Have you ever noticed your horse nibbling intently at the ground; scavenging for those few last morsels of hay? Horses are notorious for “cleaning up their plates”, but with the good must come the bad. When your horse is scraping the floor of his stall, with those little bits of food, he’s ingesting little bits of sand; and over time that sand can build up.

Eating of sand can cause weight loss, depression, decreased performance, diarrhea and colic. Sand can be a contributing factor in occasional episodes of colic and can be the cause of recurrent colic pain. Abnormal amounts of ingested sand settle out in the ventral large colon. Generally, horses that are enthusiastic eaters take in more sand than finicky eaters, as they “vacuum” up every last bit of hay or grass on sandy soil.

The Sand Test

  • Fill a 2 to 4-quart plastic container two-thirds full with water. Mark the water level on the outside of the container.
  • Add 6 large fecal (manure) balls from your horse and mark the new water level on the container.
  • Now you have a system to add the same amount of manure every time you do the test: fill the container with water to the first mark and add enough manure to have the water rise to the second mark.
  • Mix the manure and water into a slurry, allowing any sand to settle to the bottom. Gently pour off the slurry of manure and water. Any sand will remain at the bottom.
  • If you find sand on the bottom of the container, the test is positive.
  • Test your horse’s manure every other day for 2 weeks and record the results.

Important Points

  • Make sand tests a routine part of your horse’s care. To initially evaluate your horse, do a sand test every other day for 2 weeks. One negative test does not prove that sand is not present in the large colon.
  • Do not feed any hay, grain, supplements or other type of feed from sandy ground.
  • Feed hay on rubber mats, a platform or wood shavings in an area of at least 8 ft by 8 ft.
  • If you graze your horse in grass paddocks and or pastures, be sure that the grass is not being cropped too closely, exposing the underlying sand or dirt.
  • Include a psyllium product in your horse’s feed to help coat any sand that has been ingested, thereby reducing irritation to the intestine. This also helps move the sand along through the intestinal tract.

Remember, even if your horse is only taking in small amounts of sand at a time, those little amounts build into a large amount and can become a dangerous and unsuspected predator for your horse. Stay on top of your horses sand intake so you can better predict a potentially dangerous mishap for you and your horse.

Psyllium Feeding Recommendations:

  • Editors note: Currently Equine Medical Service recommends using the products Assure and Assure Plus for the elimination of sand from your horses’ digestive system.