How to test for sand in your horse – sort of.


We have all heard and read that sand (or dirt) is a no-no in your horse’s system as it can lead to digestive issues, including colic, diarrhea, and performance issues. To test for sand in your horse, you can do a water and manure “test,” – but the results are not a complete picture and can give false negatives.


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Should we buy out all of the psyllium for the sandpocalypse? Probably not.


  • The main reason to test your horse for sand is to create a baseline for your horse’s environment and their current state. Sort of a starting spot, like your horse’s temperature or weight.


  • Before you do any of the following tests, chat with your veterinarian about your horse, their living situation, and a reasonable game plan if you find sand.


  • Then, when you have collected some results, you and your veterinarian can find the best option for the situation.


Sand in horses – a primer.


  • Sand in the digestive system can be benign or dangerous. Different horses tolerate sand differently.  If you think I can’t be any more vague, just hold on. 


  • No scientifically deduced amount of sand creates a problem in all horses.  One particle might harm one horse, while one pound does nothing for another. 


  • You must repeat the test over time to determine true results. A negative test means that no sand passed through in your manure sample; it doesn’t mean that there is no sand in the colon.


  • A positive result means that sand has passed through your horse, but it won’t tell you how much is still inside your horse, if any.


How to “test” for sand in the colon


The first method requires a clear rectal exam glove or a baggie, water, and fecal balls.


  • Collect your fecal ball sample in the glove, add some water and slosh it around to dissolve the manure, and allow it to settle for 10 minutes or so.


  • If sand is present, it will sink into the fingers of the glove.



sand in manure test in a glove

You can “borrow” a glove from your vet or use a baggie.


The second method requires a bucket, water, and fecal balls.


  • Fill your container with water about halfway and mark the water line inside of the container. Your container can be fairly small here; no need to grab a 55-gallon drum. Most medium-sized supplement containers that are about 3 quarts are just fine.


  • Add five or six fecal balls and then make another mark on the inside of the bucket to delineate the new, higher water level.


  • Allow the mixture to “stew” and dissolve, then carefully drain the stew from the top of the container. Any sand will remain at the bottom of the container. Note the quantity.



bag to test for sand.jpg



These “tests” should be repeated every other day for two weeks.


  • Using the second method in the bucket is a bit more exact for repeat testing. After you have the water lines marked on your container, you can repeat the test by filling to the lower line with water and adding feces until the waterline rises to the second mark. This creates a consistent testing method using more exact amounts of fecal balls and water.


  • Then, you and your veterinarian can plan an attack. Your vet can also use his stethoscope to listen for sand; sometimes, special abdominal radiographs can be done. Listening and x-rays are far more conclusive than poop in a baggie.


Find the best remedy.


  • Often, psyllium is used, and sometimes other laxatives such as mineral oil would be more appropriate for your horse. Unfortunately, sand can cause impactions and surgery is the best option for sand removal.


  • Doing these simple tests are a great way, over time, to monitor your horse.


How to stop your horse from eating sand


  • Feed hay, grains, and supplements on a dirt-free surface. Mats, hay nets, giant tubs, even a wooden deck could be used. 


  • Avoid letting your pasture be eaten down or mowed down. As horses nibble on the tiny grass stems, their chance of ingesting some sand is also increased.


  • Consider adding psyllium to your horse’s diet for one week per month. This is much current debate and research on this subject as to the efficacy of psyllium and how it should be used.  More pro and con science about psyllium is here. 


  • Most of the research supports a one-week out of four weeks as a good system. This is also an instance where you may want to chat with your veterinarian or nutritionist.


For ideas on how to prevent your horse from eating sand, read this gem!


And remember – these tests only tell you if sand is passing through your horse.


  • Your horse could have sand in his belly that he’s not passing.


  • Your horse could have sand in his belly and he’s passing a little bit of it.


  • Your horse could have zero sand in his belly because he’s passing it all.


  • Your horse could have zero sand in his belly because he’s not eating any.


Do you test for passing sand?



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