Horse Dust Bath

I’ve talked a lot about how and why chickens take dust baths. For those of you who don’t have hens, you can watch this video. (I made it four years ago, and there’s a cameo by the late, great Empress of the yard, Candy.) Of course, chickens aren’t the only animals that dust bathe. Tonka likes a roll in the dirt, too.

The summer brings good things, like warm days, growing grass and good footing for trail rides. But it also brings bugs. Around here, we have mosquitos, deer flies, green head flies, and an entire assortment of horse flies, gnats and stable flies. All of the horses get turned out with

, and Tonka get sprayed with UltraShield EX Brand Residual Insecticide & Repellent - 32 ounce. But, that’s not enough. The horses know how to alleviate the itches. They roll.

Horses do like to lie down. In fact, in order to have REM sleep, they must be lying down (which is why his stall has soft, clean bedding. Essential for a horse’s health!) But, horses are designed for running, not rolling. Getting down in the dirt is not the most graceful thing that a horse does. The other afternoon, I took this series of photos. Not the best quality – off my phone – but it gives you a sense of how awkward it is for a 1,000 pound animal to coat himself with dust. By the way, some horses are one-sided, but Tonka gets both sides done.

Before rolling, Tonka takes a few good whiffs of the ground. Despite their big, beautiful eyes, horses actually don’t have great vision and it turns out that they likely rely on smell more than sight for essential information. (I’ll write a post about that. Fascinating.)


rolling 1


After selecting the perfect spot, Tonka paws.

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Lowering himself to the ground takes some maneuvering.

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Once down, the dust bath begins.


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Not exactly a view of the noble horse.

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But content? Yes.

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Now Tonka has relief from the flies and can take a nap in peace.

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  1. Jess will love this blog post, she revels in anything Tonka. Thankyou…:)

  2. Love love love your Tonka tales. As a former stable rat I miss being around horses so much just seeing him doing all those “horsey” activities makes me smile.

  3. We had a mini donkey for many years, and he rolled all the time. He had specific places in his turnout to roll. We called them “bull holes” because they got as big as the holes bulls make during mating season. They are still there, 15 years later, in the turnouts. For some reason, his rolling was more effective on the bugs than the horses was.

  4. Just like the goat boys, Tonka doesn’t have a bad side.

  5. How cute is Tonka!! And I absolutely loved seeing the old video of Buffy…she was always my favorite.

  6. As outside cams still not working have been watching all your old video’s. To anyone who has not watched them they are well worth watching and it is lovely to catch up with past friends once again…:)

  7. Query for Steve, as both outside cams worked for a day is there a chance they will sort themselves out without doing anything ??

  8. Ever consider dumping a truckload of play sand in a corner of his turnout? Having sand to roll in is the best thing in the world for their skin, loosens dried sweat and dead skin, prevents bruises and lacerations from rolling on packed dirt with rocks, and they love, love, love it!

    • I have limited options as it’s a boarding stable :) But, they do pick up rocks (as best they can, rocks sprout around here!) and the patch where Tonka rolls is mostly lovely fine dusty dust. Your horses are lucky to have such a big dust bath. Do you have chickens? Do they join in?

      • I have neither chickens nor horses at the moment, but owned horses for many years. Eons ago, I rescued a NYC Hansom Cab horse right from the harness traces where he had collapsed from heat exhaustion, the impulsive decision successfully stopping his owner from continuing to whip him to get him up. Bought him for $250 as he lay prostrate in front of the Plaza Hotel (true story). Although the gelding was only 4 or 5, for some reason he was very, very reluctant to roll or lie down at all once I trailered him –suspended in canvas tarps to keep him upright on the trip– to a lovely suburban stable with turnout. I suspected he had terrible arthritis in his leg joints, as he was unusually stiff every morning. But I worried for him never lying down, and so tried everything I could think of to tempt him…shallow water, mud, mowed grass, shaving dumped in a pasture… Anything! My last try was to buy a truckload of play sand and dump it in a corner of his paddock. I hosed it down to make it moist, and when he saw it he was fascinated, walking over it in circles, over and over. Finally, he slowly crumpled, in that unique and vulnerable way horses have, and rolled and rolled, groaning the whole time. He stayed down, napping in the Spring sun the entire afternoon until he finally heaved himself to his feet and walked with smartly bobbing head, back to his stall for his dinner grain. It became his favorite daily ritual and the only place I think he ever really deep-slept. After a year of easy living, I sold him to a horse crazy local girl for a dollar with one stipulation: that he always have a deep, soft, clean pile of play sand in the corner of his turnout.

        • This is a lovely, astounding, heart-warming story. I can only imagine the logistics of what it took to get him out of that harness, figure out how to haul him to the his new life. Lucky, lucky horse to have had you walk by at the right moment.

          • It was quite nerve wracking, and I can’t claim any credit for figuring out the logistics. A friend who was eating lunch at the Plaza called me at my midtown office when the horse collapsed, with a “you’re the horse person so get over here!” So, there I stood, in my 1985 business suit and 3″ heels, holding a lead shank while bus boys from the hotel poured cold water over him from the fountain until my dressage coach could hitch up a two horse trailer and get into NYC. Thank goodness he had the foresight to throw in 2 bales of shavings and some old awning tarps we were able to tie into slings — they saved us on the way home as this poor boy was so dehydrated the vet put him on a drip overnight. The story does have a very happy ending. Despite the horse’s legs being a mess of spavins, arthritis and eventually, navicular, his new owner cared for him as a very beloved lawn ornament, didn’t ride or drive him, and would put hot pink dancer’s leg warmers on his legs in the winter to keep his joints warm (two on each leg :) He had tons of soft shavings in his stall, rubber shoes and regular acupuncture (which really did help). We eventually had to put him down due to the navicular about nine years later, but the day he died he was in beautiful condition, had wonderful manners, and polished off a huge mash with molasses, while wearing a wooly blanket… and his pink leg warmers. …And I know if Opal needed leg warmers, you’d be knitting ’em.

  9. The stable where my horse is boarded does their turn out at night. The horses still wear fly sheets and bug spray, but for the most part, no bugs! Also, they are always in should you show up to ride, and they seem more supple under saddle. By 10-11 am most of them are having an after breakfast nap with their stall fans on. What a life!

  10. A horse I took care of, once upon a time, loved to roll by the shavings/sawdust sheds. This was a no-no as they claimed it made the shavings/sawdust dirty. BUT – the shavings/sawdust was tracked for yards ‘n yards around the sheds and no one ever scraped it up because, well, DIRT. :D So I used to sneak him back to the sheds and he caught on to be casual till we got there and then he would dive around the corner and throw himself down for a roll. He never argued when I called ‘enough, let’s go’. He would hop up, well, you know what I mean, shake and just stroll calmly back into public view. He was hilarious!

    • The horse made the shavings dirty? The shavings that goes in the stall to absorb pee, etc? Tonka also likes to sleep in his shavings. I know because his tail is full of shavings in the morning. Did that horse have one of those thin thoroughbred tails that nothing sticks to?

      • :D The ‘logic’ of that never made sense to me either! As for his tail, I don’t remember if it was thin or not, but he was very silky. Grooming him took about 2 seconds. People always wanted to touch him to see if he was as soft as he looked!

  11. Tonka is so handsome.
    We had a couple of horses growing up 30+ years ago, they were just in a pasture with a barn. I did use repellant on them but they always seemed to find a mud hole to roll in. The mud would be caked all over them and it took what seemed like hours to brush them out, then in a couple of days do it all over again…

  12. I love Tonka even more now that I have seen his lovely belly! We always get the side and front view in your wonderful photos — it was thrilling to see that vulnerable part, and the wonderful colors. He always looks pure black and white in your usual shots, but in these his ‘black’ bits look very reddish. Is that just the lighting/camera? He reminded me of the illustrations I loved as a girl in ‘Misty of Chinconteague’ by Marguerite Henry. TonKA TonKA TonKA

    • Tonka is a true black and white paint, but in the summer the sun fades parts of him to a burnished brown. Misty was one of my favorite books, too.