The latest from the horse world
NATALIE MCGOLDRICK MRCVS owns South Coast Equine Vets and has a strong message for all owners. “Don’t assume your horse won’t eat the ragwort in his field. Use a specialist fork to remove all plants and their roots as soon as you spot any.” Natalie is concerned by how much of this poisonous weed she’s seen in paddocks this summer, and the seemingly unconcerned attitude of some of the horse owners she’s spoken to. “Ragwort’s natural habitat is sand dunes, but it also thrives on over-grazed pastures,” she explains. “The prolonged drought this summer has resulted in poor pastureland and over-grazing, and ragwort is thriving.” Mature plants taste bitter and horses usually avoid them, but they will eat them if they have to. “Horses will eat whatever they can if they are hungry, including poisonous plants if there’s no alternative,” says Natalie. “With the fields being so scorched, many are at this stage. Also, as it starts to die, ragwort loses its bitter taste and horses will then eat it readily. If it’s not removed before this stage, horses are at high risk.” It’s not just ragwort in your paddocks you need to worry about. “As I’ve been driving around, I’ve noticed an increase of ragwort in fields being cut for hay,” explains Natalie. “This is irresponsible on the farmer’s part — I’ve seen ponies with severe liver damage after consuming ragwort this way. Try to stick to a supplier you know takes care of his fields and, although ragwort can be tricky to spot in hay, be as vigilant as you can.” The effect of ragwort on the liver is cumulative, so your horse only needs to eat a little over an extended period of time for the effects to be devastating. Symptoms of ragwort poisoning won’t show until it’s too late, so ensure you clear the plant from all your grazing and nearby land. It’s toxic to humans too, so wear gloves when handling it.
The dry summer has seen poisonous ragwort flourish