Reiki • Holistic • Horses & Humans

Category: #holistic approaches

Ulcers and gastric issues in horses

Image of a horse.

Gastric issues in horses are extremely serious and can cause great pain. There are essentially two kinds of ulceration. One of these occurs in the upper or squamous part of the stomach. The other, in the lower or glandular region. Ulcers are unfortunately all too common in racing and competition horses. We will consider here both kinds of ulceration.

Squamous ulceration

Squamous ulceration may be exacerbated by movement. In this case, the horse has not eaten for a period of time, and is then worked. Rapid movement can cause acid drops from the glandular lower part of the stomach to splash up. These drops burn the upper squamous part which is less well protected.

Training, including fast work on an empty stomach, increases the risk of the acid splash, resulting in damage to the upper part of the stomach.

If acid splash is affecting the squamous region, there is a simple way of improving the situation. A couple of handfuls of chaff will absorb excess acid. This can be given about 30 minutes before work begins. Excess acid is absorbed in this way. In a recent seminar, Gillian Higgins discusses this with nutritionist Clare MacLeod. Her all-day seminar on equine nutrition is essential viewing.

Glandular ulceration

In the wild, horses graze for up to 16 hours each day. As horses produce acid continuously, acidity is reduced by continuous foraging. Bicarbonate in the saliva is also produced as the horse chews. With free access to hay, haylage or grass, the natural reduction of acidity continues. Acidity increases however if horses receive high-concentrate diets with limited access to forage. Prolonged periods without forage lead to increased gastric acidity. Such periods can be due to ill-health, or result from management decisions. Stress can also be a factor.


There are no definitive external signs that a horse has gastric ulcers. Clues may however come in the form of decreased performance and behavioral changes.Poor body condition, loss of appetite, and colics may also alert the owner. Diagnosis can only be carried out by your vet. The vet will perform a gastric endoscopy and examine the stomach lining. Gastric issues are likely to show up in energy balancing, but this approach is non-diagnostic. The first and immediate port of call is your vet.

Helping your Horse with herbs

Once your vet has diagnosed the situation, there are things we can do, holistically. There are many herbs that are extremely supportive to the stomach lining. I will now write about some of those herbs. Following the vet’s visit, I would want to test these herbs to see which of them are relevant to your horse.

In the energy testing approach, we ask which plants would balance the gastric sensitivity? Which plants might bring equilibrium to this kind of imbalance? In a very simple way, we can actually energy test these one by one. We can also get an idea of the quantities required. Using zoopharmacognosy, your horse could also self-select.

There are five common herbs that are extremely helpful for gastric issues. These are Comfrey, Licorice root, Marshmallow root, Meadowsweet. There is also Slippery Elm usually in the form of a powder. These herbs soothe and balance the digestive tract.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey is one of the most specific plants for gastric ulcers. The mucilaginous content is soothing to the inflamed tissue. This plant is common throught the UK, Europe and the US. It has both anti-inflammatory and demulcent properties. The healing properties of this plant come from a substance called Allantoin. Allantoin stimulates cell division, and hence encourages wound healing. Studies have shown that comfrey can reduce inflammation in the inflamed stomach lining. It is thus appropriate for any gastric condition, including ulcers, colic and colitis.

Liquorice root. (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Liquorice is excellent in the case of Ulcers. The plant produces a thick and sticky mucus which reduces gastric acid. In this way it promotes healing. Liquorice has many healing actions, as an anti-inflammatory, demulcent, and expectorant. It also has antibacterial and anti-viral properties. It has been used in medicine for over three millenia. Ancient herbals have recommended the plant for both humans and animals. It is the demulcent activity that makes Liquorice suitable for horses with ulceration.

Marshamallow root (Althea officinalis)

This plant is currently found throughout Europe, the US and Australia. Another demulcent and mucilagenous plant, it is excellent for horses with ulcers. As with Dandelion, both the root and leaves maybe used. In this case, it is the root which is appropriate. The leaf is generally used for the respiratory and urinary systems. The leaves can also be used for coughs. The root is specific for the digestive system: ulceration, inflammation, scouring and colitis.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

Meadowsweet is common throughout Britain and Europe, parts of Asia and North America. This is another highly specific plant for ulceration. It can be very helpful if the ulceration is drug-induced. Meadowsweet protects the digestive tract, and reduces excess acid. Meadowsweet is also known as the herbal aspirin, as it contains salicylic acid. A certain pharmaceutical company patented acetylsalicylic acid many years ago. This drug we now know as aspirin. It is not the salicylic acid that is helpful in cases of ulceration, but the tannins and mucilage.

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)

This plant acts as an internal poultice, reduces acid secretions, and soothes inflammation. it is common to central and Eastern regions of the US. This plant is rich in mucilage and can be both a food and medicine. When the plant is moistened, it takes on a slippery and slimy texture. It can be used internally to soothe the digestive tract. The action of this plant is gentle and very soothing.


If you suspect that your horse has ulceration, you should call your vet immediately. Follow their advice to the letter. That said, there are many herbs that are helpful to horses in this situation. Comfrey, Licorice root, Marshmallow root, Meadowsweet, and also Slippery Elm. Please note that this article is purely informational in nature. It is not “diagnostic”. A qualified equine herbalist can offer guidance on working with these and other herbs.

I also carry out energy balancing work and am able to guide you, both on-site or at distance. If you would like to discuss a more holistic approach to your horse’s care, please get in touch using the link below. I would love to hear from you.


Gillian Higgins, Horses Inside Out Academy. Equine digestive seminar.

Horse and Hound: Gastric ulcers in horses: the important facts every owner needs to know.

Hillary Page Self. A Modern Horse Herbal, Kenilworth Press, 2004.


I hope this article has been helpful. Many other articles about plants and horses appear on my blog. They are also linked to my Professional Facebook Page. If there is a plant or issue that you would like me to write about, please get in touch via Contacts.

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Ragwort, rewilding and diversity

In a recent post, I described the Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), as one of the plants most toxic to horses. In this post, I look at a related issue, concerning Ragwort and Rewilding.


Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is a biennial plant, abundant in Britain. It can grow from 30cm to a meter in height. Ragwort has bright yellow flowers, and the rough lobed leaves which give it its name. This plant was classed as injurious under the Weeds Act, 1959. Landowners may be subject to prosecution if they leave Ragwort on their land.

But Ragwort possesses benefits too!

The dangers of Ragwort are well-known. Especially to livestock owners, and equestrians. Yet Ragwort has many benific properties. What is less widely known is that Ragwort supports a thriving community of insects. Seven species of Beetle. Twelve species of flies. One Macro moth, the cinnabar moth. Seven micro moths. It is a source of nectar for 30 species of solitary bees. Eighteen species of solitary wasps. And fifty different species of insect parasites. According to Isabella Tree (Wilding), 177 different species of insect feed on Ragwort.

Isabella Tree devotes her entire chapter Eight (Wilding) to the subject of Ragwort. The problem is of size. One issue she discusses concerns the BEVA report of 2002. BEVA is the British Equine Veterinary Association. They reported that 6,500 horses died in 2002 due to Ragwort. Yet only 12 years before, data showed that only 10 horses succumb to the plant per year. This previous data came from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As such there was a huge discrepancy between the two reports. Isabella Tree has argued that the BEVA report used data from only 4% of BEVA members. They claimed on average three cases each of Ragwort poisoning. This figure was then extrapolated to the entire membership. It is clear there is a need for reliable data.

The reason I explore this in detail is that Ragwort inflames passions. And the plant – despite toxicity – has considerable benefits for a large number of insects.

Rewilding Britain and Ragwort

Rewilding Britain has also published a report on this plant. As they point out: ” The species is an important source of nectar and pollen. It’s a food plant for many insect species, including the cinnabar moth. However, ragwort is deemed to be toxic to livestock when taken in high doses. Animals will naturally avoid ragwort when grazing unless pasture is overgrazed and there’s a lack of food, but they can’t detect ragwort that’s present in hay. A large amount of ragwort — estimated to be around 5 – 25% of total body weight for horses and cattle — has to be ingested for it to be poisonous”. 

In terms of control, they suggest that action may need the use of herbicides. These are generally damaging to the environment. Cutting and removing the plants is labour intensive and expensive but is kinder to the land. In rewilding projects, patience is essential. It takes time to allow natural succession. With time, different species will replace Ragwort.

In the case of the Knepp estate, they maintain a topped 50m boundary. This prevents any possibility of Ragwort seeding neighboring land.

Wicken Fen National Nature reserve has tried a variety of methods. Ground cover is established to minimize the spread of Ragwort. This includes natural regeneration, seeding and hay spreading. Results have been mixed. No single measure prevented Ragwort seed from drifting onto neighboring land.

Seeding and seed dispersal

Studies have been carried out on seed dispersal in Ragwort. Seed carried by the wind tends to be lighter and also infertile. For a plant making 30,000 seeds, 60% will fall at the base of the plant. 39% will fall within 4.5m (15ft), and at 36m (120 ft), less than 0.005% of the seed can be detected. That is, less than 2 grains of 30,000. This study confirms that wind-borne seed transport is highly limited in Ragwort.


In the end, I believe the best stance is truly difficult to determine. On the one hand, these plants are clearly toxic. On the other, they provide sustenance for at least 177 species of insect. To eradicate by hand (and I have done this myself, to protect horses), is one approach. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the insect habitats I have personally destroyed.

Can one maintain a 50m topped boundary? Wind studies show that seeds tend to disperse in a small area, local to each plant. If a boundary is not possible, eradication may be the better solution for neighbors.

This may be critical if hay or haylage is cropped close by your land. One of the most common causes of equine poisoning is dried Ragwort contaminating hay. Horses generally steer well clear of this plant. Its odor is unpleasant to them. But it can escape their attention if dried and baled with the hay. It is essential is to check one’s hay carefully. And if hay is produced on land bordering your own, I would control Ragwort very closely.

This subject is extremely complex. The discussion by Nogués-Bravo et al. (2016) makes this patently clear. Each situation must be studied on its own merits. I hope, however, that this reflection serves to remind that Ragwort has many benefits in the ecosystem. And that we need to find a balance between the needs of herbivores on the one hand. And the hundreds of insect species that this plant supports, on the other.


Isabella Tree:
Wilding: The return to nature of a British Farm. Picador. 2018

Rewilding Britain:
Quick Guide to Ragwort:

Rewilding is the new Pandora’s box in conservation
David Nogués-Bravo, Daniel Simberloff, Carsten Rahbek,
and Nathan James Sanders.
Current Biology, Volume 26, Issue 3, 8 February 2016, Pages R87-R91


Other articles about plants appear on my Professional Facebook Page.
If there is a plant you would like me to write about, please get in touch via Contacts.

Quarterly Holistic Newsletter

If you have enjoyed this article, please keep in touch and sign up for our Quarterly Holistic Newsletter.

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Holy Fire III™ Karuna Reiki

I have just spent an amazing weekend in the company of William Lee Rand and 23 Reiki Masters from all over the world, who came together to take William’s Holy Fire III™ Karuna Reiki Master Teacher’s training, beamed from Hana, in Hawaii, 25th, 26th and 27th of September, 2020.

William’s course was inspirational and in the healing we all received a divine blessing.

The course has several implications for my own Reiki practice, including the possibility of teaching online. This option will be reserved uniquely to overseas students since this training is sadly not recognized in the UK. In the UK, I will therefore continue teaching Usui Reiki I and II in person, following the traditional attunements. But for overseas students, I am considering a Reiki I and Reiki II online course in the spring of 2023.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the benefits of Karuna Reiki distance treatments via the Healing Circle, or the Circle between Circles.