Sand Burdens in Horse 


As horse owners, we know all too well that colic is a killer. Many of you may have experienced this first hand with the loss of your beloved horse. Most of us at the least know someone who has been affected by this terrible condition.


What is Colic?

Colic is the term used to describe gut pain. there are many types of colic but many of them are caused by the build-up of waste product in the gut, usually as a result of a blockage in the digestive system or due to increased/decreased motility of the intestines. There are many causes of colic, however one of the most common causes of colic in Australia is sand colic. This is due to the geology and topography of our country. Sand and silicate minerals are found in the topsoil of many areas of our country. It is this reason that Australian horses are predisposed to sand colic, as sand is present in areas where they roam. As the horse is designed to be a classic forager they will continuly pick up sand and sediment ever grazing hour of every day. 



What is sand colic?

Sand colic is the end result of a build-up of sand in the bowels. Horses digest sand through grazing our eating horse feed and hay from the ground. The main issue with sand colic is that it happens over an extended period of time; as it takes a number of months or even years for sand to build up in the horse’s gut. This often results in mis-diagnosis, especially where the case is mild; which then increases in severity and may become fatal if left untreated!

As sand accumulates in the intestinal tract, a combination of the irritant effects and the weight of the sand can lead to reduced motility of the intestines, reduced absorption of nutrients including water and thus, digestive upset. If the accumulation of sand continues, the resultant digestive upset will eventually lead to poor condition, diarrhoea and eventually sand colic.



What are the symptoms of sand colic?

The symptoms of sand colic often mimic the symptoms of general malaise in horses; poor weight maintenance, diarrhoea, stomach upset. This is why it may be difficult to diagnose. Owners may overlook sand colic as another illness.  In more serve cases the horse might turn and look at its belly repeatedly, they might sweat a little and curl their upper lip, and they may lie down more frequently than you would expect.

Some horses with colic stretch out as if trying to urinate, and some dog sit with their hindquarter on the ground and forelimbs extended. As the pain gets worse your horse might roll about on its back on the ground. These horses may be looking bigger and rounder than usual and they may or may not pass manure. However, it is important to understand that a horse with severe and serious colic can still pass manure as the problem in the gut may be well forward of the rectum; the transit time from mouth to manure can be days.




If you suspect that your horse may be experiencing sand have a sand burden, there are a number of ways that you can diagnose. Noting that the first two are not conclusive, only that they justify further analysis.


The first method is to physically inspect your horses manure. You may be able to visibly identify sand particles as you break it apart. It is worth noting that sand may not always be visible, especially where silt and other rather fine particles are the perpetrator. This method will not tell you whether or not sand is accumulating in the gut; only that sand it present in the horse’s diet. If your horse is showing symptoms and sand it present – seek veterinarian assistance.


The second and more effective method is to solution test the manure. Place a proportion of the horse’s manure in a plastic zip lock bag and filled with water. Mix it around so that the manure breaks apart (if it is solid). If sand is present it will remain fall to the bottom of the bag, whilst most of the manure floats. Using this way of sampling you can easliy see over several samples over the six day period of treats you will be able to grasp the amount of movment of sand through your horses GI tract. This method is affective as this will tell you approximately how much sand is present per bowel movement. Again this method still does not conclude that your horse is accumulating sand in the gut; as the amount of passage may be equal to the amount of ingestion. We also agee that the absents of sand in the sample is not an indicator that the horse is sand free. It just isnt passing sand in that motion.


The third method has to be performed by a veterinarian or other specialist. The vet will listen for sand colic in the horses’ gut using a stethoscope. The vet can listen to the contraction within the horse’s abdomen, and actually hear sand passing through/or not passing through whatever the case may be. The major limitation to this method, is that the sand may not be moving at the time of analysis, or not moving enough to be detected. Treatment may be suggested as a precaution.


The fourth method is expensive and restricted to a clinic or hospital. An abdomen radiograph is performed of the horse’s gut to detect the sand quantities. Although considered to be reliable, some vets have reservations as to the reliability of the results. As modern day technology may not be at a stage where it is accurate enough to detect sand in the vastness of a horse’s intestines.  


The final method and possibly the most reliable, is surgery. The vet will conduct an exploratory analysis of the horse’s gut using a variety of surgical procedures. This method can incur large costs and is obviously invasive to the horse. Normally this will be applied to severe cases of sand colic.



The best way to prevent sand colic is to remove it from their diet! By this we mean inspect the areas where they graze. If your horse grazes even partially sandy areas, they may be a risk. Owner should restrict grazing to clear areas, bounded by fencing and barricades that prevent horses accessing the no-go zone. Hay and feeds should be kept off the ground using troughs and hay nets.

Paddock need to be rotated to prevent over grazing. 

All these thing are great tips to help limit the consumption of sand and dirt but as our Go-Pro footage shows it won’t prevent daily ingestion from other parts of your horses yard, this is where Psyllium is use to help move the foreign matter out of your horse’s digestive tract monthly.

 GritBix has been design to make this task easier than ever with a monthly treat fed for six days of your hand or dropped on top of a feed.

As our horses continue to consume their environment, a monthly treatment of psyllium has been recommended by The Australian Equine Veterinary Association to continue the clean and help prevent build up.