Every 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
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 -- dead.
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 pasture.
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 tastes like.
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.
The 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 Amazon.com
or 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 everyday.
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
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 relandscaping 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!