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my horse has been licking the dirt

Posted by Pipersville_Carol z6 Bucks PA (My Page) on
Mon, Aug 8, 05 at 13:01

My horse has been doing something strange lately. I noticed her lips had a grayish residue on them once or twice, and last night found her down by the pond, licking the ground that used to be underwater but is now dry because the pond has receded (due to lack of rain). At first I thought she was grazing, but she was actually licking the greyish clay that forms the bottom of the pond.

She's got a salt block, gets a complete feed (Horsemans Edge), has 24-hour access to nice green pasture and gets hay every day.

Why would she lick clay? Do I need to worry about this? I could close off that pasture if need be.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Usually licking or eating dirt is said to signal a mineral dificiency. With the terrible heat, she may be using and losing more minerals thru sweat than she is replacing with salt block. Does she have both a red mineral and white salt blocks? I know our horses have been going right thru the mineral blocks during this hot weather, some horses more than others. They each have one small one in their stalls, work on them when in the barn during the days. None are eating any dirt.

You could call vet and ask about a mineral test, see what he advises.I don't know what those tests run. We only test for selenium an essential element. None in the ground or local feeds, some horses need more than others. We test to make sure our horses are using selenium we provide, or need a different dosage. Age, growth or body changes can sometimes require more.

With complete feeds, most people don't feed the recommended amount, it is WAY TOO MUCH for the horse in light work. So horse does not get full dose. Perhaps a diet change of plain oats for snack with a seperate supplement added on top. NOT both top dressed and prepared feed! Get your horse messed up with too much supplementing.

Depending on what pond usually had in it, I might take her out of that field. If pond is the drainage point for all the local runoff, she could be getting fertilizers, other poor food choices! I would not be comfortable with mine licking mud, our field with the swale hole is closed right now also. As far as I know it only has wild animals visit, not any field drainage there. Just things exposed which are usually covered by water may not be good for my horses.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

I agree with goodhors, it sounds like a mineral deficiency. Along with what goodhors says, you might also want to test the pond water to see what it contains, also the mud.


RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

At any rate, licking dirt is not a big problem unless it indicates a mineral/salt deficiency. There are many horses that do this quite normally. It is one way they replenish the gut bacteria they need to digest their food.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

I agree that she may have a mineral deficiency, and I also agree that you should probably keep her out of the pond area. I think it's generally never a good idea to keep a horse in a field with a pond--just seems too easy for them to get in trouble in there. I personally wouldn't bother with the mineral tests--horses get cravings when they are deficient and will search for minerals (which is why they start licking dirt) when they need them. I'm not saying that those tests aren't a valuable tool, but personally I'm a cheapskate and wouldn't spend the money on one. I would just buy a mineral block to put out with the salt (I use Moormans).

This reminds me, one of my weanlings keeps licking the poultice off the other weanlings' ankles. He's been doing it off and on for about a week (and they do have salt & minerals in their field). Maybe he is craving mothers' milk still and poultice is the next best thing? Who knows, but it hasn't killed him yet.

Here is a link that might be useful: mineral blocks

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Thanks for the info.

One question about the mineral blocks... she's pastured with sheep, and I don't think I can use a medicated/red salt block with sheep. I could probably mount a small medicated block in her stall, too high for the sheep to reach, though. I'll try to pick one up on the way home from work tonight.

The people we bought our sheep from said the soil in our area is selenium-deficient, maybe that's what she needs.

Re: the pond, it's spring-fed and very clear, and doesn't get much (if any) run-off from the surrounding fields because it's actually at a slightly higher elevation than most of them (we're on the side of a hill). I'm going to move her off of that pasture tonight, though, when I get home.

I was hoping to avoid feeding supplements if at all possible,. Seems hideously expensive and potentially dangerous. Or am I old-fashioned??

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

I wouldn't worry too much about her eating/licking the dirt. Could be any number of things from a mineral def. to boredom:) To be safe, if it were my horse I'd buy a 50lb. sack of the loose minerals, I think purina makes one, 777 or something or other...anyway they're cheap and a bag will last you forever. Just toss a handfull in with her feed and that should do her. That's what I do with my guys in addition to their mineral block.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Not knowing what you are dealing with is the reason I suggested getting horse tested for mineral deficiencies. She may or may NOT have a mineral problem. Test tells you that answer so you cross off that possibility.

If you are in a selenium deficient area, you need to be adding selenium and Vit E(helper allowing horse to absorb selenium) to horse diet. You can buy both items at the local elevator. They are not mixed evenly, check with your vet for proportions. I find them fairly inexpensive, easy to feed in powder form. Not a horse special product, so way cheaper than a name-brand horse item.
Horse needs selenium for muscle and reproductive tract. Being deficient can make horse very muscle sore, lead to poor heat cycles, sore backs, among other things.

I also thought my good pasture, nice hay, clean grain was enough. Getting a lame horse, too sore to use from being selenium deficient changed my viewpoint. Dr. doing the mineral test had never seen one test so low and still be moving. He came right back out to give her a helping shot, then told us to get the powder. Amazing the change that daily tablespoon of mixed powders made to the horse. My case is extreme. My other horse, same field, diet, showed no deficiency. Horses had been together for 10 years. Just the way two different bodies use what is avalilable to them.

If you have sheep, do they have a sheep mineral block? There is stuff in sheep feed that is bad for horses. The same way that copper in horse feed is bad for sheep. Horse could be getting wrong minerals from sheep feed or block, throwing her system off.
This is where over-supplementing can throw body system off. Horse only needs TINY amounts of these needed minerals. You have to look at all the stuff being fed, read labels, not add a little of this and that. Complete feeds are just that, COMPLETE, if fed at the rates maker recommends. Horse shouldn't then be getting extra, other supplemental stuff.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Here's what I did...

I'd never used mineral blocks of any kind before (other than straight salt). Last night I bought two Dumore blocks, one each of the horse and sheep variety. Both contain selenium.

Figuring out how to keep them from eating each other's blocks was the hard part, I puzzled over that for awhile.

I ended up putting the sheep block in their stall (horse can't get in, door is too small).

I stuck the horse block into an unused-feed bin in the horse stall (sheep can't reach it, they're too small and fat).

I also closed off the gate to the pond, and got a fresh plain salt block.

Hopefully it'll do the trick.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Sounds like a real good start. Great solution to not allowing animals at the wrong mineral block.

Our horses just were not getting sufficient selenium from mineral blocks. We had to give it individually with supplement. They had the mineral blocks when the one horse went lame. Might be how we use our horses, they work hard, sweat, when we are conditioning, competing them. The muscle activity might demand a higher selenium need than a pasture horse or one used lightly.

I hope this takes care of the dirt licking for your horse.

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

The clay could simply taste good...animals do strange things for basically no reason some times. There isn't ALWAYS a deficiency - they are living, breathing creatures that get strange habits just like humans. Our 2 year old filly licks ropes.....maybe she's deficient in nylon? LOL

RE: my horse has been licking the dirt

Turns out my horse LOVES the mineral blocks. Maybe too much... she's devouring them. She ate a whole block in a week, and has a second one half-eaten already.

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