horse owner is aware of the dangers of poisoning. But most think of
poisoning in the terms of toxic chemicals -- not the natural ones
found growing in pastures, fields, along fence lines, in front and
back yards or lining driveways.
Several years back a friend called to tell
me of the death of a new born foal. The mare alone had sent them
back in dollars and she along with the foal produced were to
become the 'corner stones' of their ranching business.
Never a day passed that they didn't check
on the mare. Inoculations were kept current, wormings wre
routinely given and when in foal, the slightest runny nose found
the vet driving to their barn. The vet joked he should "bill 'em
in mileage, not service". And when the foal was born, the whole
event was video recorded and the "little stud was going to be
world famous -- someday".
Upon arriving home one evening they found
the mare standing by the gate into the barn. The foal stretched
on the ground beside. Odd they thought, the foal usually stayed
away from the gate. They rushed to the mare and found the foal
No signs of trama on the body. Nothing
like a dog attack and the mare was an excellent mother.
Protecting the little guy and even chasing a wayward jackrabbit
from the field on day when it hopped to close to her baby!
Since there were no signs of disease or
injury, the vet asked if they would object to an autopsy. They
agreed. A few days later when they heard the results -- they
pulled up all the plants along the driveway, near the pond and
those growing along the road. To be exact, oleander poisoning
had killed the two month old foal.
It was not unusal to see the mare with
foal lying in the grass around the bright pink and red bushes.
Or see the mare grazing with baby nibbling at the grass and even
once, playfully dragging a broken oleander branch around the
Today, not a single oleander brush grows
anywhere on the property! And as my friend stated, "We were
stupid. We bought the place with all these bushes but not once
did we find out IF the plants were toxic to horses. When we
talked to the real estate agent, he said the landscaper put them
in and even he didn't know what was and what wasn't toxic when
it comes to horses. If we'd have done some investigating, we
would still have that baby."
Normally horses won't eat poisonous
plants. But during summer months when pasture grasses turn dry
and brown or when the pasture is over grazed, hungry horses will
eat anything they can find. Often grasses found around irrigated
landscape plants or irrigation systems contain dangerous weeds
along with those blades of succulent grass. And a young, nosey
horse will often try something 'different' to just see what it
Did YOU know that the fragrant flowering
shrub from which we get perfume -- jasmine -- is death to
horses? So are larkspur, bluebonnet, creeping ivy and buttercup
-- all popular landscape plants. Even the leaves of oak trees
are toxic is eaten in large enough quantities.
The critical point with any toxic plant is
'if eaten in large enough quantities'. But what is a 'large
enough quantity'?. A foal can nibble a few stems of lily of the
valley and die. A full grown horse may eat a whole plant and not
become ill. Or one animal may consume a gallon of oak leaves
with grass while an older horse may suffer a toxic reaction and
die after just a few mouthfulls.
answer to avoiding plant poisoning in any quantity is to
first learn what plants are toxic. A call to the county
agent will provide that information. Plus there are numerous
publications one can find such as "A Guide to Plant
Poisoning of Animals in North America" [order from
Two Horse Enterprises]. This 350 page book provides
pictures of plants plus breaks toxic plants down into ten
chapters with clinical toxic signs for each. And don't
expect every landscaper or gardener to know what is and what
isn't toxic to horses. Most have never researched the topic
even though they plant and cut along private horse property
The best method to toxic plant prevention
is for the HORSE OWNER to KNOW what plants are toxic and what
plants are not!!
Once a plant is determined to be toxic,
the next step is to get rid of it! Simply cutting it off will
NOT get rid of it. The plant will simply grown back. And with
some plants, roots can go three or four deep and criss-cross the
subsoil. So the best method is to dig it out. Get down on hands
and knees and DIG. Follow the main stem and then its roots. Once
the plant is out, fill the hole back in and then make a little
mark on a pasture map of where it was found so one can keep an
eye on that spot in the coming months. If it resprouts, dig it
up again. Remember when digging those plants up that you're not
only keeping your horse healthy but those walks around the
pasture carrying a hoe to do a little 'pasture gardening' is a
great way to start a 'fitness program for riding'!
There are a number of chemicals on the
market that kill weeds but NEVER SPRAY A PASTURE unless you are
POSITIVE the substance will not harm livestock. That's any
livestock -- horses, foals, ponies, rabbits, squirrels and even
cats and dogs for they occasionally 'graze grass'.
When landscaping or re-landscaping near a
pasture or barn make certain all plants to go into the ground
are livestock safe. Select plants that are both easy to use and
care for plus non-toxic. And when buying property, never assume
the developer or builder knows what is non-toxic. A large, new
housing development not far from where I board my horses was
advertised as "ranchettes for horse owners". White board fences
lined property lines and along the streets, young plants of
jasmine and yew sprouted happily!
A horse will not eat oak leaves, ragweed,
milkweed, pigweed, castor beans, laurel or other toxic plants in
its normal grazing pattern unless there is nothing else to eat!
A horse eats toxic plants when it's hungry. The horse with
adequate pasture and supplemental feeding when the pasture is
dry will simply walk over or around toxic weeds and continue
looking for what he really likes -- good old fashioned grass!