Bug Off!

Zelda wearing her amigo flyrider
Zelda kitted up with bug protection.

Zelda hates bugs. And for the past two weeks, the bugs have been out in force. It’s a conundrum: it’s been too hot and humid to ride in the sun but the deer flies and horse flies have made riding in the shade intolerable. Even riding in the ring — which has worked past summers — has been an exercise in frustration. Zelda spends her whole time focused on the biting bugs. Even when I soaked her in Deep Woods Off, the biting flies were all over her five minutes later.

Medieval horse armor
Zelda looked like she was going into battle.

So, I broke down and ordered an Amigo Flyrider. Suiting her I felt like I was putting on armor, which I guess, in many ways is an accurate description.

The good news is that it worked. We had a very pleasant hack both in the open fields and through the woods. The deer flies hovered over us but they didn’t really bother her. I think I got stung more than she did.

My only complaint about the Flyrider is that it wasn’t quite as large as I’d hoped. Zelda wears an 84 sheet and this was an XL. It fits, but there’s not a lot of room to spare.


Chalking the White Horse

Uffington white horse
For more than 3,000 the Uffington horse has glowed white. Without constant maintenance, the horse would have vanished into the foliage in 20 years.

The Uffington White Horse is the oldest of the English hill figures. For more than 3,000 years, it has run across the flank of a hill — a enormous pictogram the size of a football field and visible from 20 miles away. Of course, when this primitive drawing was first cut into the hill, the only way to see it in its entirety was from the valley below. The complexity of creating a figure of this size and shape from the ground is mind boggling.

The White Horse is maintained on Chalking Day, a ritual where volunteers are given hammers, buckets of chalk and kneepads. The chalkers kneel and smash the chalk to a paste, whitening the stony pathways in the grass inch by inch. It’s technique as ancient as the horse itself. If the horse wasn’t maintained, it would be gone in just a few decades, reclaimed by the hillside grass or erased by erosion. Archeologists believe that chalk figures were integral to the social groups of the time; that part of the benefit of the horse was the ritual gathering to maintain it and create a societal bond.

Excavation of the site in the 1990s confirmed its prehistoric beginnings. It also showed that the design for the figure was cut into the hill at a depth of up to a meter — not just scratched into the chalk surface. This made it possible to date the layers of quartz in the trench. The results of the testing showed that the horse was created  at the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps even the end of the Bronze Age, nearly 3,000 years ago.

Chalking or scouring the horse.
Chalking or scouring the horse. This photo gives you a sense of the massive scale — and the amount of planning and coordination required to “draw” a picture of this size without the benefit of an aerial view. The original lines were created using antler picks and spades — to dig through the earth and expose the chalk layer.

Mystery surrounds the horse. No one knows why the horse was made. One theory is that since in Celtic art, horses were shown pulling the chariot of the sun, this horse was placed so that the sun crosses over it.

The shape of the horse has changed over the centuries, modified by erosion and repeated recutting. The present outline may be only a part of the original: aerial photography shows that a larger, more conventional shape of a horse lies beneath.  Some believe that it wasn’t a horse at all — put could have been a dragon or a mythical creature. But it’s certainly been called a horse since the 11th century.

Not Afraid of Plastic Bags

This sales video is hard to top!

Another potential buyer for Pumba said to me, “so she’s ok with kids and llamas but what does she think of chickens and is she scared of plastic bags?” So I thought, well why would they ask that? Maybe they need her to help with the groceries… (No horses, roosters or people of Papakura were harmed during the making of this video…. incredibly.)

Brookby Heights International

Flip Flops & Horses Don’t Mix

Woman loses toe
A rider lost a toe when she was wearing flip-flops to lead two horses and one spooked at a sign.

It’s oh, so tempting to leave your sandals on during the summer, even when you are working around horses. A young British woman paid a price for that decision a few weeks ago when one of the horses that she was leading spooked and landed on her foot. The result? She lost a toe.

Injured heel
If you need a reason to wear boots around the barn, here’s a good one!

I learned my own lesson the hard way two years ago. I slipped into the pasture to give Freedom his grain and something spooked him. He jumped three feet to the left and landed on my heel. I was lucky. Although it was very painful, he didn’t break anything but the skin. I was wearing slip on shoes that didn’t provide enough protection.

Lesson learned. I always wear boots around the horses. No exceptions. You should, too.


You can Lead a Horse to Water

The tradition of shrimp fishing dates back to the 13th century, but it is an art that almost died out. Not long ago, only three mounted shrimp fisherman remained. That number has grown to 19 as people in the Belgian village of Oostduinkerke work to sustain their cultural heritage.

Mounted shrimp fisherman
Mounted shrimp fisherman in Oostduinkerke. Photo credit: Gigi Embrechts

“The strong Brabant horses walk breast-deep in the surf in Oostduinkerke, parallel to the coastline, pulling funnel-shaped nets held open by two wooden boards. A chain dragged over the sand creates vibrations, causing the shrimp to jump into the net. Shrimpers place the catch (which is later cooked and eaten) in baskets hanging at the horses’ sides.”

— Unesco

Fishing does not come naturally to the horses. The strong Brabant draft horses needed to pull the heavy nets must be trained to enter the ocean, where they are guided by their riders to the areas populated by grey shrimp. Once a horse is found, it stays with the fisherman for life.

“The first time a horse sees the sea and the waves, you can see it running back,” said d’Hulster. “They don’t like it.”

“There is such a love story between the horse and the fisherman,” he said. “Once he has a horse that works, he is married to the horse. Sometimes we say we like our horses more than our wife.”

New York Times – Horseback Shrimp fishing fades in Belgium

Shrimp fishing takes place twice a week during the season, and each horse brings back between 22 and 44 pounds of fish per day. Gone are the days when mounted fisherman used their catch to fertilize their fields; today the gray shrimp they catch are boiled and served up to tourists, sometimes right on the beach.

For a longer video and a profile of another of the fishing families, please watch the video from Unesco, below.

Last ride before the flies

The perfect cloud
We visited the most perfect field and saw a perfect cloud.

Today was the first day the deer flies were out. Sigh. Although I doused Zelda with Deep Woods Off, they still drove her absolutely crazy. Last week it was still safe to ride in the woods and I managed to fit in a glorious ride to my favorite field.

I hadn’t taken a good long ride in awhile, so on the Fourth of July, I set off with no deadlines. The beauty of the holiday was that no one was out on the trails. I know many people who don’t like to ride alone but Zelda is pretty steady and she is good company. She balked a little at one bridge crossing, but since she’s so big, I decided she was going regardless.

We covered about 8 miles and got back tired, hot and happy.

4th of July
Looking down toward the pond. Zelda has her fly mask on but the bugs weren’t bad.
stained glass
At certain times of the day, the leaves light up like stained glass.


So-called Rescues and their Constant Plea for “Bail”

The Truth about Kill Pens
Read this article by clicking on the photo

When I was about six years old, I wanted a turtle. One of those tiny ones, the size of a quarter, that you bought at the five and ten. My father refused. He explained that every turtle they sold made it possible for them to buy five more. And that those turtles led terrible lives.

When I look at the brokers — Another Chance for Horses (thankfully shut down), Moore’s, or Cranbury — I see the horse equivalent to those turtles. For every one of the horses bailed from a broker (I’m not talking about going to an actual livestock auction like New Holland), you enable them to buy five more horses. Horses that you’ll probably never see because the do get sold to kill buyers, without the social media outrage. However, what makes these places so insidious is their constant drumbeat of fear. “If you don’t ‘bail’ this horse, it will go to slaughter. It will ship Saturday.” Of course that “bail” is typically three or four times more than the broker paid for it, making this a very profitable business.

Recently, I came across a post that is so similar to one that I was planning to write, The Truth About Kill Pens — Are you really saving a Life?, that I’m posting it here. The article provides a lot of well-researched facts about the brokers that may well change how you look at those horses.

Although I also look at the Facebook pages of many of the broker programs, I’m not too worried about the horses going to Canada. As of March 2017, all horses imported from the United States into horse processing plants in Canada must be held in U.S.-side feedlots for a minimum of six months. The regulation is intended to address food safety concerns expressed by European Union (EU) buyers because many of the horses had consumed drugs. No broker programs will keep horses for six months. The horses on the East Coast are unlikely to be shipped to Mexico, so most of them are going somewhere else — likely to another auction. Certainly, the ones featured on these websites. The ones being sold for $900-$1200. No broker will ship a horse that they can sell for that much.

In fact, most of the horses featured by these middle men are bought specifically to sell to consumers whipped up into a frenzy over the impending shipment. Take a look at the number of views some of these horses get on Facebook — way into the thousands. Facebook and and Forums provide a ton of free advertising. And the ones that don’t sell the first time? There are always people fundraising for them. I get at least one email a week asking for money to save the horses.

Where do these horses come from? Some are bought from breeders, some are bought privately, and many are picked up at auctions in other parts of the country. People who watch the auction sites can track the progress of a particular horse across the country. The bottom line is that if a broker is unwilling to sell it for kill prices plus $200, they will keep running it through auctions until someone buys it.

I’m not opposed to rescuing horses. There are some great horses that end up at New Holland, or similar auctions, through no fault of their own. There are also many legitimate rescues that take horses people can’t care for, help racehorses transition to new careers, or buy from auctions without the hysteria or the business proposition. If you want to rescue a horse, go to one of them. Don’t keep lining the pockets of the brokers because, like the turtles, the horses you buy from them keep the industry going.