Unwelcome Pests From the Past

A couple of weeks ago when I was working with a group of horses south of Tucson I saw something I hadn’t seen in years, one of the harbingers of autumn back in my horse-showing youth in Colorado.

Bot eggs.

boteggcloseupThe bane of late-season show grooming, those little annoying yellow/white dots clinging to the hairs on the insides of knees, on bellies and shoulders and even on long hairs under the jaw.

Probably most of my fellow Arizona horse owners have never seen such a thing, unless they came to the desert from somewhere else (and many of them did.) Nor are they familiar with the annoying critter that deposits these unwanted eggs, a black fly larger than the average stable fly – approximately the size of a bee – and very persistent at bothering horses.

I haven’t had to think of bots in decades. About the bot “knives,” which I never tried and bot “blocks,” which I didn’t think worked very well and which have since been re-labled as “shedding blocks.” I always found my hands were the quickest way to remove eggs, catching each individual one between a fingernail and my thumb pad and pulling them off. In the late summer and fall, that was a daily grooming task. Leave it until the day before a show and you’d spend hours.

botlegWondering whether bot-removal technology might have improved since then, I tooled around the web a bit. What I found was manual removal is still the primary recommendation, though there are some really scary suggestion such as wiping the affected areas of the horse with diesel or kerosene. Note to responsible horse owners: don’t douse your horse in any substance you wouldn’t use on your own body. Yikes!

Thanks to the modern magic of the search engine, I also learned some new things about bots that I hadn’t really needed to know before. Apparently there are actually more than 100 species of bot flies, and, ewww, they can infect humans as well as livestock. (Okay, maybe I would have to rethink that fingernail removal technique!)

botBots infect horses when the eggs are licked off the  body, entering through the mouth. Apparently the eggs are stimulated to hatch by warmth, humidity and the presence of carbon dioxide – the effects of breath. Isn’t nature wonderfully skillful at adapting?

The one fact I remember clearly about treating horses against the inevitable bot larvae that did get into their systems what that we made sure to worm with a boticide –  ivermectin – after the first hard frost had killed off the flies. I expect that’s why I still generally put that particular type of wormer into my rotation in fall, even though here in Arizona where we don’t often get a hard freeze so even a small number of flies survives through winter.

In fact, it’s probably about time to do that worming about now. Excuse me while I go to the tack store …

Riding & Groundwork on a Grey Desert Day

greyday090915WWe’re closing in on the end of the summer monsoon here in Arizona, rejoicing to have survived the worst of triple-digit heat paired with stifling humidity. To remind us that autumn is descending, the sky stayed overcast all day, providing a cool, contemplative atmosphere for riding lessons and ground exercises.

solangehasabsTwo of my rehab “graduates” put their riders through a comprehensive core workout, with the warmblood mare carrying her human through a soft sprinkle of rain in their first-ever connected, comfortable sitting trot sans stirrups.

So nice for horses and riders to feel the relief of a cool, misty morning after months of blazing-hot and sticky-damp sessions, even at the crack of dawn. And such a rare and welcome treat for me to work in relative cool later in the day as I walked my miles on the ground with one horse starting back to work after a year of healing and another entering a new phase of his education.

A gentle sprinkle of rain misted my clothing and their slick summer coats and beat a quiet rhythm on the metal barn roof. The young rehab horse practiced changing bend through the barrel in sweeping S-turns and perfected the fine-tuned lightness of my “pendulum” exercise. And the gregarious gaited gelding practiced impulse control – he’s got a bit of an oral fixation – and learned to “waggle,” the first building block in building the posture and muscle tone needed to develop self-carriage.

The forecast calls for a scorching weekend, hopefully the last hot gasp of summer, so the memory of today’s mild mist will have to carry us desert-dwellers through the waning season. Whatever the weather next Thursday, I’ll be back to work with these horses and people who make my days so interesting, rain or shine.

Keep Arizona’s Wild Horses Wild

The U.S. Forest Service plans to remove a herd of wild horses from national forest land near the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest, about 75 miles northeast of Phoenix as early as Friday 8/10. Forest Service officials say the horses must be removed from land they have roamed for decades as a matter of public safety. Arizona’s government officials have responded to constituent pressure to oppose the action.

If you want to add your voice to those opposing the death or capture of these horses, please contact these representatives and respectfully express your opinion. Contact info. for Arizona’s two senators follows. Find contact info. for House members here.

Sen. John McCain
(602) 952-2410

Sen. Jeff Flake
(202) 224-4521

Here’s my message:

Dear Sen. McCain, I believe more Americans would like to see the Salt River wild horses roaming free than have them killed or “managed” in one of the inhumane federal holding facilities. I, for one, prefer that my tax dollars pay for preservation of Arizona’s open space and wild animals. I do not support my elected officials spending millions to fund the substandard “refugee camp” existence of the tens of thousands of horses already confined, let alone adding the Salt River band. Leave the wild horses wild.

Sign the petition:
Stop the Annihilation of the Salt River Wild Horses!!!

More Information:
AZ senators, reps take up battle over fate of Salt River horses
Hundreds Rally to Save Arizona’s Salt River Wild Horses

Cruel or necessary? The true cost of wild horse roundups

The View From My “Office”: May 2015 Fire

Bit of surreal scenery along Hwy. 83 southeast of Tucson today after last week’s grass fire that burned 2,000-plus acres north of Sonoita. Miles of charred ground with grass and weeds burned off but, for the most part, trees still with green tops that probably will survive.

firelandscapeLooks like the firefighters did a good job of holding the line at the highway. News reports say the burn was human caused but don’t say how it started. One of the locals told me this morning it was a trailer that blew a tire and the driver didn’t realize he was running on the rim and throwing sparks into the dry grass.

Good news is no people were injured or structures damaged. But by the looks of this “litter” in a pull-out next to the road, the fire claimed at least one vehicle casualty.


Senile Old Man or Evil Genius?

I’ve written a bit about my Quarter Horse gelding Ichobod, whose 31st birthday was celebrated last May with a party in his honor. Since then he has lost his companion mare and adjusted to new neighbors, a pair of mules with whom he likes to share stories over a communal watering area while refusing to drink out of his former water tank next to his stall.

His life is less stressful, because he doesn’t worry when the mules leave for a ride or disappear from sight on the back side of their barn like he did with the mare, whom he absolutely adored. Especially when she was in heat and flirting shamelessly.


The owner of Ichobod’s retirement home has decide he’s an evil genius because he spends time every day checking and re-checking to see if his gate is firmly latched.

But he has developed a new behavior that has his human friends a bit baffled. Both I and H, the owner of the property where he was privileged to retire, had been thinking of him as a slightly senile old guy, mostly in a nice way that makes every day (and every meal) a happy thing. I witnessed one occasion when he “lost” his former companion mare right in plain sight in their shared pen and shakily trotted around crying for her for several minutes before he saw her standing right out in the open. And more than once he was seen to walk right into one of the posts supporting the covered “porch” outside his stall. Senility in action.

Or so we thought, until he started showing signs he might, instead, be a very sly genius.

A little background: for all that he’s a strapping 16-hand beast, Ich has always been a bit timid about new things. We had a very short show career because he was so clearly stressed by the traveling, proving to be a creature of habit and familiarity instead of an adventurous wanderer. And, except for showing off for the occasional admiring mare, he has also been a bit cautious of other horses until he’s had plenty of time to get acquainted. In short, he has been an introvert and a bit of a homebody.

That is, until recently.

A couple of months ago, all that timidity changed in one chance moment of opportunity. To understand the incident, you need to picture the scene. The gate to his roomy retirement space rests on a rolling caster on a bit of a hill with a section of railroad tie fitted as a stop on the downhill side. When going in and out to do chores for Ich and the other equines living on the property, the humans typically let gravity close the gate and left it unlatched until we were finished and leaving the barn area.

One afternoon when I was doing chores in the adjacent barn, property owner H came through Ichy’s gate as usual and stopped to consult about an injury to one of her horses in that barn. Something across the way drew the interest of that horse and we looked up to see Ichobod walking around outside his pen. Completely out of character, he had opened and gone through the gate and left his familiar space. I grabbed a halter and went to catch him, expecting he had only been lured out by the green grass just outside his gate.

Instead of grazing, he turned his backside to me, walked to the edge of the property and climbed down into a narrow dry wash. I followed along hoping he’d stop before he could stumble on the rocky uphill side of the drainage area, but on he went up the side and onto a narrow trail leading through cactus-strewn desert toward the neighbor’s house and barn. He was tottering along with his old-man walk just fast enough to stay ahead of me and completely ignoring my requests for him to “whoa.”

He went all the way to the nice neighbor’s corral, where her horse  was having a bit of a fit at the impromptu visit. I had visions of Ich hurting himself by joining in trying to run the fenceline with the resident gelding and his companion goat, but he stopped and stuck his head over the fence and I was able to get a leadrope over his neck and march him home.

I didn’t think too much about the incident, which was amusing but clearly out of character for my barely sociable horse. Except, the next time I was doing chores, the old man nearly let himself out the same gate by hooking his head over the top and pulling it open. I caught him in the act and latched the gate, warning the property owner that my horse was apparently inclined to take another desert walk.

We all tried to be careful to remember to snap the gate chain every time we went in or out, but old habits die hard and Ichy had one more chance to go walkabout one morning when property owner’s sig other had fed early and gone off to work. H was in the shower when the phone rang, a neighbor saying she thought one of H’s brown horses was out and the neighbor was trying to catch it with a dog leash but it kept walking too fast for her to catch up.

By the time H rushed out in her hastily donned robe and barn boots, Ich was standing at his gate asking to be let in after having trekked all the way up her long driveway and down a dirt road to the community mailboxes and back. Safe and sound without a mark on him and ready to finish his breakfast, thank-you-very-much. And, at least we know he can find his way home. Maybe not so senile, after all?

You can bet after that we’ve all been paranoid about the gate. We all know he’s old and a bit frail and one bad fall would probably be the end of him, the old so-and-so. None of us wants to be responsible for the old man having yet another adventure out and about, so I was surprised on Sunday when H had another story to tell about my newly adventurous horse.

When doing chores, we have to pass through his space to access the feed room, which is a pair of converted stalls closed off with the bottom half of a traditional stable door. Early on it became apparent that Ichy spent quite a bit of time reaching over and leaning on this door, to the extent that the door was soon dragging on the ground and the hinges needed replace. To prevent him straining the new hinges, the owner fitted two eye bolts and stretched a length of nylon strap across the opening a couple inches above the top of the door. Fitted with a snap to allow easy access for feed deliveries, the strap gave Ich something besides the door to lean on. This arrangement also proved convenient for the humans, as instead of latching the door each time we passed back and forth carrying feed buckets or flakes of hay, we got used leaving the door unlatched and just ducking under the strap, which was clearly too low for an inquisitive old horse to get through.

Or so we thought, until Ichobod nearly gave H a heart attack last weekend.

Apparently the half door hadn’t been latched after Sunday morning’s feeding, because when H went to the barn later in the day she found Ichobod standing in the rather cramped feed storage space, butt against a stack of hay newly delivered just last week and head next to the back side of his neighbor’s fan attached to a pipe panel that closes the space that was the door to the second converted stall. She said he looked as content as if he were standing in front of his very own fan in his own stall next door.

There was a stack of straw on his left side, a table where we mix up and store grain/supplement buckets on his right, a pair of metal trash cans holding pellets and senior feed against his right shoulder and wood pallets and various boxes and empty feed containers directly ahead. In short, he was stuck, unless H could figure out how to back him around a 90-degree angle from his tail end, because she couldn’t get to his head.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, this is a horse who from the day I got him insists on backing out of a horse trailer as fast as he can go, no matter who might be holding on in front or what might be behind him. (I believe H did not know this fact, however, to her benefit.)

In the end, she basically tore apart the feed room, squeezing in between Ich and the table to move the metal cans and the plastic milk crates they were sitting on, worrying about him getting upset and scrambling and getting a leg in a milk crate or a pallet or worse. But it seems he was just fine waiting for her to rescue him, and as soon as there was space he turned himself around and let himself be lead by the fly mask out the through the door. After she unsnapped the strap, that is.

So, the big mystery is, how did a 16-hand horse manage to get under the nylon strap secured across the door opening? I’m 5-foot-6 and the strap hits me at about the base of my sternum, so about four feet give or take. And Ichobod is a solid 16 hands, so five feet four inches at his now-prominent withers and only a bit lower at the top of his hip, for all that the back in between has become rather swayed.

He has never been one for getting down on his knees and reaching under fences to reach grass or scattered bits of feed like my school horse does. I would readily believe that horse would go down on both knees and crawl right under a four-foot barrier. But I can’t imagine Ichy doing that, never in a million years. Yet, with not a mark nor a scrape anywhere on his body, he managed to get in and himself to a bucket with a small scoop of bermuda pellets meant for the older mule’s evening meal.

I don’t know how he did it. But I do know we’d better all keep the gates and doors firmly latched or the senile old evil genius will find a way to do something unexpected.




The View From My “Office”: March 2015


At one facility today I worked under a blue “roof” scattered with brilliant white clouds, while in the distance the skies were darker, more threatening, and there was an ever-so-faint rumble of thunder. Such a strange thing to hear in the early spring when the mesquite trees are still skeletal forms with just the hint of pale green buds. I think we’re in for a summer of extremes, my fellow Arizonans.

Free Information from a Generous Healer

Many years ago when I was first venturing out onto the Internet via a second-hand computer and noisy dial-up modem, I blundered into an email listserve group dedicated to equine massage and other complementary healing therapies.

I was just starting to learn about alternatives to conventional veterinary medicine, thanks to a horse who faced me with a series of health issues that defied conventional treatment. And I found in this group a handful of experienced, skilled healers who were willing to share their knowledge with each other and inform all the newbies, as well.

One of these people was Mary Debono, a California Feldenkrais practitioner who had adapted the neuromuscular re-education exercises from that technique to work with horses and other animals. She called her work the SENSE Method, now known as Debono Moves.

At the time I was working with an old Arabian gelding who, after standing in a pasture for the better part of a decade, had been offered to me as a school horse for his owner’s niece and her horse-crazy friends. He was willing, even happy, to be working. But how in the world to 1) fit a saddle on his deeply swayed back and 2) ensure the ground and mounted work we did improved his carriage and comfort?

I posed this question to the group and got several helpful replies from skilled practitioners of TTOUCH, massage, aromatherapy and homeopathy. But the technique suggested by Mary was by far the one that both best resonated with me and immediately had a positive effect on the horse.

Information packrat that I am, I still have her incredibly detailed and clear instructions in a WordPerfect file saved on my current hard drive in a folder titled with the horse’s name, Rambler. And having just re-read it for the first time in 15-plus years, I see that in addition to giving me step-by-step directions how to work with the horse, she also took the trouble to instruct me in proper posture and movement for my own ease and comfort. Nice.

Several years later I had the chance to work with Mary in a weekend clinic, and the powerful subtlety of her methods stuck with me, as did the techniques themselves, which I have used and adapted to bring comfort to countless horses over the years.

I have contacted Mary a handful of times over the intervening years – once to find a CA bodyworker for a racehorse belonging to a business contact –and she has been consistently kind, helpful and generous.

That generosity extends to this very day, when she is launching a new project – an E-book detailing her special approach to working on and with dogs. Grow Young with Your Dog is available for free download for three days, November 12-14. (It’s formatted for Kindle, but Amazon offers a free app that lets you read on a PC or phone, as well.)

In the book, Mary tells the stories of several dogs she has helped over the years. Then she instructs readers, with pictures and detailed directions, how to use her gentle, effective hands-on techniques with their own dogs.

She also includes awareness exercises for humans complete with links to audio instructions talking you through them. Having clear and simple instruction from an experienced Feldenkrais practitioner for your own body is reason enough to take advantage of this free download even if you don’t have dogs.

But if you do have a dog – especially one with physical limitations from injury or age – do him and you a favor and download Mary’s book.

Good-bye to Grass Ridge

Every fall for the past several years I’ve put on my graphic designer hat to create the program for the Grass Ridge Horse Trials, the longest-running recognized event in Southern Arizona.

This will be the event’s 46th year and, sadly, its last. The decision to close Grass Ridge Farm to future competition came after the January 2014 death of equestrien Nina Masik, who with her husband George owned the facility and founded the event in 1968.

Designed in part as a keepsake for exhibitors at the final horse trial, the 2014 program features a number of historical photos, including this one of Nina from 1975.


I know many Arizona equestrians hold fond memories of Grass Ridge Farm and its annual competitions. I even dug out my own little piece of Grass Ridge history, a few photos from 1992 when I competed at Novice level – my first real horse trial and my first visit to the southern Arizona grasslands.


If you’ve never attended the event, October 18-19 will be your last chance. And if you’ve been before and want a last look around this beautiful facility, don’t miss this opportunity. An active monsoon season left the grasslands gorgeous this year and the weekend is predicted to be sunny and warm.

Dressage starts at 8 a.m. and show jumping at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Cross Country begins at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. As expected, the final event has attracted a large field of competitors, so come out to support the riders as they take part in this historic event.

Ichobod and I Lose a Friend

As the caretaker and owner of an old horse –  a 31-year-old gelding –  I am often reminded that he and I do not have time on our side.

The question “How long?” tickles my brain when I look at pictures from Ichobod’s younger, stronger and more vibrant past play with my other horse. I feel a special pain any time a friend or client loses a horse to colic or injury or illness.

Every time he lies down to roll – one of his absolute favorite things to do, especially in sloppy mud – my breath catches a bit because I know what it will mean when one of these days he doesn’t manage to get up. But then, sometimes after a few tries, he’s back on his feet and I whisper to myself a relieved, ” Not today.”

For the last year-plus Ichy’s been living in happy retirement with a friend, whose 20-something Arabian mare needed a companion to keep her happy and sassy. From the moment he met her, he was devoted to his girl. As long as she was with him, everything was right in his mildly dementia-addled world. And I was so grateful that she kept him moving and engaged, making him happy and, I firmly believe, both enriching and prolonging his life.

Ich has been a bit of a lady’s man ever since I got him at 14. At many of the places he’s boarded over the years at least one mare would single him out to flirt with and tease. And he’d respond with prancing and spinning and all manner of manly silliness and acting half his age, regardless how muscle sore he’d be the next day. Several years ago the last girl he tried to impress, a young buckskin beauty, blew him off with barely a glance. I figured that was it for him: no more girlfriends.


“Hey, Lady, you wanna be my girlfriend?” “Okay, big boy. For a while, anyway. But when I squeal at you, you’d better get away.”

But the petite black Lady was one of those mares who loves to torment the boys, a full-on hussy who teased Ich when she was in heat, hung out with him when she wasn’t and and randomly squealed at him just because she could. He watched her every move and followed her around and worried when he couldn’t see her (sometimes even when she was in plain sight but he had gone to that sweetly zoned-out place he sometimes drifts off to these days.)

You may remember I wrote about hosting a party in May to celebrate Ichy’s 31st birthday. Most of the attendees dutifully trekked down to the barn/corral complex shared by Ich and his Lady to feed them his birthday carrots and smile at how he enjoyed the human attention but never really left off gazing adoringly at the refined black mare.

Sadly for all her human friends and for Ichobod, Lady died Wednesday evening after a day that started with her down in what looked like a serious colic, then progressed to an apparent recovery but ended with her lying down and leaving her body.

As you might imagine, along with feeling the loss myself and having great sympathy for my friend who owned and loved Lady for decades, I worried how my old man would cope. Strange, but I never pictured Ich’s future without his adored Lady, never dreamed that, at his advanced age, he wouldn’t be the first to go. But there we were.

Thanks to the generosity of Lady’s person, he had plenty of time to say good-bye to his girl, with plaintive cries of his distinctive breathy high-pitched whinny. He alternated between standing over her remains sniffing and walking around looking just plain confused, especially after a cover was laid over the body.

She was buried on the property in sight of his pen and when I arrived to check on him after that process, I found him hanging his head over the fence gazing in the direction of the grave and intermittently whinnying. He stayed on watch all afternoon the way he had done when Lady went out for a walk with her owner, not seeming to understand that she wasn’t coming back this time. That just broke my heart.

But dementia apparently has its benefits and by today he seems to have simply moved on, adjusted to his new normal. His big draft-cross guy pal has moved, at least temporarily, into Lady’s old pen and his newer male acquaintance, a slightly cranky mule, is also available for hanging out across the fence. He’s eating and drinking and all the other important things horse owners watch for, so the universe seems to have settled back into place for him, if maybe not yet for the humans who knew and loved Lady.

I know, of course, that his day will come sooner rather than later. But for now, I can whisper “not today” and go on enjoying our borrowed time, even while I miss Lady and all the sweetness and sassiness she brought to our world.