Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Horse Health - Know the Plant Life in Your Area

I was riding by a neighbor’s place the other day and noticed how his once clear dirt turn out, adjacent to his horse stalls, were overrun with Snake Weed. I made a mental note on talking to him about the noxious weed then decided to do a post on plants in general.

If you are a trail rider or other wise keep your horses near any vegetated area, you should probably learn about the plant life in your area. Know what is poisonous and what is okay for the horse to eat. Even if the plant is safe for your horses to eat, a good rule would be to limit his consumption of any new feed. Horses’ guts are sensitive and even a small change in feed types or sources can cause them gut distress and even colic.

The local extension office of your State Agricultural office or U.S. Department of Agricultural can help you identify noxious or poisonous plants for your horses.

As a former Army Range Rider and having taught Wilderness Survival for years, I am just greatly interested in the plants and animals, so I made it my business to understand edible and poisonous plants and what plants horses can eat.

In the part of the Chihuahuan Desert where I live, with about an average rainfall of 6 inches, there are many plants that are both toxic and edible. When I get up to the higher elevations the density of certain plants decreases and other species of plants are prolific. So there may be subtle changes in plant life density in the areas you ride as well.

In the below videos I will show you Yucca, Snake Weed, Sage and Mesquite on video one, and Western Peppergrass, Desert Marigold and Mormon’s tea in video two. When I get a chance to ride in some higher elevations, I will film more plants.

Generally, poisonous plants are bitter and horses won’t eat enough of it to make a great different, but why take chances? All horses are different and small amounts of toxic plants that do not affect one horse may very well affect another adversely.

The whitish bulbs on the Yucca stalk are generally safe. I had a paint horse who loved to eat Yucca leaves. He would strip a whole stalk without adverse affects. Horses won’t generally eat snake weed, maybe excepting for am mouthful and I have had horses eat a mouthful without ill affect, but this is a toxic plant to horses. Mesquite beans are just like green beans and are great cow feed. However, most ranchers would like to tear out their mesquite as it takes a lot of water away from the available grasses. I have seen horses eat a few beans and mesquite flowers, but generally horses won’t eat mesquite beans.

Western Peppergrass is pretty pungent, like the name. The flowers are crushed and used in stews and on meat. Never seen a horse digest any, but would rather err on the side of caution and keep them away from it. The Desert Marigold is a bitter plant, however once it dries up in the fall and winter, horses will readily eat the dried flowers and stalk without ill effect - not much nutritional content ( I had it checked at a local University). Mormon’s tea is best used by people, brewed into a tea which is a decongestant as it has a natural ephedra in it. Never saw horses eat any, and if I had a Arab or Thoroughbred, I would keep these naturally excited horses away from it – just kidding on the Arabs and TB’s,…I actually know a couple decent horses of each breed so please don’t send me hate mail.

Video One

Video Two


  1. We live near Phoenix, Arizona and have three mesquite trees in our horse pasture. Our horses LOVE the mesquite pods. (They taste sweet.) Some horses have become impacted from mesquite pods, but our horses have been fine eating the pods that drop from our trees in addition to their regular diet of bermuda grass and bermuda hay.

  2. During the tough drought this summer I saw several very sick horses from mesquite beans. A neighbors horse was severely impacted. Almost every time I went to the vet there was at least one horse suffering form eating mesquite beans. One horse was foundered on the beans and there was one that I doubt lived through the afternoon. Be careful.