Why does my horse eat dirt?

Asked October 22, 2013, 9:52 AM EDT

My horse is always eating dirt. He has plenty of pasture. I have mineral salt out for him. He gets hay and an all around pellet supplement. I have tried giving him different supplements for something he might be missing in his diet but he still eats dirt. I live in Virginia where the soil is red clay mixture. No one can ever given me any ideas why he might do this and how harmful it is to him. He's 14 and has always done this. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INPUT.

Virginia horses horse nutrition

1 Response

Geophagia (eating dirt) is fairly common in feral horses, and while researchers have proposed that this behavior is due to a need for salt or minerals, soil analysis has failed to demonstrate any consistent benefit. Domestic horses whose diets are balanced for salt and minerals are also known to eat dirt. The behavior is more common in young horses. In older horses, it is most often thought to be due to boredom or acquired habit.

Generally, geophagia is harmless, but if sandy soils are consumed, this could lead to colic or diarrhea. You want to evaluate your horse's diet for nutritional balance, and make sure he's got plenty of forage (hay and grass) available. You should also check with your vet to make sure your deworming routine is sufficient and that the horse is healthy. If diet and overall health is good, then it may be a case of boredom. Decreasing stall time, providing a pasture mate, or increasing exercise may help. But at 14, it may be hard to break an old habit!