Why is My Horse Eating Dirt?

Question and Anwser


“I have a 5 year old QH all around mare.  She has been in an training program for about 5 weeks now to prepare her for the coming year show circuit. She is getting Purina Ultium, free choice salt mineral block, Grass alfalfa mix hay and horse guard.  Ive noticed the last week her wanting to lick and eat the dirt.  Shes clearly lacking something.  Suggestions?”

Answer from Ph.D. Equine Nutritionist, Dr. Kelsey Johnson Nonella:

Your mare sounds like she is being fed a good, balanced diet. She may be consuming the dirt out of boredom. Does she have the ability to graze on her hay throughout the day, or is it limited to more of a meal feeding? If you have the option to let her nibble on hay throughout the day, this may curb her appetite from eating so much dirt. However, it is perfectly normal for horses to consumed some dirt.

If you would like to read an article about horses eating dirt, here is a great article written by Dr. Amy Gill.


I wouldn’t change anything in diet unless you need to modify her energy level once you starting showing. Hope this helps.


About Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

Kelsey J. Nonella, Ph.D. is an equine nutritionist who was riding horses before she could walk. Her love for horses drives her to help educate people on what their horses’ needs in order to have happy, healthy horses. Kelsey went to Cal Poly receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science and then onto West Texas A&M, where she got her Masters and eventually her Doctorates in Equine Science. At A&M, Dr. Nonella did extensive research on Selenium within horses. Click here to view her research. Kelsey’s colleagues have mentioned her as one of the United States equine Selenium experts.
View all posts by Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

2 Responses to “Why is My Horse Eating Dirt?”

  1. Kassi Gutierrez says:

    i have a 17 yr old Friesian mare that has been diagnosed with ulcers ( 3 on a scale of 1-4) She has dropped a considerable amount of weight.
    she has been on gastroguard now for only a week, but there is still not much interest in her food, she is on 4 acres volunteer grass ( will die off in the next couple of weeks) has always been on oat hay & 1/2 flake alfalfa a day, plus a 12% pellet & Platinum performance. Have never had any health issues with her until her last foal an then took a downturn after going offsite for breeding and a bout of Mastitis. She spends most of her day in a corner with her head down and will paw & eat at the dirt. I have brought this up to the treating vet but it doesn’t seem to be a concern. We are located in the Central Valley Ca. Blood has been checked and i am at a loss as to what to do for her next!

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      Thank you for the question. Sorry to hear about your mare. Treating the ulcers with omeprazole is the only way proven to heal ulcers, so it is important to finish full treatment on your mare. It is great that she has access to grass around the clock. It is very important for horses, especially horse prone to ulcers, to be able to graze throughout the day because it keeps forage in their stomach and helps buffer the acid that is continuously secreted throughout the day. Alfalfa is another a great option because it is high in calcium, which helps to act as a Tums for your horse, buffering the acid. I would recommending replacing the oat hay with a grass hay if you have it available, because oat hay is typically pretty high in starch and starch produces volatile fatty acids in the stomach causing more irritation to the stomach lining. For the 12% pellet, I would ask how much you are feeding and what is the base on it? If there are cereal grains in it(corn, barley, wheat, oats), you may consider switching your mare over to low-starch, high fat pellet. If you would like to give her more energy too, considering adding an oil, like Flow, as they are more energy dense and don’t cause the body to produce more acid like cereal grains do. I would also recommend switching from Platinum Performance to Super Weight Gain. Super Weight Gain will provide her with a vitamin-mineral supplement, a gut supplement with probiotics and live yeast cultures to help stabilize the gut, and finally has the cool-energy base of full-fat extruded soybeans which are high in protein and fat to help increase body condition and build muscle. Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.

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