An increasing threat to our horses?

Ragwort is a weed found commonly throughout the UK, and can often be seen on road verges and wasteland. Whilst it has always posed a threat to our horses, the number of these plants has been increasing over the past few years, posing an increasing threat to our horses, ponies, donkeys and other livestock.


Ragwort contains a toxic compound (pyrrolizidine alkaloid) to which horses are particularly susceptible. Ingestion (eating) of ragwortcauses damage to the liver, which is often delayed in onset, chronic and progressive.As well as eating a lot in one go, eating smaller amounts repeatedly over time can cause disease equally as the effects of the toxin are cumulative.

Clinical signs 

Liver damage can cause depressed or bizarre behaviour (hepatic encephalopathy), photosensitisation (inflammation of areas of white/unpigmented skin after exposure to sunlight), weight loss and diarrhoea.


Treatment can be difficult and not all horses survive.Therefore prevention is extremely important.

Do some weeding!

To prevent ‘ragwort poisoning’ the weeds need to be kept away from horses usually by pulling them from the ground with as much root as possible. When the plant dies from being pulled, sprayed or cut the drying causes it to lose its bitter taste but the toxin does not go away. It is very important to dispose of the weeds properly i.e. in a bin or burnt not just thrown over the fence as the horses can still be ‘poisoned’ by the dead plant! When handling ragwort it is recommended to wear sturdy gardening gloves as it can be an irritant to humans too. Once the weeds are pulled up make sure there are no leaves left in the field and be careful not to spread the seeds on the ground.

Ragwort on the roads

If you notice ragwort growing on motorways or trunk roads the Highways Agency should be contacted, on minor roads notify the local highways agency, and on railways notify Network rail. Under the Weeds Act 1959 (whole UK)  and Ragwort Act 2003 (England and Wales) clearance notices can be served by governmental authorities to help prevent spread.

What else can you do?

The British Horse Society (BHS) are conducting a survey in association with DEFRA which aims to assess awareness and understanding, with the aim to help protect horses. To help make a difference visit http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/our-campaigns/ragwort


Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about our services

Email: gvgbrooksequine@gmail.com   Telephone: 01737 246109

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