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Environment and Planning
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Lawmaker Warns Of Noxious Weed After Death Of 'One-In-A-Million' Horse

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USDA
Hoary alyssum, a member of the mustard family, is a non-native plant known to be toxic to horses.

The death of his prized horse has a Washington state lawmaker warning about a noxious weed that’s spreading in the Northwest. That weed is toxic to horses and can have a gruesome effect on their hooves.

The weed is hoary alyssum, a member of the mustard family that is found in much of the country, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

State Representative Joel Kretz ranches in Washington’s Okanogan County. He said several of his horses got into the white dandelion-looking plant earlier this spring. His most valuable horse -- a Blue Roan named Ellie -- was the sickest.

They found her down by a creek on some leased pasture land.

“She was standing on all fours, but very uncomfortable lifting her back feet up and down,” Kretz said.

She then collapsed and they had to haul her to dry ground.

“Right away you’re running through a million things in your mind, what could it be, what could she have gotten into,” Kretz said. “Is it a disease? is it poison?”

The conclusion was it was hoary alyssum.

Kretz nursed Ellie for several weeks and watched as the toxins took a toll on her hooves. She started to slough them -- something Kretz said was one of the worst things he’s ever witnessed.

“I never want to see it again,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Finally, he decided to euthanize her.

Patricia Talcott, a veterinary toxicologist at Washington State University., said she saw her first case of horses poisoned by this weed in north Idaho in the early 1990s. But in the past year she’s heard more reports of suspected hoary alyssum poisonings, something she attributes to a spread of the plant and heightened awareness.