2017 Chicoteague Pony Swim

The annual Wild Pony Swim at Chincoteague took place this year on July 26th. The swim itself took 18 minutes. 62 ponies went through the annual auction, with the highest price pony bringing $15,000 and the average price running about $3,400.

The fire company uses some of the proceeds from the auction to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year. Money raised from the sale of “buy back ponies” is donated to a chosen charity.


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.