Know your Plants, Protect your Horses

Looking at my backyard last night and all of the different species of plants that have cropped up over the last week or so made me thankful I only have a small space to manage, one where everything is free to grow! This would not be the case if I were managing a horse property.

Effective pasture management is essential to maintaining safe and healthy grazing areas for horses. This can be partially achieved through effective pasture management that includes rotational grazing. Bare patches of overgrazed grass present an ideal opportunity for more opportunistic plant species to grow, in many cases, ones that are toxic to horses. In Canada, the following 10 plants have been identified as being the most toxic to horses. Take some time to learn which are native to your area and how to identify them. Prompt removal of any toxic plants from paddocks or pastures the horses have access to is recommended.

Yew – ornamental, often used in hedges. Yew can be lethal if enough is ingested (0.5 pounds for a 1000 pound horse). Symptoms: muscular tremors, staggering, convulsions, difficulty breathing, collapse, heart failure. 

Water Hemlock – found in ditches and wet areas throughout Canada. Ingestion of just 1 root of Western Hemlock can lead to fatality in just a few hours. Symptoms: salivation, muscle spasms, violent convulsions, coma, asphyxiation. 

Poison Hemlock – found in ditches, streams, wet meadows and along roadsides throughout North America. Poison Hemlock can result in death from respiratory failure within 2 – 3 hours. Symptoms: frothing at the mouth, uneasiness, dilated pupils, weak, rapid pulse, convulsions, clamping of jaws, muscle tremors.

Oak – found throughout Canada. While not fatal, if regularly ingested, Oak can cause gastroenteritis and kidney damage. Symptoms: inappetence, constipation followed by bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression, blood in the urine.

Rhododendron – ornamental plant. 2 pounds of Rhododendron per 1000 pound horse can be lethal within a few hours of ingestion. Symptoms: diarrhea, weakness, repeated swallowing, impaired vision, bradycardia, tachycardia, coma.

Cow Cockle – found in pastures, along roadsides, in cultivated fields and waste areas. Cow cockle seeds are toxic with a lethal dose of 2.45 pounds per 1000 pound horse. Symptoms: restlessness, grinding of teeth, salivation, colic, diarrhea, coma.

Cocklebur – found in farmyards, cultivated fields, streambanks and beaches. Cocklebur is not considered lethal but can result in extreme discomfort if ingested. Symptoms: weakness, unsteady gait, twisting of neck muscles, depression, nausea, laboured breathing, rapid/weak pulse.

Jimsonweed – found in cultivated fields and farmyards across most of southern Canada. Lethal at 1 pound per 1000 pound horse, Jimsomweed also has a narcotic effect that may be fatal to livestock. Symptoms: dilation of pupils, impaired vision, rapid/weak pulse, nausea, loss of muscular coordination, violent/aggressive behaviour, trembling. 

Nightshade – found in fencerows, shrubs and wood edges in southern Canada. Nighshade can be fatal at 1 pound per 1000 pound horse. Symptoms: abdominal pain, dilation of pupils, loss of appetite, diarrhea, loss of muscular coordination. 

Oleander – may be grown as an ornamental shrub in Canada

Other plants toxic to horses include:

  • Alsike Clover
  • Arrow Grass
  • Barnyard Grass
  • Bracken Fern
  • Burdock
  • Field Horsetail
  • Johnsongrass
  • Lupine
  • Mikweed
  • Puncture Vine
  • Spear-Leaved Goosefoot
  • Sneezeweed
  • Spurge
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Stinging Nettle
  • Stork’s Bill
  • Tall Buttercups
  • Tansy Ragwort
  • White Snakeroot
  • Witch Grass


Lawseth, A. undated. “Pasture Perils – Plants Toxic to Horses.” Horse Journals Retrieved from

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Common Weeds Poisonous to Grazing Livestock.” Retrieved from


Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Last fall I took the Equine Health & Disease Prevention course offered online through the University of Guelph. I highly recommend this course for anybody who has or plans to adopt a horse. It covers everything from the daily health check and how to effectively communicate with your veterinarian, to biosecurity awareness and an array of equine health conditions. The knowledge and resources I have acquired will prove to be invaluable in the future. In this post, I have compiled some of the key information related to emergency preparedness.

Having pertinent details, such as the horse’s medical information, normal vital signs, and the veterinarian’s phone number is essential when an emergency occurs. One must be able to clearly and calmly assess the situation, calm the distressed horse, and implement any emergency measures (i.e. stop excessive bleeding) and determine whether or not an immediate call to the vet is necessary. If it is, the call should be made as soon as possible to relay vital information, all while keeping the horse calm and administering any first-aid interventions the vet advises.


When an emergency occurs, SWIPER is a simple and effective acronym to remember the steps to follow in an emergency scenario. Post it in a central location and tuck a copy into the first-aid kit.

Scan the horse and environment.
What is wrong?
Immediate needs…prioritize.
Reassess and repeat.

Reviewing SWIPER with everyone in the barn and running through a few scenarios together from time-to-time will serve as an effective tool in preparing everyone responsible for the day-to-day care of the horses for an emergency if and when one does occur, including borders, lessees, and students. Focus on a variety of equine emergencies and compile a record of hypothetical and real-life experiences for educational purposes.

This post on the l’écurie equine virtual farm covers 9 specific equine emergencies in detail, including observable signs, the degree of urgency, and first-aid steps. The emergencies covered are Choke · Colic · Ocular Trauma · Grain Overload · Heat Stroke · Hoof Puncture · Lacerations and Puncture Wounds · Sudden Onset Sever Lameness · Acute Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (tying-up).

Horse Information Sheets

To facilitate communication and proper care of each horse, a brief description of the horse and relevant contact information should be posted on each stall, or, in the case of group-housed horses, in a central common area. Place copies of each horse’s Contact Sheet in a binder in the tack or feed room and in the office. Keep backup files on a hard drive and update as needed.

List the phone numbers of the owner, veterinarian, farrier, and perhaps a lessee or other person in case the owner is unavailable. Indicate whether the stable manager is authorized to make decisions regarding medical interventions on behalf of the owner, and include any medical history or extra care/caution that should be exercised when handling the horse.


HORSE Henry  
Birthdate: June 21, 2007 Age: 10

Colour: black/white  Breed: Shire/Paint/Warmblood  Sex: M
Distinguishing Markings: 17h black & white paint. He's hard to miss!

Comments: diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis (roaring) in May 2015

Normal Vital Signs:
Temperature:          Pulse:          Respiration:

OWNER   Natalie Ethier  Work #:           Cell #:  
Alternate Contact: Marsha Farmer,  Cell #: 

VETERINARIAN  Albert Horseford 
Office Phone #: 
Emergency/ After Hours #: 
FARRIER  Jane Barn, phone # 

Equestrian Insurance Brokers, phone # 
Horse Policy, policy #


First Aid Kits

Purchase or assemble a first-aid kit for the barn, as well as a copy of The Complete Equine Emergency Bible by Karen Coumbe.  It is wise to assemble at least two First-Aid kits; a fully stocked one for the barn, a smaller one to carry on trails for minor incidents that may occur while away from the barn, and if applicable, a third to keep in the trailer.

Kentucky Horse Council recommends using a bucket for a DIY portable First-Aid kit. This would be a suitable option for the barn and trailer. If using a bucket, make sure to store it in a cupboard or box where it will be protected from dust and dirt. A tool or tack box may be a better option.

The trail kit should contain a hoof pick & knife, at least 1 bandage, antiseptic spray, bailing twine, emergency contact phone numbers, and band-aids for personal use. Store this in a waterproof bag to tuck into a saddle bag or backpack.

Being prepared for an emergency will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for your horse!



Virtual Farm: A Resource for Equine Health & Disease Prevention

The end of another term is fast approaching! The past few months have been filled with a wealth of information from my instructors and peers. One of the assignments for Equine Health & Disease Prevention was to create a virtual farm with action points for each unit. I’ve even included a few horses, a mule, and a couple of barn cats – Henry, Mabel, Marvin, Fellini, Mr. Mustard, Lucy, and George. The farm will serve as an invaluable tool as I continue through these courses and particularly when I adopt a horse of my own. I hope other people will find it helpful too!

The categories are as follows:

  1. Advocating for Your Horse’s Health
  2. Monitoring Your Horse’s Health
  3. Role of Biosecurity in Equine Wellness
  4. Effective Approaches in Emergencies
  5. Hoof Health & Conditions
  6. Lameness – Diagnostic Process
  7. Lameness – Understanding Conditions
  8. Dental Care & Parasite Control
  9. Owner Impact on Colic
  10. Overview of Medical Conditions
  11. Respiratory & Cardiovascular Health
  12. Pre-Purchase Examination
  13. Toxins