You have likely heard of different clays and earths being used in various ways to help promote healing and wellness in horses. But what are the differences between them, and how can they be used?

Clay, earth – isn’t it all just dust and dirt? We horse people are certainly used to lots of both, but did you know that some forms of these substances actually have properties that promote healing and wellness?

Bentonite clay and diatomaceous earth come from vastly different origins, although both are natural organic materials. Each has unique features as well as a variety of uses. While Bentonite clay is geologic in nature, diatomaceous earth is marine-based.

Bentonite clay

Chances are you’ve heard of Bentonite clay and its amazing healing properties. If you haven’t, you are about to be introduced to one of the most incredible products provided by one of our favorite sources: Mother Nature. Horse owners everywhere are discovering the phenomenal curative ability of this versatile purified “dirt”.

Indigenous cultures and animals have used Bentonite clay since before recorded history. It is composed of weathered volcanic ash, and when used internally it supports the intestinal system in the elimination of toxins. Animals in the wild are instinctively drawn to clay and have been observed licking clays as part of their daily diet, and for medicinal purposes when they are ill.

Bentonite is the most abundant of all clays. Bentonite and Montmorillonite are in the Smectite family of clays and their names are often used interchangeably. They have similar properties but can vary slightly from deposit to deposit and can be found throughout the world. Many of the largest concentrations are located in the Great Plains area of North America.

Clays are often named after their location and “Bentonite” was originally named for Smectite clay found near Fort Benton, Wyoming. The name “Montmorillonite” comes from the city in France where the medicinal clay was first identified. The term “Bentonite” is a catchall for numerous variations of Smectite absorbent (swelling) clays.

The one common characteristic of Bentonite clay is that it absorbs moisture more than other clays. It is known for its highly absorptive qualities (think porous sponge or a piece of bread) and its ability to bind to and draw out heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides, bacteria and pharmaceutical drugs, thereby eliminating them from the body. Bentonite clay also has electromagnetic qualities — it has a negative charge, which is naturally attracted to toxins in the body that have a positive charge. This negative charge is responsible for the clay’s amazing detoxifying properties, both internally and externally. In addition to being able to draw out toxins, Bentonite clay contains a wide range of nutrients and an abundance of minerals including calcium, magnesium, silica, sodium, copper, iron and potassium.

Many horses have experienced amazing relief from pain, laminitis, stomach ulcers, diarrhea and chronic hoof abscesses when Bentonite clay is fed internally. Bentonite clay can be mixed with water to make a paste or poultice for natural wound care and the healing of hoof abscesses. Therapeutic and essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, clove, oregano or tea tree can be blended into the poultice to further enhance healing.

Diatomaceous earth

The benefits of diatomaceous earth are equally impressive. It comes from microscopic single-celled algae called diatoms, which are organic in nature. The fossilized shells of diatoms remain behind when oceans and lakebeds dry up over eons.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is effectively used for internal parasite control in both people and animals. In fact, it has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years as a natural pesticide. Unlike toxic chemical dewormers, DE is an all-natural, safe and efficient dewormer that kills parasites mechanically (by dehydration) without the use of dangerous chemicals. In addition, there is no buildup of tolerance and parasite resistance with DE like there is with chemical dewormers because the method of killing is physical, not chemical.

While some debate DE’s abilities to control internal parasites, when given in the proper dose, before and after fecal testing on horses and other animals clearly proves its effectiveness as an all-natural dewormer. In fact, an ongoing 11-year study on a Quarter Horse fed diatomaceous earth regularly reveals a consistently low parasite load confirmed by fecal testing. DE is also a very useful for controlling insects such as flies, fleas and ants. It can be sprinkled in stalls and pastures to help with fly control. Unlike dangerous pesticides, diatomaceous earth is safe for the soil, environment and all wildlife.

As I’m sure your horse would tell you, after rolling on the ground following a bath, dirt has lots of benefits! It is important to select only quality products from reliable sources, and to always choose food grade Bentonite clay and diatomaceous earth. Take advantage of what the earth has to offer!


Chris and Roger Richardson are the owners of The Holistic Horse, and have been providing natural, organic and holistic healthcare products since 1998. They are passionate and committed to providing the best products and helping all types of animals achieve optimal health. theholistichorse.com

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