We have two varieties of burrs in our area. One is the common burdock burr and the other a small heart shaped burr that grows in wet areas. Both can make a mess, and both can be removed in the same way.
If there are only a few burrs and they’ve been in a short time you can probably pull them out easily with your fingers. Really thick mats of burrs might need a slightly more aggressive attack.
I’ve found the easiest way to break up a mat of burrs is by dowsing the mane or tail with a de-tangler or baby/mineral oil. It sometimes helps to let the oil or de-tangler sit a bit, softening the burrs up, before you start pulling. Start from the bottom of the mat, and gently pull apart the hairs while dislodging the burrs. Very gently brush out the hairs as you go, being careful not to break the strands. Don’t be tempted to use a metal comb or ‘rake’. These tend to break the hair at the best of times.
The pickiness of the burrs combined with the oil or conditioner can be irritating to your hands. I’ve found the close fitting rubberized gloves you can buy for gardening give me enough feel and dexterity for the job while protecting my hands. Household or surgical gloves always feel too sloppy to me.
Getting Rid of Burr PlantsOnce you’ve cleaned all the burrs from your horse, make sure that you dispose of them where they won’t sprout. Dumping them on the manure pile or sweeping them out the barn door might mean you’ll eventually have a good crop of burrs right next to your barn!
To avoid having to pull burrs again, you’ll need to eradicate the weeds from your paddocks and pastures. In addition to making a mess of your horse’s mane and tail, they can irritate eyes, ears and noses. The can also crowd out the more desirable plants growing in your pasture.
Common Burdock is a biennial, growing leaves the first year and flowering and seeding in the second. If you just cut down the plant before it goes to flower, it will simply wait to flower again the following year. There are two times when you can chop it and stop its growth. Early in the spring chop the first leaves down beneath soil level and this should kill the plant. A sharp spade seems to work best for this. (I know from experience that if you don't catch them very early on, they just keep growing and a hoe, unless it is really sharp, won't go through really thick stems.)
If the plant already has leaves, cut it down just as it begins to flower. This way the plant thinks it has produced seeds and shouldn't grow again next spring. Chemical herbicides can be used, but these need to be used with great care in horse pastures.
The best revenge may be to eat it however, and Erin Huffstetler, About.com Guide to Frugal Living recommends it as an edible plant and points to a recipe for Braised Burdock Root. Apparently burdock has many traditional natural medicinal qualitiestoo.