The desert can be poisonous

June 10, 2009

Part 1 of a 2 part series

leslie nicholsDesert spring shrubs are lush, colorful and wild but as I discovered, desert spring shrubs can also be poisonous to horses.

This last march, my paint, Hummer became violently ill. After rushing him to the hospital, a battery of tests, observations, and good ole' process of elimination, it was deduced that Hummer had been exposed to plant toxins.

Like any medical crisis, hindsight is 20-20. But in the hopes of giving Sonoran News horse lovers 20-20 vision, BEFORE crisis strikes, I thought that I'd share some of my new wisdom.
Two days before Hummer became ill, Nicole LeCompte, who takes care of my horses, noted that one of Hummer's eyes was twitching. She also noted that the usual white around his eyes was pale yellow. Nicole even said at the time: "His eyes don't look right, I wonder if he's been exposed to a toxin." I shrugged it off.

Two days later, Hummer stopped eating and was despondent. Colic.

However, he was also running a temperature. Not typical for colic. A colic exam revealed nothing out of the ordinary, so far, and we were told to keep an eye on him.

Thirty minutes later, as the saying goes, all heck broke loose. Suddenly, Hummer (did I mention that he is very stoic) threw himself on the ground repeatedly, thrashing so violently that it took three men to get him on his feet and keep him on his feet. A trip to Chaparral Hospital became necessary.

Hummer's symptoms were mysterious. But under the guidance of Dr. Elaine Carpenter, over the next few days, and many tests later, it became clear that he had been exposed to toxins.

What poisoned him? What are the signs that you should look for? What can you do to poison-proof your ranch? All of this and more in the next column! Stay tuned.

leslie and hummer
Courtesy Photo: Leslie Nichols and Hummer in better times!

Leslie Nichols is a progressive horsemanship professional and is innovator of the Leslie Nichols Relaxation Program for horses and their owners, and The Fusion Method for Starting Horses. Contact her at