but horses do not live in the wild these days which means they do not have complete freedom of choice in feeding. It is therefore up to us as horse owners to take responsibility, see these signs and take action. Therefore, make sure you always take measures to limit sand intake. Feed hay in hay nets and make sure there is no sand underneath so the horses do not pick out the last (spilled) sprigs. Also make sure your horse always has roughage available in the paddock so they don’t start eating sand out of boredom. And roughage does not always have to be hay, it can also be straw or branches. But the less sand your horse eats, the less likely it is to develop sand colic. Give your horse a regular sand cure (psyllium pellets are preferable) to get the excess sand out of the intestines.
Give your horse silicon against sand eating!
Sand/soil consists mainly of the mineral silicon, but in a form that the horse can do nothing to little with. When horses eat sand, there is often a silicon deficiency. Horses do not need a lot of silicon, but it is essential for many processes in the body. For instance, silicon is involved in the skin, coat, hooves, production of the body’s own glucosamine and to support the entire constitution.
If you see your horse eating sand, chances are that the mineral silicon is not sufficiently present in your horse’s ration. In that case, make sure you start feeding an easily absorbable form of silicon, preferably in hydrolysed form. This is a form that is bound to water, is fully absorbable by horses and contains no strange additives.
Usually, within 4-8 weeks of supplementing with silicon, the teeth eating problem disappears. If your horse is still eating sand after a good silicon supplementation, there may be a deficiency of another mineral.
Horse still eats sand even after silicon?
It may be that your horse is not or no longer deficient in silicon, but that there are other minerals that have not been replenished. Anyway, in periods of moulting or seasonal changes, it is advisable to increase the amount of minerals for your horse. You can do this by slightly increasing your balancer or by giving loose minerals, for instance liquid minerals extracted from Bering Sea water.
Have you given your horse extra silicon and is it still eating sand? Then provide extra minerals to supplement all minerals for a while. In general, most horses then stop eating sand after a few weeks. However, it is a signal to take a good look at your ration and adjust it if necessary.
In exceptional cases, sand-eating has become a habit (due to boredom) and then it becomes very difficult to break that pattern. In any case, make sure you feed unlimited amounts, provide enough company and distractions. Often this problem only occurs on a sand paddock because there is not enough variety and distraction, and on grass there is no sand eating caused by boredom.
So what should you do if your horse is eating sand?
- Start feeding silicon
- Limit sand intake
- Give a regular sand cure with psyllium pellets
- Add extra minerals
- Take a critical look at the ration