Friday, June 11, 2010

Besieged by Buttercups

The rich hues of green in our pastures are accented by yellow dots of colour. Buttercups. Their bright, upturned faces bring back memories of childhood-- times when we'd hold the flowers beneath our chins to find out whether we liked butter. Unfortunately, buttercups are toxic to horses.

Monday, June 7

It's about 8:30 in the morning. News of the latest shootings, stabbings and car accidents is blaring from the decades-old ghetto blaster in the barn. Maggie is already outside. Murray's about to join her, but when I look at the caked mud on his neck and legs, I feel guilty. I decide to give him a quick grooming before sending him out to "his girl".

Even Murray's face is masked by a layer of thick, brown, dried mud. I attack his broad cheek with my brush and as copper-coloured hairs slowly emerge from beneath the grime, I notice something odd. A four inch long section of his cheek is puffed out. It's an uneven, jagged-edged welt. I poke at it. He doesn't flinch, there's no pain. I wonder about it, but continue my grooming job.

I move to his right side and lift the edge of his fly sheet to get at the mud he managed to grind into his belly. There's another welt, only this one is about a foot long and it stretches back across his ribs. I take off his sheet for a closer look. Most of his body is fine, but the length of his belly is covered in these large, swollen patches of skin which look like maps to some unkown land.

Murray has sensitive skin and is prone to skin allergies. I think back to the past few days. He hasn't eaten anything unusual. He hasn't had a bath, or been exposed to any strange chemicals. It's not his fly-sheet because the area covered by that is fine. The only difference in his routine is that we rotated him and Maggie to the larger of the grass pastures. They spent three hours a day there for the past two days. That's when it dawns on me. The buttercups. Out in the pasture, Murray positioned himself the midst of belly-high patches of rain-soaked buttercups. He didn't eat them (they're quite bitter and will burn and blister their mouths), but he greedily shoved his face in and ate around them.

Since Murray seems to be suffering no other ill-effects, I put him out (NOT in the grass pasture) and come inside to google some answers. It turns out that buttercups are toxic not only when eaten, but their stems also excrete an oily toxin which can irritate the skin of horses and humans.

I check Maggie for any similar ill-effects. She is unscathed, not surprising since she has coarse hair and tough skin. Murray has fine, baby-like hair and extremely sensitive, thin skin. I keep the horses off the pasture. Within 24 hours, Murray's welts have faded to barely visible lumps. I will put them back on the pasture again, but I'll check Murray daily for any kind of reaction. Now, if anyone has any suggestions as to how to rid acres of pasture of thousands of buttercups, I'll be more than willing to listen.

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