Behavior

Oh, Those Dirty Horses

©Don DeBold/Flickr CC

You have exactly one hour to groom, saddle, and ride your horse before you need to get back to other life duties.

Only when you call your horse up from the pasture, you find he’s covered—head to hoof—in dirt. You may use a few choice words, or you may simply sigh, grab the curry comb, and get to work. But have you ever stopped to wonder why our horses love to be so dirty?

As much as we’d love them to always be thinking of us and our plans, horses rarely do. To them, rolling on the ground and getting dirty is as natural as grazing. It’s simply part of being a horse. A part, in fact, that can actually serve several important purposes for a horse.

1. Insect Barrier

©Pam Knelson/ BRF-LLC.com

While we can escape into our relatively bug-free homes, our horses aren’t so fortunate. A nice layer of dirt or mud, however, can provide protection against biting flies, so this is a very common reason for rolling and getting dirty. Can you really blame them?

2. Sun Protection

©possumgirl2/Flickr CC

I’m not sure what the SPF of dirt is, but it’s got to be better than nothing, right? In all seriousness, dirt and mud do serve as a natural sunscreen. Light-colored horses are especially prone to sunburn, so for a horse, being covered in dirt is the easiest way to combat this uncomfortable condition.

3. Soothe irritation 

©lostinfog/Flickr CC

Who doesn’t love a good back scratching? Horses will often roll as a way to scratch at insect bites, get rid of flies, or as we all know, soothe irritation from where a saddle has recently been. Adding a nice layer of grime is just an added bonus.

4. Dry off

©Brenna/Flickr CC

Rolling (and collecting a little dirt in the process) is a great way to dry off sweaty or wet hair. So when horses roll directly after being bathed, it’s not to tick you off—it’s simply to dry off! Additionally, wet hair can actually trap heat, so horses are more prone to do this on warm days. 

5. Mud is so cool!

©Bethany/Flickr CC

Have you ever noticed that mud is irresistible to horses? I have a low spot in my pasture that often collects rainwater, and it’s my horses’ favorite place to roll. What better way to cool off than coating yourself in nice, cool mud?

6. Self-grooming

©smerikal/Flickr CC by 2.0

Another reason why horses love to roll and get dirty (especially in the spring) is because it’s a method of self-grooming. Have you ever seen a horse hair angel left on the ground? A roll in the dirt is a great way to get rid of that shedding hair.

So next time your horse comes up covered in dirt, keep all these reasons in mind. He’s not doing it to be naughty. To him, it’s perfectly natural behavior. Riding and showing, on the other hand, are not.


About the Author

Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as an owner/barefoot trimmer and certified equine acupressure practitioner. She hosts the blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse, where she regularly shares information on barefoot, equine nutrition, and holistic horse health. Once an avid barrel racer, Casie now enjoys just giving back to the horses who have given her so much.