Let Your Horse Be Dirty

Yes, I realize the title of this post can take on two completely different meanings, but of course, I’m not talking about allowing your mare watch Sexy Stallions of the West (lol!).  I’m talking about the other kind of dirty–as in mud, grime, and dust. Our horses love to roll in it, but far too many people get their panties in a wad when it happens.

This is a post I’ve actually been planning to write for some time (I figured spring would be a good time for it), but earlier this week, I reposted a Facebook picture of a muddy horse shared by a professional barrel racer. Along with the picture, she shared a rant about too many people not wanting to let their horses be horses. I agree with her 100%.

And of course, I have a few of my own pictures of muddy horses, myself. Here’s one, for instance:

dirty Hershey


I see these Facebook memes about horses being naughty because they’re covered in mud and how they must be doing it on purpose just to cause more work for us. Um, no. Horses aren’t doing it for any reason related to us (though we tend to think everything is about us sometimes). They do it because to a horse, being dirty is as natural as grazing. And being covered in a layer of dirt or mud actually serves several very important purposes.

First of all, dirt acts as a barrier to biting insects. While we can hang out in our air-conditioned, insect-free homes, our horses aren’t so fortunate. Therefore, if they can do anything to protect themselves against those little nasty buggers, they’re going to do it. (Also, please don’t leave your horses tail braided or in one of those slinky things–tails are for swatting away insects too.)

Secondly, dirt also aids in protection from the sun. This is especially important for light-colored horses who are prone to sunburn.

We all know horses like to roll directly after being unsaddled. This is likely to soothe irritation where the saddle had been and to help dry and re-fluff sweaty hair. They roll for a similar reason right after being bathed; it’s a quick way to dry off.

muddy horse


Additionally, rolling in the mud on a warm day is a great way to cool off!

Rolling also aids in shedding (ever seen a ‘shedding angel’ out in the pasture?). Getting dirty in the process is just a lovely side effect.

Horses also just like to dust bathe. It’s a behavior shared by many types of animals, including chickens.

chicken dust bathing


One final benefit of rolling may also be to keep the back and joints healthy. Like stretching or a self-adjustment, if you will. Horses may not understand this, of course, but they just know it feels good!

So let your horse roll and be dirty, and don’t automatically assume he’s just being naughty. To him, it’s a perfectly natural behavior. Riding and showing, on the other hand, are not. Just something to keep in mind. . .





Sources and Further Reading

Rolling Along

Why Do Horses Roll After Baths

Why Do Horses Roll in Mud?





Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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7 Responses

  1. Gwyn Dykstra says:

    Thank you Cassie for making me feel better about not grooming my horse.

  2. Sherri Bridges Fox says:

    That was wonderful to read Cassie. Thank you for reminding us to let our horses be horses, not possessions!

  3. Lynn says:

    My mare loves her daily roll. I call it her daily chiropractic treatment. Here in the desert when we get the rare rainy day I like her to roll and get a good layer of dirt all over her back the day before. She loves to stand in the rain and I think it’s a good barrier, especially if it’s a cool rain. I remember when she was in the early days of her barefoot rehab (9 months now and doing great) she found the mud puddle in the round pen and stood there for half an hour. Must have felt great. To the dismay of other horse owners at the barn, I just let her stand in the mud. I’m not sure what must be thought of me and my barefoot, bitless and dirty mare at our dressage barn, but I sure don’t care, I just know she’s happy!

  4. lelah dobson says:

    Well I totally disagree with letting your horse stay nasty! Urine and poop stains are unacceptable and does not promote a healthy happy horse. In fact I have gotten a few unwanted bacterial problems….I think a few people are a bit lazy in keeping your horse somewhat clean!

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