More than 1,000 horses die from ragwort poisoning each year and these are just the recorded cases. The tall dark green-stemmed flower, with a crown of small mustard yellow flowers can be seen across the UK, most frequently in fields and on verges.
It is already well-known by horse owners that this plant can cause death in horses if consumed but those who are short of food may turn to this wildflower to stay alive.
When 2-year-old cob, Mina, was first reported to equine rescue and welfare charity, Bransby Horses, in February 2019, she was weak, unstable on her legs, lethargic and depressed. Mina wasn’t eating or drinking and looked close to giving up on life.
When the Bransby Horses team first saw her, they knew she was in serious danger. The team flushed her system with IV fluids, gave her pain relief and took blood for testing. The results were not good and showed possible liver damage. The fact the signs of this damage were being seen in other parts of her body meant it was life-threatening. Mina was in a lot of pain and was suffering. After her post mortem, it was confirmed that the cause of death was ragwort poisoning.
Whilst Mina didn’t survive her ordeal and had a short and painful life, Bransby Horses are committed to sharing this story to reduce the chances of neglect like this happening again.
Elijah Kettle, Education and Campaigns Officer at Bransby Horses said:
“Mina’s story is incredibly sad but what is sadder, is that this is not unusual. We offer advice, support and often just lend an ear to equine owners, so they can get the advice and support they need. We don’t want owners to get to the point where they feel there are no options left, they need our support and the support of the public. It is often the fear of judgement and the stigma of admitting they are not coping which results in stories like Mina’s. We are urging struggling equine owners to contact us before it is too late.”
Ragwort poisoning is the most common cause of liver disease in equines. When it is consumed by equines, it causes a lack of appetite, weight loss, depression, diarrhoea, fever, jaundice and photosensitivity. The plant is toxic and if eaten, prevents liver cells functioning. These effects cannot be reversed.
Bransby Horses is encouraging all equine owners to do a ragwort walk around their land every day, alongside their poo-picking, and pull up any of ragwort they see. Even if there is a slim chance their animals will eat it, it’s never worth taking the chance. Land which borders fields with horses in, may also have ragwort which must be removed.
Horse owners who are struggling with caring for their equines can get support and advice from Bransby Horses, without judgement. The number to call is: 01427 787369 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Bransby Horses has also just relaunched their new online Information and Advice hub, which includes lots of useful information for equine owners:
For more information about how to deal with ragwort, the British Horse Society have a toolkit which can be found here: https://www.bhs.org.uk/our-work/welfare/our-campaigns/ragwort-toolkit