The Long Lazy Days of Summer
Most of us humans love the Summer time. Many of us in the Winter months will say "roll on the Summer" including us here at the centre, especially after all the rain and the mud we've experienced this year.
Well now Summer is finally here and the reality sets in once again of what it's really like for our horses, ponies and donkeys, and also for us caring for them in the heat. I think it has to be the worst time of the year for them all. We now have a whole new extra routine trying to keep them comfortable in this hot weather.
There is no grazing (grass) in this part of Spain, so they have nothing to do in between feed times, this is why it is so important for them to have companions, so at least they can interact with each other to pass their day. Then of course there are the flies, which plague them as soon as the sun is up. A horses skin is very sensitive, just like ours, so you can imagine the misery for them of having flies crawling all over them and biting them , all day.
All they have to defend themselves is a tail, which sadly, many people cut off. At least we have our hands, fly swats or can go inside to get away from them, also some horses seem to attract flies more than others and some even have an allergic reaction to the fly bites, for these extra sensitive horses, we have to cover them up with fly sheets and fly veils. It's quite often horses that have been brought over from England that suffer the most with this, they were not designed to live in this sub-tropical climate and in our opinion should never have been brought over to Spain by their original owners, many of whom have now gone back to England leaving their horses here.
Also some horses are susceptible to sunburn on their noses, so these ones need to have sun screen lotion put on daily.
You would like to think that at night they might get some relief, but no, when it is dusk the flies go but out comes the mosquitoes and midges, which also bite these unfortunate animals. Again many horses suffer with severe allergic reactions to the bites, a very common one being called sweet itch. This is caused by a midge which comes out at night, bites the horse around his tail or mane, creating an allergic reaction that causes itching and inflammation.
This then makes the horse rub against anything it can to relieve the itch, which then causes the skin to bleed and all the hair to come away, which in turn attracts more midges and also flies. If left untreated this can get very seriously infected, so again, for horses that have this problem we have to put on sweet itch rugs that cover every part of the horse possible and also heavily cream the affected parts of their bodies with a special preparation to help prevent this, this has to be done every evening.
We put fly veils on all of our horses to protect their eyes and faces, these have to be checked daily as often flies can get trapped inside and cause more distress, as well as this they need to be washed every other day. As we have 54 horses, ponies and donkeys in residence here that's an awful lot of creams, washing, checking, removing, putting on, taking off, fly spraying etc to be done every day. The only plus side is that as we have more daylight hours there's more time to fit all this in.
On top of all this we then have the horrific killer viruses that are passed on by the mosquito. One of them being the African Horse Sickness, within three days of contracting this by a bite, the horse will die in the most horrendous way as all its blood vessels break down and the lungs fill with blood, 95% of all horses contracting this die. Interestingly enough if you see a horse with a cross on its shoulder, it will tell you that this horse is at least 20 years old. In the late 80s and early 90s there was a massive outbreak of this in Spain causing hundreds of thousands of horses to die, the cross was branded on them to show that they had been inoculated against it. One or two of our older residents have this cross.
The second virus which has now recently come into Spain is called the West Nile Horse Fever, again passed on by mosquitoes. There are fears that this could become another epidemic. This virus causes neurological symptoms where the horse slowly loses control of its body.
The first signs are that it cannot walk properly due to loss of use of its hind quarters and also it cannot control its head movements such as eyes, ears and swallowing. Our vet Dorothea says that at least 40% of horses that contract this die.
Imagine what it must be like for a horse that has very little food and water, no shelter and is kept on its own.
Amazingly people have actually said to me, it's ok, they're Spanish horses they're used to it. We, at the centre, cannot imagine any horse, pony or donkey ever getting used to this type of misery. Which is why we spend hours every day doing everything we can to make their lives more comfortable in the Summer.