Updated: Sep 2, 2020
Sand colic is responsible for approximately 30% of all colic cases. As such, it is a very real health risk especially for horses who are kept in sand paddocks and fed from the ground, or are grazing in short, sandy pastures. Some may be surprised to find out that even if your horse isn’t kept on sand they are still at risk for sand colic as the term refers to colic caused by any type sediment that has accumulated in the bottom of the intestines. While colic is the ultimate risk of sediment build-up in the intestines, it can also cause diarrhea and weight loss among other things. Taking a few minutes to test for sand is a good place to start when it comes to the prevention of sand colic and the other ailments associated with sediment build-up.
How To Test For Sand:
To see if your horse has sand in their digestive tract simply take six to eight manure balls from the center of a fresh pile. For the most accurate result, do not take any manure balls that have visible sand on them or that have touched the ground. Place the manure balls in a large ziplock bag, jar or bucket of water. Mix the balls around by shaking or stirring until they have broken apart. Let the mixture sit for ten to fifteen minutes. Once the time has elapsed, if more than a teaspoon has settled to the bottom, your horse likely has a dangerous amount of sand in their system.
While sand testing is helpful, it isn’t always accurate regarding the amount of sand in the system. For example, if you sand test and see no sand settle to the bottom it unfortunately doesn’t mean that there isn’t sand in your horse’s digestive tract as it may be settled in the hind gut and not passing in the manure. In either case, no sand or sand, prevention is key and sand purging is always helpful.
Prevention - How to mitigate sand/dirt ingestion:
There are simple changes you can make in your feeding routine that will decrease the amount of sand ingested.
1. Don’t place hay directly on the ground.
Although it is ideal that a horse is allowed to eat in as natural of a position as possible (with their head down eating from the ground), feeding them directly on the ground can lead to the accidental ingestion of sand/sediment. Instead, try placing the hay in a feeder which will protect it from the sand and dirt on the ground while allowing your horse to feed in a natural position. If you have a horse who knocks the hay out of their feeder, surround the feeder with rubber mats (and sweep them frequently!) so that even dropped food does not become sandy.
2. Feed ample forage.
A great preventative measure for sand colic is to ensure your horse is getting enough to eat and ideally, that they have free access to roughage. Constant access to hay keeps the gut working and will aid in the passing of sand through the digestive tract. For easy keepers where free-choice may not be an option, try a hay net to make the ration last longer.
3. Make sure your horse stays hydrated.
Keep water troughs clean. To maximize water intake during the winter, prevent the formation of ice by using a tank heater and in the summer, be sure your horse is getting plenty of electrolytes. Staying hydrated along with a proper diet will help keep the digestive tract moving therefore making it difficult for sand to settle in the intestines.
4. Take care of your pastures.
If your grass pasture is based on sandy or loose dirt your horse is likely consuming sand while they graze. The risk of sand consumption on these types of pastures becomes greater when the grass is cut too short. Try allowing the pastures to grow longer by rotating pastures or allowing the pasture some time to “rest”. Supplementing pasture with hay can also reduce the pressure on the pasture from constant grazing and allow it to grow.
Sand Purging - How to clear the body of sand:
A common way to clear sand from the body is to add a product to your horse’s monthly regime specifically designed to remove sand from the digestive tract. A product such as Twenty Four Carrots Sand-Less is ideal because it is a vet-recommended and holistic whole food monthly sand cleansing system. Routine use of a sand removal product may help to prevent any ingested sand from building up to dangerous levels.
In summary, sand colic is common but it is also very preventable! Making small changes in your horse’s feeding/care routine could make a huge difference to your horse’s digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract is the key to a healthy and thriving horse. Even if you don’t suspect your horse is ingesting sand, the above tips are still beneficial to follow for the ultimate health of your horse and peace of mind for you as an owner.