My Horse Is Losing His Black Colour

My horse is losing his black colour


I am looking for something to give my black horse, his coat is fading to a motley grey. My horse was a lovely black during the winter but now that he is out on grass, his coat is loosing colour. I have seen there are supplements available in America that say they will return the horse to a rich black colour.


Is there anything like that in the UK? Or can you recommend herbs that I could fed to my horse to make his coat grow through blacker?


Jo G




The loss of colour especially in grey and black horses is often due to a copper deficiency, as a result of depigmentation of the coat. Other symptoms of copper deficiency are anaemia, weak bones particularly in foals, poor wound healing and frequent infections. Adequate copper is very important for the repair and maintenance of bones, joints, hooves and tendons.


Acid Rainfall or Soil to Blame? You don’t indicate your location. Your soil type and poor mix of herbage could be to blame.


Peat & acid soils – Copper is deficient in peaty and acid soils such as moorland in Yorkshire, the lower levels of the Pennines, the Lake District, Scottish ‘grouse’ and ‘heather’ land and many areas of Ireland. Indicative of moorland is vegetation such as heather, wild bilberries, calluna, birch, rowan and pine.


Acid rainfall the fallout of industrial pollution from furnaces or over head flight paths. Living close to an industrial area subjects your land to rain with a heavy sulphur content. High sulphur levels in herbage suppress the uptake of copper from the soil.


Lime soils with little topsoil or heavy liming of soils increase the availability of molybdenum several fold. High levels of molybdenum interfere with the utilisation of copper in the body.


Pasture Herbs


The problem may also be that the herbage in your grazing consists of copper poor plants. Grasses are generally poor in copper, the wild grass Cocksfoot being the richest in copper and is generally included in pasture mixes. Legumes contain far more copper than grass, Red Clover being the legume of choice for copper. Yarrow found in pasture mixes is rich in copper, as is Chickweed and Dandelion root. Re seeding your pasture with a mix that includes Yarrow, Red Clover and Cocksfoot will help increase the levels of copper available to your horse.


Dried Herb Supplementation


A mix of equal parts by weight of dried Yarrow, Chickweed, powdered Dandelion root and Rose hips. (Rose hips to provide Vitamin C as an anti-oxidant and to aid iron absorption necessary for the utilisation of copper)


Feed 10 grams per 100 kilos body weight per day.


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Could Foxgloves be the Cure for Sweet Itch?

Could Foxgloves be the Cure for Sweet Itch?

Hi, Your help is needed to source a supply of dried Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea. After reading an article recommending Foxgloves as a cure for Sweet Itch on an equine health site, I decided to try them on my pony who suffers from Sweet Itch every summer. As I work and live in outer London, finding a source of fresh foxgloves was simply impossible.

Where can I get dried Foxglove? How much dried Foxglove do I need for the recipe?

The recipe: “First of all go out and find some foxgloves; as many as you can as the lotion will keep, Make sure when you make the lotion that you use the whole plant, flowers, leaves, stem and roots, put into a very large pan, like a jam pan, cover and bring to boil and then simmer for 3-4 hours to get all the properties from the plant. The ‘foxglove’ lotion should be put on and brushed well in for about 3 days, all down the mane, top of tail, and along its back if necessary, and then repeat when necessary, obviously if you have a lot of rain it will wash off so will need re-applying, it can be put on open wounds, where the pony has scratched itself raw, the foxglove lotion does not stop the normal flies very much, it works in the mane, tail and coat where the midges go in to actually bite and suck blood, that is when it is effective, it kills them, if you want to use fly spray as well that is O.K. “

Please help, I am desperate to try this cure – Lisa Wingfield

Dear Lisa

Thank God you were unable to source a dried or fresh supply, as Foxglove is an extremely dangerous herb. Foxglove – Digitalis Purpurea is a prescription only (PO) herbal medicine restricted to use by medical doctors. Current EU & UK law restricts registered herbalists and herbal suppliers from selling or prescribing the herb.

Foxglove can be a dangerous herb in very low dosages of a few drops. A large preserving (jam) pan containing 5 to 10 litres of decoction would be a lethal dose. The known active ingredients in Foxglove are four cardiac glucosides that will stimulate the heart and rapidly increase blood pressure, resulting in tremors, palpitations and a heart attack.

During my 30 years in herbal medicine, I have never come across the use of Foxgloves for skin complaints in animals or humans. After reading your email, I searched my extensive database and reference library on medicinal herbs. The only reference was in Culpepers for clearing green wounds (pus ridden Staph sores) and the Kings evil (syphilis) by binding fresh bruised green leaves to the wound.

Sweet Itch is not caused by bacterial invasion, it is an allergic reaction to midge bites. By washing your horse in a strong decoction of Foxgloves you would poison him. The decoction of Foxgloves would be absorbed through the coat into the blood stream and over stimulate the heart.

Fly repellents and washes usually contain aromatic oils that give off strong repellent aromas to repel and often kill biting midges. Foxgloves do not contain aromatic oils for warding off midges. This shows the dangerous often fatal consequences of following the advice of unqualified persons dabbling in herbs.

Click here to read about how to effectively combine natural methods of treating sweet itch

St.Johns Wort Causes Coat Problem in Mare

St.Johns Wort Causes Coat Problem in Mare


Dear Herbalist


My wife’s grey mare has a skin problem. Her ears and back have become red and swollen, the skin drying out and sloughing off in flakes. The mare is turned out to grass during the summer and brought in nights, in winter. We give her a small feed morning and evening. In April, we started her on a St. John’s Wort supplement for mares, in the form of a tincture made at a strength of 1:2, in alcohol strength 60%. My wife found St.John’s Wort most helpful for her depression and thought this would help our mare with moods.


At the tack shop where we purchased the product, the shop assistant said “some human foods react with St. John Wort and perhaps something in the feed or forage was causing a reaction”.


Before starting the mare on the St.John’s Wort supplement, her coat was in good condition on the same feed.


Please advise us on incompatible feeds and herbs for mares.


James Hunt


Answer: Neither the feed nor forage, is the cause of this skin problem. St. John’s Wort has been proven to cause phototoxicity in grazing animals. This sensitivity to sunlight is shown by the skin developing erythaemous lesions (red swollen areas). Cases of humans showing photosensitivity to St. John’s Wort have also been reported. (Golsch et al 1997). Clinical trials with AIDS patients showed phototoxicity on exposed areas (Chavez 1997).


The trigger is exposure to sunlight. As your mare is living out, exposed to sunlight up to 18 hours a day in mid summer, it is not surprising that she has developed phototoxicity symptoms to St.John’s Wort. (Reference: Johnson A E. Dermatoxic Plants. In Current Veterinary Therapy 2. Food Animal Practice. 1986)


In humans, St. John’s Wort is known to interact with tyramine foods such as cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, yeast spreads and red wine. Reactions have been noted with anti-depressant drugs, NSAID’s such as aspirin and narcotics. None of this information is relevant to your mare’s condition.


The high strength of alcohol at 60% proof given daily to a horse can severely impair the liver. Spirits such as whisky, brandy, vodka are 37% to 40% proof. This tincture is one and half times stronger. Most certainly, there is some level of liver impairment after such high levels of alcohol have been given daily.


Stop the supplement immediately, keep your mare stabled indoors and seek veterinary advice on pallative care to heal the lesions.


Furthermore, contact the manufacturer with your complaint. It is obvious no research or trial was taken before making this product available for horses.


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Goats Rue Safe To Treat Insulin Resistance?

Goats Rue for Insulin Resistance?


My daughter’s pony aged 18 put on a lot of weight, her feed hadn’t increased. To be honest, since my daughter went off to varsity Twinkles doesn’t get much exercise. I found a marvellous supplement containing Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis). The weight fell off, on the same amount of feed. Twinkles has been on the supplement for the last 3 months. Lately, she has started to lose hair and is extremely lethargic and stiff in her joints.


Can you advise on a supplement that is compatible with her Goat’s Rue supplement for her stiff joints, hair loss and lethargy?


Hilary Payne




The symptoms you describe are the classic side effects of the long term use of Goat’s Rue. The Goat’s Rue supplement is the source of her new health problems.


Take your pony off the supplement immediately, she is starving to death. Exercise is the answer to stimulate her metabolism and control her weight problem. Seek out a young enthusiastic person interested in regular rides and exercise for Twinkles. An advert in your local tack shop or village store will result in plenty of offers. If she then appears to be putting on weight, a Kelp supplement to stimulate metabolism will help.


Goat’s Rue – Galega officinalis


Goat’s Rue is a perennial herb growing in damp meadows throughout Central Europe to Iran, where it has been associated with lethal poisoning of grazing sheep. Goat’s Rue has been used since the Middle Ages for late onset diabetes (weight related). The active ingredient being the alkaloid galegine (=isoamyleneguanidine.) Galegine belongs to the biguanide class of anti-diabetic drugs. The biguanides work by preventing intestinal carbohydrate absorption thus reducing circulating glucose in the blood. This suppresses oxidative glucose metabolism. The stored glycogen (sugar) in the liver is used up. Once the stored glycogen in the liver is depleted, the body is starved of blood sugar, side effects will be noticeable such as ketonuria and severe lactic acidosis. Symptoms result such as coma, drowsiness, immobility, foul breath.


Background of Biguanides


In the 1930’s, Synthalin a chemical version of Goat’s Rue was the first biguanide drug much applauded as the drug for diabetes. Once the side effects became publicised, the drug was banned. Until recent years, the FDA blocked the use of biguanides for diabetes. After much lobbying, a biguanide class drug – Metoformin (Glucophage) was approved for use by the FDA. There is much controversy over the safe use of this drug in America.




Weiss R F (MD) – Herbal Medicine


Bruneton J – Toxic Plants Dangerous to Humans and Animals


Gresham A C J and Booth K – Poisoning of Sheep by Goats Rue Vet REC 129: 197-198, 1991



Horsetail- Silica Rich, Vitamin B1 Destroyer

Horsetail – Silica Rich, Vitamin B1 Destroyer




Is Horsetail herb good for the horse’s coat and mane? Googled Horsetail but the sites was all confusing. One site said there was nothing wrong with Horsetail, they were using it to strengthen bones because it was silica rich. Another site said it was poisonous for horses but didn’t say why? A gypsy friend said “it looks like a horse tail so must be good for manes”. All this confusion and no proper answers. Please help sort my mind out on Horsetail.




Ellen C


Answer – Horsetail (also known as Shave Grass or Bottle brush) is the common name for the plant genus Equistaceae, a group of 25 species found throughout the northern temperate zones. In the UK, we have 7 species the most common being Equiseteum arvense. The name Equisteum comes from the Latin words Equus (a horse) and seta (a bristle) describing the bushy tail appearance of the plant.


It is an undisputed fact that all Horsetail species contain large amounts of silica. For this reason, Equisteum arvense was used in the past by herbalists, for bones, nails and hair. Horsetail has been frequently included in urinary formulas because of its duiretic properties. Externally, a decoction has been used to stop bleeding.


Research done in the last 20 years, has alerted herbalists and pharmacists to the toxins in Horsetail. Children in Canada using Horsetail stems as blow pipes and whistles were poisoned and had to be hospitalised. In Canada, manufacturers of herbal products containing Horsetail have to prove the thiaminase has been removed from Horsetail, before being included in a product.


Horses, cows, sheep and pigs won’t eat fresh Horsetail. Instinctively, they know this tough unpalatable plant is toxic. Hay containing 20 percent dried Horsetail given to horses resulted within a month, in toxic symptoms of severe neurological disorders such as paralysis, unsuccessful attempts to get up, and seizures. The condition of the horses were also affected by weight loss and general muscular weakness.


Although, Horsetail is rich in silica, it also contains the toxins thiaminase and nicotine. Thiaminase inactivates Thiamin (Vitamin B1) and causes Vitamin B1 deficiency, it also interferes with carbohydrate metabolism. Irreversible central nervous system damage may occur in severe thiamine deficiency. Thiaminase is also found in the bracken fern Pteridium aquilium known to be toxic to horses.


Avoid all products containing Equisteum arvense (Horsetail) unless the manufacturer can prove that the thiaminase has been removed. There are many silica rich herbs that can be used instead. The Equine Herbalist range of products from Epona Herbs are carefully researched and can guarantee that Horsetail – Equisteum Arvense is not included in any of their products.


Reference: Hamon, N.W., and Awang, D.V.C. “Horsetail”, Can Pharm Journal 125:399-401, 1992.


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Are Black Walnut Wormers Safe for Horses?


Are Black Walnut Wormers Safe for Horses?


Can you please clear up the confusion over Black Walnut being poisonous to horses? I have read about the toxic properties of Black Walnut shavings when used as bedding for horses. Last week, I bought a herbal horse wormer in powder form. One of the ingredients is Black Walnut – Juglans nigra. Is this safe to use for horses? I phoned the supplier but they didn’t have any info. The woman on the phone said “we haven’t had any deaths so it must be safe, don’t worry”. Then she laughed and I felt most annoyed by her attitude.

Is the herbal horse wormer safe to use?

Vanessa H


No, the herbal horse wormer is not safe to use, bin it. Black Walnut in any form is toxic for horses.

You were quite right to be concerned about the herbal wormer containing Black Walnut. Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra) not to be confused with the European Walnut, is toxic for horses, resulting in laminitis. The Black Walnut grows across the United States from the North Eastern states to Texas. The wood is used in furniture manufacture and the shavings, as a by product for animal bedding. Horses bedded on shavings with only 5% Black Walnut were still affected by laminitis within 8 hours.

Laminitis occurs within 8 hours of giving either an aqueous extract or introducing the shavings as bedding. Other symptoms include; filling and pitting edema of the legs, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, a raised temperature and pounding digital pulses

Juglone, an alkaloid chemically similar to iodine, found in the hulls was once thought to be the cause. Trials in America have established that Juglone alone is not the sole cause. In fact, all parts of the Black Walnut tree are toxic for horses and will cause laminitis. Trials using aqueous extracts of the heartwood which contains no juglone were given, resulting in laminitis, raised hoof temperature and pounding digital pulses.

The results of these trials were reported in the American Veterinary Journal 1990:51:83-88 by Galey F D,Beasley V R, Schaeffer D, et al. ‘Effect of an aqueous extract of Black Walnut’.

Another study by Uhlinger C. ‘Black Walnut icosis in ten horses’ was reported in 1989 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1989:195: 343-344.

Click here to read more about worming your horse

Feeding Dandelions

My Horse Has A Passion For Dandelions.


My horse has recently been suffering from a virus/cough. During this period she has developed a passion for Dandelions. On the way to the field there are a lot of large (i.e. 2 feet tall) wild dandelion plants.


I let her eat these for about 5 mins or I cut her some sufficient to fill half her manger. Is there a limit on how much you should give them and are the plants OK compared to the dandelion flower?


Deidre C.




Dear Deidre


The whole dandelion plant (flower, root and leaf) is a tonic food for humans and animals. (See Herb Usage/Dandelions for more info on the medicinal uses of dandelions). The leaves contain chlorophyll and a sap that is anti-viral. Instinctively, your horse knows this will help her get over his viral infection.


I would not advise feeding dandelion leaves or flowers ad lib, as they have properties that stimulate the production of bile. Bile being necessary to digest food and fats. However, bile production in excess would result in loose faeces, liver and intestinal discomfort.


50 grams of fresh leaves daily for a 500kg horse would be an ideal amount (10 grams per 100kgs weight) 50 grams would be about a salad bowl full.


I am a little concerned about the height of the dandelions you refer to, 2 feet sounds big and lush. Are you sure they are dandelions? Please check a wild flower book as you may be feeding a large leaved variety of sow thistle or hawkweed, plants closely related to dandelion with yellow daisy flowers and sappy hollow stems. Hawkweed and Sow thistles were used in bygone times by herbalists for wheezing chests and coughs. Livestock are fond of their juicy leaves and chicory taste.


Invest in a comprehensive wild flower book such as Cassell’s Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe. This book has the advantage of illustrated plates showing families of similar plant species drawing attention to their similarities and differences which makes identification easy.


For more details, click on the illustration on the left for details, on purchasing & delivery from our associates Amazon Books.


I suggest to help your horse’s immune system recover quickly from any viral infection you consider supplementing his feed with immune stimulating herbs. Take a look at The Equine Herbalist for a suitable product


Hope this information has been helpful




Problems with Rye Grass?

Is Rye Grass A Problem in a Paddock?


Letter: I was wondering if you could help? I have recently taken on a new paddock for my horse, some of which needs re – seeding. I have recently read that commonly used rye grass is actually not so good for horses and that modern day grazing lacks herbs commonly termed ‘hedgerow herbs’.


I have been thinking about planting some herbs etc., in and around my paddock. Can you advise as to what things would be good to include in my paddock?


Hope you are able to help


Kind Regards,


Kathy B


Answer: Ryegrass (Lolium spp.) is a common pasture grass of good nutritional value. The problem common to ryegrass, wild grasses, wheat and barley is Ergot (Claviceps spp.). Ergot is a fungal biotoxin found growing on grain or grass seeds especially during the late summer/early autumn months. Ergot constricts the arterioles supplying the tissues with fresh blood (vaso-constrictive) resulting in lameness, gangrene, dead tissue, abortion etc. Secondly, ergot can ferment into lysergic acid (LSD) under ideal conditions, (the LSD of the sixties was a derivative of ergot man made) which will cause hyperexcitability, convulsions and inco-ordination. Severity of symptoms will depend on the amount of infected grass seed ingested.


A way to overcome the danger of ergot infestation is to rotate grazing, so that your animals are always grazing on a section of the paddock with new grass growth, grass that has no flowering heads or seeds. Be vigilant about wild grasses around the edges of the paddock as they could be a source of ergot. It is a good idea to include in your re-seeding mix a good amount of the legumes such as clover, lucerne, trefoil etc., to reduce the overall amount of grasses susceptible to ergot.


Ergot cannot survive more than a season in the soil, cleansing of pastures can be done by ploughing the field up and leaving fallow for a year, or planting a non cereal crop.


Hedgerow herbs


Indigenous wild herbs with health giving qualities are chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, sheep’s sorrel, birds foot trefoil, cornflower. self-heal, wild pansy, eyebright, wild thyme, marjoram, marshmallow, ransomes (wild garlic) and cleavers.


Another suggestion is a hedge of wild rose, blackberry and hawthorn for browsing (all horses love picking out the young shoots in Spring and the fruit in Autumn). Horses know instinctively that Blackberry, Hawthorn and Wild rose contain health giving properties such as condensed tannins, flavonoids and Vitamin C. Recent research has shown that the small stomach worm Trichostrongylus spp. commonly found in horses and other ruminants, is banished by condensed tannins. Many small wild plants/hedgerow herbs will establish themselves along the perimeter of the hedge.


Invest in a comprehensive wild flower book such as Cassells Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe from Amazon Books (illustrated on the right) This book has the advantage of illustrated plates showing families of similar plant species drawing attention to their similarities and differences which makes identification easy.