Garden Plans for Your Horse Farm

December 1, 2021

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

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We purchased the property for Fairway Stables in the winter, and as spring has progressed, we’ve loved discovering the plants naturally appearing on the property! As we plan the landscape and make garden plans for our horse farm, it is important to us to incorporate the natural flora of the property (so long as these plants are safe for our horses.) 

To help you plan a garden for your horse farm, I have compiled a list of both plants I thought about planting and those occurring naturally, and what I learned about them through my research. As I discussed in a previous article, I compiled a list of plants that are poisonous to horses while making landscaping and garden plans for our horse farm at Fairway Stables. 

Though the paddocks are separate from both, I know from experience that accidents can happen, and I don’t want to plant anything on our property that could be toxic to our horses. This means that even if some of these plants are on areas of our property that we know the horses can’t access, we will not be able to mow over that area and put the clippings in an area that the horses could access. 

Please note: this is in no way intended to be a conclusive list. Even if a plant is listed as “safe”, that does not mean we would ever actively feed our horses any of these plants. 

Table of Contents:

Plants naturally growing in our woods

  • Honeysuckle – honeysuckle is safe for horses!
  • Autumn Crocus – Commonly called Naked Ladies or Meadow Saffron, Crocus is a cardiac glycoside that can cause serious illness or even death in horses. There are treatments available, but ingesting this plant can have lasting effects on your horse, including permanent cardiac complications. To prevent these issues, know what to look for:
    • Autumn crocus grows from a bulb and will generally have white, pink, or purple flowers sprouting from its stalk. They can grow in large patches and reach up to a foot tall. If you find them growing anywhere near your horses, especially near grazing areas, remove them right away. 
    • Keep an eye out for the following symptoms: Excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, weak or quick pulse, low body temperature, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, gastro-intestinal discomfort, lack of appetite, tremors, convulsions, seizures.
    • If your horse ingests any part of the plant, symptoms will typically appear within 3 to 6 hours. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see or suspect that your horse has eaten autumn crocus. (It’s also best to collect a sample of the eaten plant if you can.) 
  • Bluebells – they go by a few different names, including English or common bluebells, wild hyacinths, and Endymion or Scilla non scripta. The bulbs are particularly toxic to most animals, including horses and humans, but all parts of the plants can be dangerous. Bluebell poisoning works similarly to foxglove poisoning, but it is generally less serious.
    • The severity of bluebell poisoning symptoms depend on how much your horse ingests, but effects to watch out for include: abdominal pains, diarrhea, cold and moist skin, decreased temperature, decreased or ceasing of urination, and vomiting.
    • Due to the chemical action of the glycosides which are similar to digitalis glycoside, consumption of larger quantities of bluebell plants can trigger glycoside reactions, causing more severe symptoms like cardiac arrhythmias, hypotension, and electrolyte imbalance.
  • Daffodils – These popular spring flowers, also dubbed narcissus and jonquils, are toxic to horses. Daffodil plants, especially the bulbs, are known to cause horses heart, gastrointestinal, and nervous system problems. Horses can be affected by both ingestion of and contact with this plant:
    • Ingestion poisoning occurs when a horse eats any part of the daffodil plant, and can cause severe internal problems.
    • Contact poisoning occurs when a horse’s skin comes into direct contact with the bulbs or stems of the daffodil plants, causing skin irritation.
  • Hellebores – These plants are particularly dangerous because they contain cardiac glycoside toxins (namely hellebrin, helleborin, and helleborein) that can cause heart contractions and palpitations. Hellebore poisoning can prove deadly for older horses because of the acute stress that glycosides put on the kidneys and the heart. 
    • Hellebore poisoning should be treated immediately. Left untreated, hellebore consumption can cause confusion, muscle spasms, convulsions, and death.  If you suspect they have ingested hellebore, please contact your veterinarian. 
    • Symptoms to watch out for include: diarrhea, respiratory distress, labored breathing, drooling, swollen and painful abdomen, unquenchable thirst, and lethargy.
  • Spirea  – I found no records of maleffects in my research (and this grows freely in our current paddock)
  • Jasmine – According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Jasmine plants are not toxic to horses. But, keep in mind that when any animal  ingests a plant that is not part of its normal diet, the animal may experience discomfort.
  • Iris – With many different types and varieties, irises are very popular for planting, but very dangerous for horses. The iris contains many toxins that cause serious illness in horses, including iridin, terpenes, and undecylenic, tridecylic, myristic, and ascorbic acids. 
    • Note: we’ve had these growing on our fence line for years and no animal has touched them.
  • Redbud trees – I found no reports of redbud trees causing illness in horses during my research. (These also grow freely in our current paddock.)

Plants naturally growing in our fields

  • Wild blackberries 
    • Safe! In fact, horses like them.
  • Strawberries 
    • I haven’t found any evidence of strawberry plants being dangerous to horses.
  • Indian paintbrush
    • Dangerous if consumed in large doses (but our horses have had no problems with it.)
  • Blackeyed susan
    • Again, dangerous in large quantities (ironic, given the Preakness.)

Plants in our horse farm’s garden

  • Dahlias 
    • Listed by the ASPCA to be mildly toxic to horses, dogs, and cats, primarily causing GI upset 
  • Roses 
    • Safe for horses
  • Limelight hydrangeas 
    • Poisonous to horses in large quantities
  • Lavender
    • Safe (and even used medicinally in some circumstances)
  • Rosemary
    • Ironically, Elvis didn’t touch this the day he ate all of the lavender.
    • While rosemary can be great for your horse’s skin and hair ailments, feeding your horse rosemary directly is not recommended (though they probably wouldn’t eat it anyway.)
  • Olive trees
    • Safe for horses
  • Lemon trees
    • Citrus fruits are not toxic to horses, but they tend to avoid lemon trees anyway because of the bitterness of their leaves.
    • Note: Though non-toxic, horses should not have free access to lemon trees because of their thorns.
  • Boxwoods 
    • The entire plant is poisonous to horses.
  • Poppies 
    • If consumed in large amounts, the poppy flower can be dangerous to your horse, causing depression, sedation and even death.
  • Azaleas 
    • Also termed rhododendrons, azalea shrubs contain glycosides that attack the horse’s cardiac system. These plants are also toxic to dogs and cats.
    • Symptoms include salivation, abnormal heart rate, diarrhea, colic, convulsions, coma, and death. 
  • Clary sage, Sage
    • Safe for horses
  • Hydrangea
    • Common in the Southern and Eastern United States, these relatively tall shrubs are easily recognizable by their large clusters of pink, blue, or white flowers and big, oval leaves. But beware, hydrangeas contain cyanide in their leaves, buds, and flowers that can be toxic to horses (as well as dogs and cats) if consumed in large enough quantities.
    • Symptoms of hydrangea poisoning include colic, bloody diarrhea, labored breathing, weakness, coma, and death. 

Horse Treats to Grow in Your Garden

If you are still looking for plants to fill your horse farm’s garden, consider growing some of these crops to use as horse treats. Just remember to feed these to your horse in limited quantities (<1-2lbs per feeding.)

  • Carrots, apples, grapes
  • Bananas
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Watermelon rinds
  • Squash
  • Mangoes (not the seeds)

Other fun treats that you can share with your horse from your pantry:

  • Raisins
  • Bread/bagels/cake (NOT if they contain chocolate or poppy seeds)
  • Pasta, macaroni
  • Dried beans, such as pinto, red, fava (however should be cooked or heat treated)
  • Potato chips and potato products
  • Rice products (not raw rice)
  • Barley products
  • Corn products
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fruit juices
  • Hot dogs, hamburgers, tuna fish, ham or even roast beef sandwiches!
  • Most dog and cat foods

Check in with Your Neighbors

Whether you know it or not, your neighbors’ landscape may be a threat to your horse’s health. While your landscape and garden may be free from the dangerous plants we have discussed, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your neighbors about the plants on their property. It ensures that the garden plans you’ve carefully crafted for your horse farm are worth it.

Like we said, accidents do happen, and horses tend to wander through open gates or holes in fences to find new adventures…or things to snack on. While horses tend to avoid eating toxic plants on their own, horses might seek out new plants if they have inadequate pasture or hay caused by drought or overgrazing.

So, do your due diligence, and have a chat with your neighbors about the risks toxic plants can pose to your horses. Keep in mind that these toxic plants can appear in your neighbor’s yard, in their garden trimmings, or when they are innocently trying to treat your horse to a snack they assume is safe. Having a small discussion with nearby neighbors can prevent them from being liable for unfortunate accidents from happening down the line.

In Conclusion…

Creating garden plans for your horse farm can be lots of fun! Just make sure to be mindful of how your horses could be affected by what you are planting and what naturally grows on your property. (Keep this list handy to use as a guide.)

Give yourself some peace of mind. Take the necessary steps to horse-proof the garden plans for your horse farm to make sure your horses are safe from serious illness, even when accidents do inevitably happen.

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