At this time of year wild Spring flowers and plants are abundant and paint our lands in vibrant colours and endless shades of green. Many wildflowers are described as weeds, the ubiquitous Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) being one of them as they are found almost anywhere and everywhere – from roadside verges, to parks, forests, and garden lawns! They are underrated however, as these little yellow flowers are a very nutritious snack for your horse and are packed full of nutrients including vitamins A, Bs, C, D E & K, plus magnesium, potassium, calcium and copper. Dandelion leaves have a diuretic effect so can relieve fluid retention and act as a detox ‘flush’ which can be especially useful after an illness or stint on medication as will help cleanse the system.
It is important to recognise ‘true’ Dandelions as there is a lookalike imposter known as ‘false’ Dandelion (Hypochaeris Radicata) or commonly referred to as Flatweed or Cat’s Ear. When ingested by horses, this weed can cause deterioration of the myelin sheath covering nerves which may result in muscle atrophy or spasmodic contraction of the lateral flexor tendons, known as Stringhalt. This is seen as sudden flexion in the hind limbs (one or both) or affected horses may show signs of incoordination or hoof dragging.
Identification: There are two easy ways to differentiate between the good and bad guys – true Dandelions are single stemmed, so have one flower to one stem, whereas false Dandelions have a forked stem with 2 flowers. If you are unsure, touch the leaves as false Dandelions have hairy/downy leaves – true Dandelions don’t. You will also notice the different leaf shapes which easily tells them apart.