Horse Friendly Landscaping

Contributed by: Valerie Mellema

Landscaping always makes your barn and home look better and more professional. Plus, it’s spring and we all want to revamp our flowerbeds. However, it’s important to keep the safety of your horses in mind as you plan and plant – after all, you never know when a horse is going to grab a quick bite on his way into the barn.

Here are a few plants to avoid when landscaping your barn and any area that horses will be able to access.

Bracken Fern

Bracken Fern

Bracken Fern – Contains thiaminase which prevents the absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamin). While most horses will need to eat a lot of the plant for it to cause illness, such as incoordination or blindness, many horses like the taste and will seek it out.

Red Maple Trees – These trees have beautiful red stems and the leaves are gorgeous in the fall. These trees are very common in East Texas. However, wilted maple leaves are very toxic to horses.

Symptoms to watch for: The leaves cause red blood cells to break down and the blood can no longer carry oxygen. Just one or two pounds of leaves can be fatal. Signs include pale yellow gums, dark red or black urine, rapid heart rate, dehydration, lethargy and refusing to eat. Blood transfusions and IV fluids are the only treatment.

Foxglove Plant

Foxglove Plant

Foxglove – These flowers are very beautiful with bell-like blossoms, however they are very poisonous. They don’t taste good, but they can often get caught up when hay is bailed.

Symptoms to watch for: The plant can lead to diarrhea, colic, irregular heartbeat and convulsions.

Oak Trees – We have no shortage of oak trees in East Texas, but the leaves, bark and acorns are poisonous, especially in the spring. As the leaves get older, they become less toxic. The older, ripe acorns are less toxic than the new green acorns.

Symptoms to watch for: Signs of oak poisoning include colic, kidney and liver damage, hard feces at first and then tarry diarrhea. Horses may live 5-7 days after the onset of signs.

A few other plants that are often used in landscaping include oleander, jessamine and jasmine, creeping ivy and bluebonnets. These are all very popular plants used in landscaping around East Texas that are poisonous. Keep in mind that what is poisonous to an adult horse can affect foals even more quickly. Foals and young horses are also more apt to experiment and eat a variety of plants or play with branches of plants that might be poisonous to them. However, horses that are on diets that keep them satisfied and full are less likely to eat plants that are not in their normal grazing pattern.

Valerie Mellema is the President of Gray Horse Publishing & Marketing. She has written numerous books on popular topics for the equestrian community.

Learn more about her services and visit her store at