Reiki • Holistic • Horses & Humans

Category: #horses

One-day equine massage workshop at Horses Inside Out

Photo of Norman, at the Massage Workshop, Horses Inside Out.

I am just back from a one-day workshop with Gillian Higgins at Horses Inside Out. Massage is the art of manipulation of soft body tissues with the hands. The workshop aimed at improving our skills in massage for horses. During the day, we worked with five lovely horses. Toby, Norman (shown above), Pumpernickel, Mowgli, and Bonzo.

The theory.

It is easy to forget that the bones hold together by the tension of the soft tissue structures. We call this Tensegrity. Tensegrity means the integrity of tension. A tissue holding extra tension may cause other tissues to compensate. This can take a horse out of structural and postural balance. One way to help horses is through regular massage. Repetitive strain issues are the most common cause of injuries. In this way, asymmetries can cause other injuries. Massage is thus an important part of holistic horse care.

The techniques.

There are four main techniques used in equine massage. These are Effleurage, Kneading, Frictions, and Tapotement. Effleurage can be both superficial or deep strokes. Strokes are rhythmic, and performed towards the heart. We use both hands for this stroke. Kneading involves compression and release of the muscle tissue. Performed with the hand, the technique mimics muscle contraction. With Frictions, the finger pressures a small area, in rotations. One then moves on to the adjacent tissue, and repeats. Tapotement is a rapid, percussive technique. This stimulates the underlying tissues. One can use the side of the hand (hacking) or cupped palms, known as clapping.

Can I massage all the time?

Regular massage is good for both horse and rider. But there are times when one should not massage. For example, immediately after an accident, or when there is persistent pain. One should not massage open wounds (common sense here) or areas of skin infection. Your horse should also be well hydrated.

Areas to avoid.

There are many areas one should avoid using pressure in equine massage. A good place to start is in identifying the “anatomical landmarks” in your horse. These include the following.

• The wing of the atlas
• The cervical vertebrae
• The spine of the scapula
• The shoulder joint
• The lumbar spinous processes
• Tuber sacrali, tuber coxae, tuber ischium
• The patella and head of the tibia…

The workshop in action.

One of the great and unique features of Gillian Higgins’ workshops is the way she works with paint on the horses. In this workshop, Norman allowed us to paint him up. In this way, we were able to appreciate the locations of the anatomical landmarks. We each took turns painting a structure, a bone, or point. It is great fun! At the same time, it is important to get to know your horse’s anatomy. The more one knows what his or her body should feel like, the clearer it appears when something is wrong.

An aha! moment.

One real Aha! moment came for me in the idea of selective dehydration. In kinesiology, we regularly test for dehydration, but I have generally thought about this at a more global level. However, after work, a horse could be selectively dehydrated in the Longissimus dorsii, for example, as this muscle runs underneath the saddle. Here, it might be that some Effleurage might be helpful after riding, to rehydrate the muscle. I am certainly going to look for localized dehydration in my on-site work in the future.

Future Workshops

Several of these workshops take place each year, in the summer months. There were three massage workshops this year, June, July, and August. The massage day is a one-day event, beginning at 9h30 and concluding at 16h30. There is ample time for questions. And theory sections alternate with practical work with the horses.

I highly recommend this workshop as a place one can learn a great deal. Gillian is a great teacher. And massaging horses is a beautiful way to spend a day.

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I hope this article has been useful. You can get more information about this and all Gillian’s courses at Horses Inside Out.

Many other articles about horses and holistic practice appear on my blog. They are also linked to my Professional Facebook Page. If there is an issue or plant that you would like me to write about, please get in touch via Contacts. I would love to hear from you!

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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.

Diagnosis.

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

Gillian Higgins, Horses Inside Out Academy. Equine digestive seminar.
https://www.horsesinsideout.com/digestive-seminar

Horse and Hound: Gastric ulcers in horses: the important facts every owner needs to know.
https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/horse-care/vet-advice/gastric-ulcers-in-horses-122932

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

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

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.

Description:

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.

Conclusion:

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.

References:

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

Rewilding Britain:
Quick Guide to Ragwort:
https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/start-rewilding/quick-guide-ragwort-and-dealing-with-the-challenges

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
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982215015754

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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.

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Cover image of Quarterly Newsletter

Plants toxic to horses: Hemlock

Which plants are most toxic to horses? In this series of posts, I continue to describe the most common plants that are toxic to horses. Here we look at the Hemlock.

Description:

Hemlock (Conium Maculatum) is an erect, branched biennial plant. It can reach 2m in height. It is common in waste ground, in ditches, and by roadsides. It is common in Europe, but rare in West and Central Scotland. In the US, Hemlock is also known as Musquash Root and Spotted Cowbane. These plants are considered amongst the most toxic of plants, and a deadly poison. One mouthful can apparently kill an animal in 15 minutes.

What the herbalist says:

The herbalist Culpeper tells us that: the common great Hemlock grows up with a green stalk, four or five feet high, or more, full of red spots sometimes, and at the joints very large winged leaves one set against the other, dented about the edges, of a sad green colour branched towards the top, where it is full of umbels of white flowers, and afterwards with whitish flat seed; the root is long, white, and sometimes crooked, and hollow within. The whole plant, and every part, has a 1trong, heady, and ill-favoured acent. It grows by walls and hedges throughout all parts of this country. It flowers and seeds in July, or thereabout. Saturn claims dominion over this herb. Hemlock is exceedingly cold, and very dan­gorous, especially to be taken inwardly. It may safely be applied to inflammations, tumults, and swellings in any part of the body, as also to St, Anthony’s fire, wheals, pushes, and creeping ulcers that arise of hot sharp hu­mours, by cooling and repelling the heat; the leaves bruised and laid to the brow or forehead, are good for red and 1wollen eyes; as also to take away a pin and web grow­ing there; take a small handful of this herb, and half aa much bay-salt, beat together, and applied to the contrary wrist of the hand, removes it in two applications. The root roasted and applied to the hands, helps the gout.

The active agents:

The poisonous agents in Hemlock are alkaloids, and these can be extremely toxic. They are more concentrated in the stem and leaves than the root, apparently. Paralysis and convulsions may result from ingesting Hemlock. Hemlock is best known in human history as the poison that was handed to Socrates in 399 BC.

Herbal Medicine

In herbal medicine, Hemlock has been used as a sedative and for cough relief in bronchitis.

Poisoning with Hemlock?

Horse DVM, offers some interesting insights. Hemlock was native to Europe and western Asia. It was however introduced into North America in the 1800s as an ornamental. It then escaped cultivation. It is now widely distributed across much of the United States. It is present in Canada too. As a biennial, poison hemlock produces leaves as a basal rosette in year one. This develops into an upright flower stalk during year two.

Poison hemlock contains eight piperidine alkaloids. Y-coniceine and coniine are the most abundant. These two are the predominant cause of acute and chronic toxicity in horses. Coniine is similar in structure and function to nicotine. These toxins have a direct effect on the horse’s nervous system.

Whilst all parts of the plant are toxic, the most toxic parts are the fruits when they are still green, and stems.

The best way is to remove Hemlock is before seed production. If you are hand-pulling, wear gloves as the plant is highly poisonous. If Hemlock is growing freely on your land, remove it, safely. Please ensure that your horses cannot come into contact with this deadly herb.

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I hope this article has been helpful. Other articles about plants toxic to horses appear on my blog and are linked to my Professional Facebook Page. If there is a plant that 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.


Bibliography:
Keith Allison: A guide to Plants Poisonous to Horses. J.A. Allen. Revised edition, 2011.
John Gerarde: The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, 1636.
Culpeper: Index Of Herbs By Nich. Culpeper, Gent. Student in Physick and Astrologie, 1616, 1654
Sandra McQuinn: Horse owner’s Guide to Toxic Plants. Skyehorse Publishing. 1996, 2020.

Plants toxic for Horses: Oak

Which plants are most toxic to horses? In this series of posts, I continue to describe the most common plants that are toxic to horses. Here we look at the mighty Oak.

Description:

Oak (Quercus spp.) is a tree, native to Britain, and commonly found in woodland, parkland, and near pastures. Oak is also widespread across North America. The oak may live for hundreds of years. Trees often have their lower branches lopped, which reduces the life of the tree. In the normal cycle, the Oak puts out lower branches which then support the tree in later life. Without these lower limbs, the tree can end up splitting. Farmers often cut the lower branches so they can plough around the tree. This may plough more of the field. But it compacts the soil around the surface roots and also does the tree no favours.

Many Oaks in Britain are now over 500 years old. Many have seen history roll by, since the time of the Wars of the Roses, and even before. In her book “Wilding“, Isabella Tree describes how Ted Green (custodian of the Oaks in Royal Windsor Park) talked of the life history of the tree. “The Oak grows for the first 300 years. Rests for another 300 years. And then spends the last 300 gracefully declining”. 900 years. It really makes one think! Back in the 17th Century, the Herbalist Culpeper wrote of the Oak.

What the herbalist says:

The herbalist Culpeper tells us that: This tree grows to a vast height, spreading out into innumerable and irregular branches. The leaves are oblong, obtuse, deeply sinulated, and of a dark green. The flowers are both barren and fertile on the same tree ; the former are collected into loose catkins ; the latter are seat­ ed in the buds, and both sorts are small and inconsiderable, The seed is oval-formed, of a leather-like coat, which ap­pears as if rasped at the base, and is fixed to a short cup. It is too common to require a particular spec1fi­cation of the place of its growth. The flowers appear in April, and the acorns are ripe in October and November. Jupiter owns the tree. The leaves and bark, and the acorn cups, bind and dry much. The inner bark and the thin skin that covers the acorn, are used to stay the spitting of blood, and the flux.

The active agents:

The poisonous agents in Oak are the tannins, and these can be extremely toxic. Nonetheless, information on the toxicity of oak appears confusing. On the one hand, some horses have apparently died from Oak poisoning. On the other, there exist reports of horses eating acorns with little or no ill effect. In my own experience, I have seen certain horses of a herd enjoying fallen acorns. Others will graze around them. No member of that herd suffered any consequence in the three years I managed them.

Herbal Medicine

In herbal medicine, Quercus has been used as an astringent and an antiseptic.

Poisoning with Oak?

Cynthia Gaskill, American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, has written about the Oak. She explains that acorn poisoning has been well documented in cattle. Very few cases have been confirmed in horses (in the US). Symptoms of acorn toxicity include depression and loss of appetite. There may be digestive-tract issues: colic, gastric upset and diarrhoea (often bloody). Kidney and possibly liver damage are possible. The more acute the symptoms, the higher the likelihood of death. Horses that experience a gradual onset of symptoms are more likely to survive.

In November 2013, a large number of horses apparently died in the New Forest, in the UK. An article in Horse and Hound states that 31 ponies roaming on the New Forest died, along with 12 cattle. In a normal year, many fewer animals are affected each autumn. 2013 was what is known as a “mast” year, when oaks and apple trees produced plenty of fruit. As such, extreme prudence is necessary.

As with many toxic plants, horses are more likely to eat them if they do not have enough grass or hay. Imagine several horses are being kept underfed. An oak tree in the paddock drops a large number of acorns. It is possible that some of the horses might now eat a large number of acorns to supplement their food.

It is important to note that the amount of Tannins varies during the year and season. As such it is difficult to predict how toxic the leaves/acorns might be. If you have an oak in your pasture, the best strategy would be to fence it off. This ensures that it will be out of grazing range for the herd.

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I hope this article has been helpful. Other articles about plants toxic to horses appear on my Professional Facebook Page. If there is a plant that 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.


Bibliography:
Isabella Tree: Wilding – The return of nature to a British Farm. Picador, 2018.
Keith Allison: A guide to Plants Poisonous to Horses. J.A. Allen. Revised edition, 2011.
John Gerarde: The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, 1636.
Culpeper: Index Of Herbs By Nich. Culpeper, Gent. Student in Physick and Astrologie, 1616, 1654
Cynthia Gaskill: Are acorns poisonous to horses?
Horse and Hound: A huge rise in equine deaths due to acorns.

Plants toxic for horses: Foxglove

Foxglove is one of the many plants poisonous to horses.

Which plants are most toxic to horses? In this series of posts, I continue to describe the most common plants that are toxic to horses.

Description:

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea) is a biennial plant that reaches about 1.5m in height. Its flowers are bell or helmet-shaped and they may be either purple or white.

What the herbalist says:

The herbalist Culpeper tells us that: This hath many long and broad Leaves lying upon the Ground dented about the edges, a little soft or woolly, and of a hoary green colour among which rise up somtimes sundry Stalks, but one very often bearing such Leavs thereon from the bottom to the middle, from whence to the top it is stored with large and long hollow reddish Purple Flowers, a little more long and eminent at the lower edg, with some white Spots within them, one above another, with small green Leaves at every one, but all of them turning their Heads one way and hanging downwards, having some threds also in the middle, from whence rise round Heads pointed sharp at the ends, wherein smal brown Seed lieth. The Roots are many smal Huskie Fibres, and some greater strings among them; The Flower hath no scent; but the Leavs have a bitter hot taste. Vertues and Use. This Herb is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any fresh or green Wound, the Leavs being but bruised and bound thereon; and the Juyce therof is also used in old Sores, to clens, dry, and heal them. The Decoction hereof made up with some Sugar or Honey is.

The active agents:

The poisonous agents in Foxglove are several. They are known as cardiac glycosides. These include digitalin, digitoxin, and several others. If ingested, abdominal pain, irregular pulse, tremors and convulsions may follow. Foxglove is not usually ingested by animals. It is easily avoided when growing in pasture, but more dangerous when it is incorporated in hay.

Herbal Medicine

In herbal medicine, Digitalis has been used in the treatment of internal bleeding, in inflammatory diseases, in epilepsy, and delerium tremens. Digitoxin is commonly used in heart medication for humans and horses but in tightly controlled doses.

Poisoning with Foxglove?

According to Simon Constables Equine Vets, these plants are thankfully unpalatable to horses and are rarely eaten as a fresh flower. If they are caught up in hay or haylage they can however be accidentally eaten. The effects on the heart increase the strength of heart contraction but slow conduction between the top (atrium) and bottom (ventricle) parts of the heart. This shift can lead to a fatal arrhythmia where the heartbeat becomes irregular. When the dose is sufficient, it may cause cardiac arrest. Treatments involve binding the digitoxin with activated charcoal. Oral liquid paraffin and fluids are given to reduce toxin absorption. If caught early enough, suitable drugs include atropine and lignocaine which help to reduce arrhythmia.

Whilst it is not suggested that the plant be removed from pastures (unless in great quantity), it is important to inspect hay/haylage. In this way, we can ensure that traces of Digitalis have not contaminated our horse’s staple.

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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.


Bibliography:
Keith Allison: A guide to Plants Poisonous to Horses. J.A. Allen. Revised edition, 2011.
John Gerarde: The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, 1636.
Culpeper: Index Of Herbs By Nich. Culpeper, Gent. Student in Physick and Astrologie, 1616, 1654

Plants toxic for horses – Ragwort

Image of Ragwort, a common plant toxic to horses

Which plants are most toxic to horses? In this series of posts, I describe the most common plants that are toxic to horses.

Description:

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.

What the herbalist says:

The herbalist Culpeper tells us that: The greater common Ragwort hath many large and long dark green Leavs lying on the ground, very much rent and torn on the sides into many pieces, from among which rise up somtimes but one, and sometimes two or three square or crested blackish or brownish Stalks three or four foot high, sometimes branched bearing diverse such like Leavs upon them at several distances unto the tops, where it brancheth forth into many Stalks bearing yellow Flowers, consisting of diverse Leaves set as a Pale or Border, with a dark yellow thrum in the middle, which do abide a great while, but at last are turned into Down, and with the smal blackish gray Seed are carried away with the wind. The Root is made of many Fibres, whereby it is firmly fastned into to the ground, and abideth many yeers.

The active agent:

Poisonous agents in Ragwort are of the pyrrolizidine alkaloid family. The most toxic of these are known as cyclic diesters. Symptoms of poisoning may not appear immediately. Animals may have to graze the plants for some time before intoxication. The effects are various such as diarrhoea and effects on the nervous system, which range from restlessness to paralysis. In the equestrian world, such intoxication is known as “sleepy staggers“.

Herbal Medicine

In herbal medicine, Ragwort has several uses. Traditionally it is used for the relief of gout and sciatica, and as a gargle for sore throats.

Clearing Ragwort from the paddock:

The dried Ragwort plant retains its toxicity. When I clear Ragwort from paddocks, I take certain precautions. We use a heavy-duty waste disposal sack so that plants do not touch the wheelbarrow or any other equipment. Gloves are essential to avoid self-contamination. I immediately place the plants in an incinerator for destruction by fire. It is important to leave no trace by the incinerator should animals have access. One must dig the roots out. Ragworts seem to be able to regenerate from even the tiniest rootball, so the more rigorous one is, the better.

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Cover image of Quarterly Newsletter

Bibliography:
Keith Allison: A guide to Plants Poisonous to Horses. J.A. Allen. Revised edition, 2011.
John Gerarde: The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, 1636.
Culpeper: Index Of Herbs By Nich. Culpeper, Gent. Student in Physick and Astrologie, 1616, 1654

Equine digestive Anatomy, Feeding & Nutrition.

Understanding the anatomy of the digestive system is an important step in maintaining a balanced and healthy diet for your horse. 

Gillian Higgins and Clare MacLeod present a one-day seminar on Digestive Anatomy, Feeding, and Nutrition. This took place on Saturday 12th February 2022. It was part of Gillian’s series of seminars on equine anatomy and performance. 

As she points out, we ask our horses to perform workloads that need more than grass to sustain them. We keep them with limited ability to forage for their own nutritional needs. In modern-day sport, horses are pushed to their limits. It is up to us to ensure they have the right nutrition to keep them happy and comfortable. Healthy and able to perform”.

Having attended 3 of her online seminars, with a fourth on the 1st of December 2021, I highly recommend this full-day seminar. I believe that it a recording is now available on the Horses Inside Out Academy, Horses Inside Out

This seminar was of particular interest to me because much of my work involves herbs. In the energy testing approach, we can ask a horse which herbs support it, at any given time. This is work is not diagnostic in any sense. Rather, we are simply looking at what herbs might balance what is going on for the horse. This we can do on a weekly, two weekly or monthly basis. These regular check-ins also enable the horse to fine-tune its own diet, especially when it does not have access to a pasture rich in herbs. For this work, I collaborate with Maxine Stewart, equine herbalist, who supplies organic herbs of the highest quality, for horses. She works principally with zoopharmacognozy, where the horses choose which herbs they wish. Her herb packs work perfectly with kinesiology and enable us to determine which herbs support a horse, through muscle testing.

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I hope this article has been helpful. Other articles about plants toxic to horses appear on my Professional Facebook Page. If there is a plant that you would like me to write about, please get in touch via Contacts.

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Enjoy!

Horses inside out Seminar season

I wanted to give a shout-out for Gillian Higgins’ Autumn/Winter season of online seminars on equine anatomy, posture and movement.

She has written many books of excellence: Posture and Performance; How your horse moves; and Horse anatomy for performance, amongst others. Highly recommended! Her training courses are in-depth and give valuable insight to both practitioners and equestrians, alike. The deeper we go, the more we understand and the better are things for our horses.

The four seminars in this year’s Autumn/Winter sequence are:
• Episode 1: The Principles of Equine Movement – 7.30pm (BST) Wednesday 1st September 2021
• Episode 2: Riding from the Anatomical Perspective – 7.30pm (BST) Wednesday 6th October 2021
• Episode 3: Dressage Dissected – 7.30pm (GMT) Wednesday 3rd November 2021
• Episode 4: Jumping from an Anatomical Approach 7.30pm (BST) Wednesday 2nd December 2021

There is so much in these demonstrations, I highly recommend.

If you have not yet signed up for the remaining two demonstrations, you can sign up here at the Horses Inside Out Academy.

Enjoy!

Helping horses with herbs and herbals.

Which plants support and which plants are toxic to our horses?

Which plants support and which plants are toxic to our horses? A great interest in plants that heal took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. This led to several important herbals. The image is from that of John Gerarde (1634), frontispiece above.

The number of different species of wild plants declined in the countryside. And so has our general knowledge of their properties. Herbals in the 17th Century were commonplace. They summarised knowledge about the nature of plants and their healing properties. Gerarde’s Generall Historie of Plantes (1593) is a famous example. Culpeper’s The English Physitian, later renamed The Complete Herbal, is also famous. The Herbal by Culpeper (1652) gave detailed information about what could be eaten. And which parts of each plant had medicinal uses.

Not all herbs are beneficial

Whilst many medicines are based on plants, not all herbs are beneficial. Many are toxic for both humans and animals. Horse pastures used to have a much wider variety and composition of herbs than is the case today. Before the 1940’s, a meadow may have contained over a hundred different varieties of plant. This compared only ten species in a modern pasture”, (Allison, 1997, revised 2011). 

 

For example, of Apples, Culpeper tells the reader that: “They are very proper for hot and bilious stomachs, but not to the cold, moist, and flatulent. The more ripe ones eaten raw, move the belly a little; and unripe ones have the contrary ef ect. A poultice of roasted sweet apples, with powder of frankincense, removes pains of the side: and a poultice of the same apples boiled in plantain water to a pulp, then mixed with milk, and applied, take away fresh marks of gunpowder out of the skin…Roasted apples are good for the asthmatic; either raw, roasted or boiled, are good for the consumptive, in inflammations of the breasts or lungs…” Apples are said to clean the liver, cure constipation, and tone the gums. A half and half mixture of apple cider vinegar and water make a rinse to restore hair, scalp and skin.

The diversity of meadow plants has decreased.

The diversity of meadow plants has decreased. The need to identify toxic plants disappeared, also diminished. Plant diversity in natural pastures with wilding and organic farming is now increasing. This mirors changes in the way in which land is more generally cultivated. This includes the return of toxic varieties. For these reasons it is important to be able to identify the species in one’s pasture. In this way we can assess the risks for our horses. 

The most common toxic plants for horses are thought to be Ragwort, Laburnum, Bracken, and Yew. We will look at why these are toxic in a future posts. There are, however, a large number of other plants that are toxic to varying degrees.

In his book, “A guide to plants poisonous to horses” Keith Allison has offered great service. He guides the horse carer through some 50 of the most common species which pose problems for equines. 

As many know, horses (indeed all animals), are capable of self-medication through zoopharmacognozy. The horse depends upon a pasture rich enough in helpful varieties which they can select. A horse-carer wishing their horses to self-select must encourage a healthy pasture. This, in itself, reduces the risk of horses ingesting toxic varieties. One of the highest risks lies in weed-infested, horse-sick paddocks. Here, horses are driven to ingest species that they would not normally eat. These plants are normally avoided by horses.

The question of water balance

Another issue affecting potential plant toxicity, is water balance. Under drought conditions, the toxin concentrations of certain plants may increase. Here, the plant becomes more toxic for a given mass ingested. Other species, can become more toxic in wet weather, so this is also something to look out for in very moist areas. Highly invasive species ( docks, ragworts, and buttercups) grow successfully in highly grazed pastures. Docks, with their deep tap roots drain the soil of both water and nutrients. They reduce the capacity of the soil to support grasses. As the grass struggles, so these invasive varieties proliferate. This makes it more likely that horses might eat them for want of other sources of nourishment.

Classes of toxins

Whilst many plants are toxic, they are not all toxic in the same way. There are five main classes of toxins that may affect horses. These are the Alkaloids, the Glycosides, Nitrates & Nitrites, Oxalates, and the Photosensitives. In a future article, I will look at each class in more detail. I will give examples of how each class of chemical acts, and some idea of representative species.

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.

Bibliography:

A guide to Plants Poisonous to Horses
Allison, K.,(2011, first edition 1997) 
J.A. Allen, London.

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes
John Gerarde (1597), London.

The English Physitian, 
later renamed as The Complete Herbal
Nicholas Culpeper, (1652), London.

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Dr Peter Jeffs received his Diploma in Systematic Kinesiology in 2016, from the Bristol School of Advanced Kinesiology). He specializes in working with horses. He holds an Honours degree in Botany from Durham University (UK), a PhD. from Cambridge, and currently studies Permaculture with the Ecological Land Management Mastery Program, based in NORCAL, USA. He aims to bring his knowledge of Kinesiology to working with horses, herbs, and land. He is based in Wiltshire, UK, near Avebury.

He also runs an active Facebook page that shares much information about plants, horses, and wellness

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