FORAGED FOODS - The good and the toxic to your horse

Horse’s particular foraged favourites include everything from thistles and oak leaves to willow rosehip and wild garlic.

FORAGED FOODS - The good and the toxic to your horse

While some foraged foods can be good for your horse, other plants lurking in our fields and hedgerows can actually be toxic and horses are not always discerning when it comes to their choices. So, the Petplan team has, with the help of vet Gil Riley, Vet of the Year and independent equine nutritionist, Dr Catherine Dunnett, put together a helpful guide to what’s good and what’s not. 

Dr Dunnett is swift to point out that foraging is, in the main, beneficial. “Foraging in horses is to be encouraged – it’s a very natural behaviour- but whilst some plants such as thistles may be harmless and could even be beneficial, others can be a hazard.  You do really need to be well informed on what you horse is tucking in to when they ingest leaves, seeds and some pasture weeds as they may harbour serious toxins – the obvious example being the recent link made between the seeds of certain Acer trees and equine atypical myopathy a life threatening muscle related condition” she clarifies.

“The decision to investigate this topic further came from a discussion we were having here in the office about the habits of our own horses” explains Charlotte Collyer, marketing executive with Petplan Equine. 

“It became clear that some horses had definite favourites and that their owners didn’t always know which were safe and which weren’t. So this project aims to provide horse owners with accurate information about this subject” she says.

“Some people believe horses will avoid poisonous plants unless there is simply nothing else to eat in their field – this is not always the case”, explains vet Gil Riley of Pool House Equine Vets in Staffordshire.  Conversely, some believe horses seek out plants that they ‘need’ such as Willow that contains salicylic acid, a naturally occurring form of aspirin or rosehips that are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. While there may be some truth in both instances, it is most likely that horses browse the plants that have a taste that they like. A good example is oak leaves and acorns, the latter is toxic and has particular adverse effects so if your horse appears to like acorns it must not be allowed near oaks when they are dropping them” emphasises Gil.

Pet paln blackthorns     Pet plan yew-trees
Blackthorns(non toxic but be aware)                     (Yew trees (Toxic)

The following table provides, at a glance a guide to those that are toxic, non-toxic and good. 

Yew Small amount
Dandelions Rosehips
Mallow Clovers
(In moderation)
White (Aliske) Clover Blackthorn
(Be aware)
Thistles Willow
Cherry Gorse Cow Parsley
Acorns Brambles Wild Garlic
Field Horsetail Wild Camomilie Chalk Stream 
  Goose Grass  
  Wild celery  
  Coarse grass  

The table shows that there are many more non-toxic or good forages to be found in our fields and hedgerows than bad ones, but to be absolutely sure you know what your horse is eating and whether it’s good for them and safe to eat visit where you will find a photograph of each plant and more detail. 

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Read more feed related articles helping you understand the feeding environment of your horse