Advice 2800 x 1000_0011_Ragwort

Ragwort: how to deal with it in a horse paddock

Find out how to recognise ragwort and the best way to remove it.

Find out how to recognise ragwort and the best way to remove it.

Worried about a horse you’ve seen in a field full of ragwort? Find out what to do here.

Why is ragwort a problem in a horse’s field?

Ragwort is poisonous to horses, damaging the liver when eaten. The toxic effect builds up over time, causing irreparable damage. This means that your horse will get just as ill from eating small amounts of ragwort over a long period of time as it would do from eating a large quantity in one go.

Know your enemy: you must be able to recognise the plant so that you are able to remove it effectively.

It is vital that you ensure your horse doesn’t eat ragwort, and you can’t assume that they will choose not to eat it. Younger plants can taste less bitter than mature ones so it is possible that horses may consume ragwort without realising it.

It is widely accepted that the plant loses its unpleasant taste when it dies but it is still just as dangerous. This means that ragwort found in hay or haylage, or leaves that have fallen off a plant in the field and died, can very easily be eaten unknowingly and will be just as harmful as a living plant.

How to recognise different stage of ragwort

1. Ragwort seedlings start to appear in autumn. They are about 10-15mm high.
2. Ragwort rosettes can be found from early spring onwards
Ragwort rosette
Ragwort rosette
3. Mature plants flower from May to October and can reach up to two metres in height.
Mature Ragwort plant
Ragwort mature plant
Ragwort mature roots

After flowering, most of the plants die and the seeds germinate in the area where the mature plant had been.

One plant can produce many thousands of seeds which are covered with a downy substance so they can be easily dispersed by the prevailing wind. They can also be spread by water or by you and your animals.

What’s the best way to remove ragwort?

The plant can be harmful to humans, so it is essential to wear protective gloves and cover arms and legs when handling it. Ragwort should be removed before it flowers, but if this is not possible use a face mask to avoid inhaling the pollen. If you do come into contact with the plant, thoroughly wash the area in warm, soapy water.

The easiest way to remove a small number of plants is by pulling the whole plant up, including the roots. It is best to do this at the seedling or rosette stage and, if possible, after rainfall when the ground is soft. Ragwort can regenerate from root fragments, so it is important to remove as much of the root as possible. A specialist fork can be purchased from retailers to help remove ragwort roots.

The easiest way of tackling a widespread infestation is to spray the paddocks, but you must rest the field for the recommended time after treatment. Agricultural merchants can offer advice and information about available products. The dead plant is still poisonous, so you must remove all traces before putting your horses back out.

Ragwort needs to be disposed of carefully. The most effective way is to burn the weeds, taking all relevant precautions. Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – can advise on this and other methods of ragwort disposal. Ragwort control is an ongoing process. As the seeds can remain in the ground for many years before they germinate, you are likely to find that you will have plants to remove year after year.

Worried about a horse you’ve seen in a field full of ragwort?

If you’ve seen a horse in a field full of ragwort – and are confident that they are being otherwise well cared for – the best course of action is to print off our ragwort leaflet and attach a copy to the gate or fence of the paddock in question. If you do have other concerns about the horse’s welfare in addition to the ragwort, you can report the situation to us here.

Ragwort alert leaflet
Ragwort alert leaflet

Find out more about the dangers of ragwort to your horse and how to recognise and remove it effectively

cover of poisonous plant guide leaflet
Poisonous plant guide

Download our poisonous plant guide and keep it handy on your phone

If ragwort seed is spreading onto your land from the surrounding area, contact Defra for advice. For ragwort enquiries in Scotland, please contact the Scottish Government.

Remember you can always call our Advice Line on +44 (0)1953 497 238 if you have more questions about ragwort.

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