Horse Friendly Trees

The decision behind choosing the right trees for horse paddocks and enclosures is more than just selecting something that is big and wide for shade. A huge consideration is the potential of certain trees to poison horses when foliage, branches, flowers or nuts are mistaken as food.

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When there may be a lack of food, horses can have the tendency of munch on trees. This makes the decision around tree selection very important. Fruit or nut-bearing trees can contribute to colic in horses while there are other trees that are toxic enough to sicken or kill.

Trees not suitable for horses include:

  • Acer rubrum (Canadian Maple), Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple) Acer negundo (Box Elder) and their hybrids – These maples should be avoided as they produce cyanide in their leaves which suffocates animals by blocking oxygen transport via the red blood cells.  Ingestion causes lethargy, discoloured urine and darkened gums, and death.
  • Aesculus (Horse Chestnut) - The toxin is present in the nuts, leaves or new growth. Symptoms of poisoning include depression, muscle tremors or spasms, lack of coordination, colic, pain and paralysis.
  • Juglans nigra (Black walnut) - The bark, nuts, roots, pollen and fallen leaves contain juglone, a compound which is toxic to horses.
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander) – This tree or large shrub contains cardiotoxic compounds that are poisonous to humans, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas and birds. The primary toxic agent, oleandrin, causes heart arrhythmias that lead to cardiac arrest and death. In horses, as little as 30 grams of green leaves can be lethal.
  • Prunus (all Cherry, Peach and Plum trees)  -  These fruits are safe when eaten by humans, however there are cyanogenic glycosides in the leaves, shoots, bark and pits of the fruit that can lead to poisoning in horses. 
  • Quercus (Oak) – These trees pose a threat with acorns, buds, leaves and blossoms all being toxic to livestock, including horses. Oak poisoning causes colic and bloody diarrhoea in horses as well as damage to kidneys. It is advised to stay well away from this species entirely.
  • Robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust) - The bark, seeds, leaves and twigs of this tree is toxic to humans, cattle, poultry, sheep, and horses.
  • Taxus (English yew, Canada yew and Japanese yew - and their hybrids) - The needles and seeds of these trees are highly poisonous to horses, cattle, sheep and goats 
  • Privet – Privet leaves and berries that are poisonous to horses and are known to cause gastrointestinal and nervous system distress, causing convulsions, paralysis, and even death. Eating small quantities of Privet can kill a horse.

It is most likely that horses will probably not want to eat any sort of trees unless there is very little else for them to graze on. Most horses will avoid poisonous trees and plants because they are unpalatable and have a bitter taste and/or smell. But during periods of drought or when pastures are overgrazed, animals just might begin to investigate the undesirable ones. And then you probably get a few horses that simply nibble on anything. Our recommendation is to just stay clear of the undesirable ones at all times.

Now the good news. There are alternatives for boundary and shading pasture trees that are big and beautiful and most importantly, non-toxic:

Silver Birch is a popular deciduous tree that is available in multiple sizes. 'Moss White' begins with a grey trunk that eventually over time turns to white - quite a feature during winter when limbs are bare. Moss White is popular but we also have the more slender, upright form called Betula pendula fastigiata.
This is a versatile deciduous tree that can be used in many commercial and residential applications where shade is required in summer. Autumn colour is sensational. Any Ash tree is considered safe for horses, so you also wish to consider evergreen Ash (Fraxinus griffithii), Claret Ash (Fraxinus Raywoodii) or Fraxinus Pennsylvanica 'Urbanite'.
This is a large deciduous tree to 20 metres tall with attractive toothed leaves and the ability to put on a striking display in autumn. Great for properties with the space to grow this beautiful tree.
This is a beautiful tree with large leaves and a great shape for shade in summer. Fresh green foliage is home to yellowish flowers with an orange fleck in spring. These flowers resemble tulip flowers hence its name. We also grow a fastigiate form for narrower spaces, driveways and boundary fences.
This is a fast-growing fastigiate deciduous tree growing to approximately 12 metres. It is a great selection for screening and avenue plantings.
This is a selection of maculata from Sale Victoria, grown for its maculata attributes and smaller height - a real alternative for landscapes preferring a more compact trust-worthy native.
This is a selection of Corymbia maculata, sourced regionally with a rounder and fuller form suitable for larger landscapes and broader street plantings.

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