Hand Forged Gifts & Homeware

Posted on 12th April 2023

Beware the Foxtail Seed Heads!

When things go wrong…


I find it hard to concentrate on anything else when my loved ones feel poorly. Do you?  Two foot or four footed family members alike. If something is not right I am ill at ease for the duration.

As many of you are horse owners, just like us, I thought I’d share our experience over the last couple of weeks or so. If it helps just one person or pony not go through the same then that means it’s worth doing!


Not quite right?


The last Tuesday in March was when I first thought something was amiss. Smartie had not finished his haynet. For varying reasons some by choice, some externally dictated, our ponies come in to their stables for a few hours during the day. While in, our native ponies munch on a hay/straw mix. Weight watching- even all Winter –  has been a thing since Skittle left us. Who knew she ate so much!

Sleepy Smartie after sedation

Every net is usually polished off and the stable floor cleared of any hay chaff! But today, half or so of Smartie’s net was left.


He seemed well in himself and I thought perhaps Spring grass growth was to blame. Maybe hay wasn’t so appealing when spring green grass shoots were on offer? Once turned out with his friends, we worked a time on mucking out and upon leaving I was uneasy to see Smartie stood seemingly dosing in the field, not grazing.

‘That’s not right.’ I said to Barry. We resolved to come back and check him in a couple of hours, fearing something colicky. Nothing seemed untoward when we came back. Smartie was grazing, our arrival caused a stampede to the gate and he, and his friends all took apple slices from me.


Wednesday dawned and at the end of the day, same story. I made up some sloppy Fast Fibre (such a handy thing to have in as a hydrating fibre provider when you fear something is amiss) Smartie slurped it up.

Returning from the field after turning out I realised. ‘He’s not licked the bucket clean’, I called to Barry. As we left we watched him in the field a time. I sat in the car pondering, absent mindedly plucked some seed heads from my fleece jumper. We resolved to call the vet the next day.


It’s the seed heads!


My mind mused and mulled on the way home.

I’d read somewhere about grass seed heads getting tangled in dogs coats and even working their way into a dogs skin. It suddenly struck me that maybe these seeds I’d been plucking from my clothes these last few days were the culprit. With the vets booked in for Friday morning it was a bit of an anxious wait.

I plied Smartie with sloppy Fast Fibre for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout Thursday. That evening he took a whopping great big carrot from me and chomped seemingly happily through it. Had I called the vet for nothing?

Friday morning dawned and I made my apologies to the vet if I had called her pointlessly. Always better to be safe and sure was the reply. We worked through some diagnostic questions and history. Out came the gag and it was placed over Smartie’s head. ‘Let’s have a look in here’…


Poor, dear boy.


Collection of Foxtail seed heads under the tongue

In his mouth, packed in underneath his tongue were layers upon layers of barbed seed heads.

Foxtail grass.

I cannot imagine how uncomfortable it must have been. It still makes my heart hurt for dear Smartie & how sad and sore he must have felt.

Where the bristles had rubbed and the barbs had worked their way in. mouth ulcers had developed. Obviously feeling uncomfortable, Smartie had some sedation so we could check his whole mouth.

I couldn’t believe it!

This hay was beautiful. Late cut, full of beneficial seed heads, so I thought. We’d never had a problem with hay before at all. I feel this must have been a rogue patch of foxtail in the field that had been harvested.

In googling I’ve seen a lot of articles relating to loathsome Foxtail that are US based. As our experience shows, it can happen here too!

Do keep an eye on seed heads in your hay. Make sure they are happy ones and not barbed. If you find yourself picking and unhooking them out from your clothes, check!

Resulting ulceration on the underside of the tongue

Look at the damage to the underside of my poor boy’s tongue. An offending single seed head lays there on the plate of the gag.

Torrential rain and high winds accompanied us on a run to the local feed store for some small baled hay to tide us over as this batch had to be discarded.

As the Friday went on, Smartie continued to dose off his sedation. We watched all the others like hawks while forging. Lucy raised suspicion with her reluctance to eat the new hay.

Our vet returned and She did indeed have seeds stacked under her tongue in the same way Smartie did, though they weren’t quite so bloody and stuck fast. Poor Lucy!


Better check everyone


I don’t mind confessing I was totally anxious now. We resolved to book everyone for dentals the following week so I could know one way or the other for Simba, Fairy & Bear.

With reassurances that we could call them needed over the weekend, the vets left after flushing Lucy’s mouth completely.

So it was the following week everyone had a thorough mouth check and MOT, with a little sleepy juice (sedation 🙂 ) to make sure we could see every bit.

It seems just the 2 of the 5 had been affected with the seeds getting stuck under the tongue. However both Bear & Fairy had some diastema with some kind of food debris lodged. First time that’s occurred for them but I have no idea if it is related or not.

Some continued mouth flushing for Smartie & Lucy with salt water should see those ulcers heal in no time. Removal of the cause, the affected hay, should see the situation resolve.

I must admit googling has made me worry about damage inside them too but I am hoping we were on the ball enough for that to not be the case.

Foxtail seed heads are not yours or your horse’s friend! Some may eat it without ill affect, but I certainly will be vigilant now and not feed any suspicious looking hay every again! I only have a view I guess!

Seed Heads removed from Smartie’s mouth. How sore he must have been!

How the seed heads looked in our hay attached to the stalk

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