Ensuring that the fields, stables and exercise areas your horse uses are free from potential hazards is an incredibly important part of everyday horse care.
Whilst most of us would be able to identify twisted metal, broken glass, rusty nails and sharp pieces of wood as dangerous items – many of us wouldn’t think twice about the plants growing naturally in the space.
However, a few of these plants are incredibly dangerous and some are even life threatening. One of the most common illnesses during the spring months in horses is ragwort.
Ragwort is a potentially fatal weed and it can severely affect horse health and leave your four legged friend suffering from pain, inflammation, blindness and liver failure.
In order to protect your beloved horse from such an illness, it is vital that you, yourself understand what ragwort is and how to prevent it affecting your animals.
What is ragwort?
Ragwort is a tall, erect plant measuring an average of around 90cm in height. During its flowering season from July to October it bears large, flat topped clusters of bright yellow, daisy like flowers.
The plant generally grows in uncultivated areas like paddocks, railway embankments and in waste ground and can unfortunately be difficult to eradicate once established. Ragwort is mostly palatable when dry; this is why it also needs to be removed from any pasture that is to be cut for forage.
During the spring months, the rosettes of young ragwort plants begin to appear. These can be identified by their leaves which are bright green and finely divided with deeply cut teeth.
How does it affect our horses?
When ingested, ragwort begins to damage a horse’s liver and once the liver is damaged it is ultimately unable to work efficiently, resulting in toxins building up in the horse’s digestive system.
If the liver begins to fail, the horse may become lethargic, behave abnormally and suffer from painful inflammations when exposed to sunlight. If the condition worsens, horses will begin to go blind, lose weight and struggle to breath before succumbing to the poison.
In many cases, symptoms do not appear until it’s too late to cure, giving horse owners no choice but to practise euthanasia on their much loved animal.
How can you prevent your pet suffering from ragwort?
To avoid the horrific consequences associated with this plant, it’s very important that you immediately remove any ragwort you see growing in or around your horse’s paddock.
To prevent the plant re-growing in the future, it is important to ensure that you rip it up by its roots and burn it so that it can’t spread. Whilst ragwort is known for its unpalatable taste, few recognise its poisonous nature, making it extremely easy for horses to eat it without noticing. As a result, is vital that as a horse owner you ensure you don’t leave any lying around in the paddock or yard.
In cases where ragwort is wide spread in a field or paddock, the area will need to be chemically treated. Remove your horses from the area before you spray the weed and make sure it’s completely safe for them before you return them to the space.