Ragwort contains toxic compounds which can cause poisoning to horses if eaten in any state. Ragwort can damage the liver, which may eventually result in severe disease and even death.

Ragwort is a common weed many of us will see thriving on wasteland, road verges and railway embankments.

The concern for horse owners and landowners producing forage and grazing their animals, is that if ragwort is left to grow in high-risk areas, it can spread onto neighbouring land.  

Most horses won’t immediately choose to eat ragwort if it is growing among their grazing because it tastes bitter– but this isn’t a guarantee. Horses will eat ragwort if nothing else is available, if they eat it accidentally or where parts of the plant have wilted and become palatable. Ragwort loses its bitter taste if it’s cut, dried and found in forage for example hay – but it doesn’t lose any of its toxicity and still remains a danger. 

Signs of ragwort poisoning can include:

  • Depression/lethargy
  • Jaundice (a yellow tinge in the gums and eyes)
  • Photosensitisation (inflammation of the skin)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Neurological signs including head pressing, loss of coordination, continuous circling, seizures
  • Aggressiveness

    Effects of horse’s eating ragwort:

    1. Ragwort contains Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (PAs) and ingestion leads to toxic by-products produced in the liver
    2. These toxic by-products called pyroles disrupt DNA function in the liver cells
    3. Damaged cells lose their capacity to regenerate
    4. The liver has the ability to function until approximately 70% becomes damaged
    5. At this stage there is no effective treatment to reverse the damage to the liver cells

Who is responsible?

The control of ragwort comes under two government acts, The Weeds Act (1959) and The Control of Ragwort Act (2003). It isn’t an offence for ragwort to grow in certain areas but because common ragwort is a specified weed under the Weeds Act (1959), landowners/occupiers have an obligation to control the spread if it poses a high risk (within 50 metres) of land used for grazing or forage production.

In the equestrian sector, the person responsible for the control of ragwort could be a landowner, yard manager, tenant or livery client. Check your contract as it may stipulate who is responsible for removing ragwort from the horses’ pasture. Discuss any concerns with your yard manager or the landowner. Investment in pasture management helps decrease the opportunities for ragwort to seed and grow.

Remove ragwort from fields used for grazing

If land you own has ragwort, and it’s either at risk of spreading to high-risk land or your land is occupied by horses, you must act now to remove the ragwort.

The BHS Welfare team has a network of Welfare Advisers and Field Officers who will aim to resolve any concerns by working with the horse owner/keeper or landowner in an advisory capacity.

If you’re concerned about horses grazing in fields with ragwort, contact the team on:

02476 840517 or [email protected].

High risk land areas

If ragwort is growing within 50 metres of land used by horses or livestock take action immediately.

Take immediate action to remove the weed from this area and control its spread must be taken by the landowner.

It’s not an offence for ragwort to grow in certain areas, but spread of ragwort onto high-risk land is an offence.

The landowner’s permission must always be obtained before going onto other land or removing ragwort (or any other plant) from it.

Article from: Ragwort: The Dangers To Horses | The British Horse Society (bhs.org.uk)

More at : code of practice on hopw to prevent the spread of ragwort (publishing.service.gov.uk)