From one day to the next your horse is suddenly licking the sand in the paddock. You’d never seen him do this before. Why is your horse suddenly eating sand now? This can have various causes, such as a shortage of the mineral silicon or boredom. Read more in this blog about what causes sand eating and what you can do to prevent it.
Various causes of sand eating in horses
There are four different reasons why horses eat sand:
- Silicon deficiency
- Mineral deficiency
- Unconscious while eating roughage
Boredom and a silicon deficiency are the two most common causes. Boredom arises because a horse is fed too little roughage or because of the lack of a mate.
Eat silicon in sand
Silicon is a mineral that is mainly found in the earth’s crust. Silicon is an important nutrient for the human body. For plants and animals, silicon is of vital importance for building cell walls and connective tissue such as bones, cartilage, hooves, skin and fur. There are different forms of the mineral silicon. The form Silicon dioxide (SiO2) is the main constituent of sand. It is therefore not surprising that horses lick sand due to a lack of minerals. However, the mineral silicon is not easily absorbed by the horse’s body via sand. You can read why that is so in this blog.
Do you see your horse consciously licking or eating sand? There is a good chance that he has a shortage of silicon. In that case you could test whether this is the case by adding this mineral for two months. If your horse is still eating sand after these two months, chances are that he will do so through boredom. In that case it is advisable to give roughage in a slow feeder or to give him a mate.
Additional benefits of silicon
By feeding the mineral silicon preventively, you not only ensure that your horse has less need to eat sand, but you also ensure that your horse gets the building material for connective tissue. In addition, it stimulates the production of the body’s own glucosamine. This makes the hooves, bones and coat stronger and your horse is less susceptible to injuries. This is because the frame is getting stronger. A study with racing horses showed that the group of horses that received additional silicon feed had fewer injuries than the group of horses that did not receive this additional feed.
Testing manure on sand
Do you see your horse eating and / or licking sand more often? You can easily test yourself whether there is a lot of sand in your horse’s manure. All you need is a clear plastic bag or glove. Put a little manure in this and fill it with water. Because sand is heavier than the rest of the manure, after a while the sand will sink to the bottom and the rest of the manure will float to the top. Is this not the case? Then your horse will not eat sand. If there is sand on the bottom of the plastic bag, it is wise to take measures such as a psyllium fiber cure. These are seeds that contain a lot of mucilage and swell in the stomach and intestines. In the intestines, this mass adheres to the sand and takes it outside. Please note that you cannot feed these fibers continuously, because then the intestines will get used to it.
Other measures for sand eating horse
When a shortage of silicon is not the cause of sand eating, boredom is usually the cause. Prevent boredom in your horse by giving him enough roughage, preferably in a slow feeder. A slow feeder ensures that the horse takes longer to get it up. In addition, it is also better for its digestion.
Horses are herd animals. That’s why they always need a buddy. Do not leave your horse alone in the paddock but give him a buddy that he can see or better still, with whom he can cuddle. It may possibly be positive for some horses to provide distraction by, for example, placing toys in the paddock / meadow.
Silicon and Equine Bone Health
Brian D. Nielsen and Kari E. Krick
Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University
D. Nielsen, G. D. Potter, E. L. Morris et al.. Training distanceto failure in young racing quarter horses fed sodium zeolite A. Journal of Equine Veterinary S cience,vol.13,no.10,pp.562–567,1993. Training distance to failure in young racing quarter horses fed sodium zeolite A