Ragwort: Be alert!

Spring has sprung and everywhere is looking very green – and yellow! The oilseed rape makes for some stunning scenery this time of year, but there is another, more sinister yellow plant about to make its annual appearance, ragwort.

Ragwort contains toxic compounds which, if eaten, can cause irreversible liver damage to horses. This can happen if it’s eaten fresh, but also dry in hay or haylage, so it’s important to check fields before making hay.

It’s usually found growing on roadside verges and wasteland but is spreading more and more to grazing land. Although it has a bitter taste, horses will eat it if there is nothing else available – and when it’s dry in hay, it’s very hard for horses to tell it’s toxic.

Ragwort starts flowering from May through to October, so do keep your eyes peeled for signs of the plant in your own fields and out and about. Horses left in fields of ragwort, due to cruelty or just ignorance, are at risk, so report any situations you’re concerned about.

There was a story in Horse & Hound about a pony who was rescued after being dumped. About four months into enjoying his new home, he had to be put down due to liver disease, presumably from exposure to ragwort in his earlier life. The owners are now trying to raise awareness of this ‘silent assassin’.

So take action today and let’s stop ragwort from taking any more innocent lives. If you’d like more information, visit the British Horse Society website.

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