30 August 2016

How do you speak for the horse??

Amongst the women in our barn-well, let me qualify that. Every horseman in our barn is female. Husbands tread very warily on "our" turf.  They know they are only enablers of our equine addiction. Like mine, the horse husbands of our barn keep the entanglement to a minimum. "I don't know anything about horses and don't want to." says my husband. 

(yet he is an incredible photographer of horses: 

Gretchen is a lovely person. She has The Eye of the Master.  She's the one who caught Raven's last bout of 'colic' (I'm still not convinced it was colic but what the hell, we'll call it that.). (See my post, "Paying it forward")


I (and Sue) are so grateful for her discerning eye. It takes a real horseman to develop that instinct of NDR- some animal Not Doing Right.  (Not to boast, but I have that instinct, too.). As well, it is a pleasure to be in a barn where anyone who sees a horse-even one not her own-that she thinks is in trouble, can speak up and call attention to it. I've done it. I'd rather be wrong (and in our barn, not considered a fool for calling attention to something that ultimately is found to be inconsequential) than to be right but too afraid to say I think this horse is sick. I've been in barns where one doesn't dare to bring the owner's attention to her own horse, because then it will be YOU to blame..or worse, How Dare You Insinuate That I've Done Something Wrong. Or whatever it is that makes some women react as if you're blaming them for a horse's medical issues. (maybe it's because it usually IS their fault, and they don't want to admit it. Or realize it's that obvious.)

Gretchen's mare is a mustang. Sunny is a lovely horse, not mareish at all. She was captured as a three year old (we think) with a foal at foot. It took a great deal of time to tame her. The people who claim they can tame a mustang in an afternoon, like Monty Roberts the "Horse Whisperer", are charlatans. His so called 'Join-up' protocol is nothing but fraud, animal abuse, and out right lying. 

 Mustangs are wild animals and it takes a VERY long time to get them to 'tame'. Sunny, a mare with an awful lot of sense, and without the need to be dominant, would not let someone so  much as enter her pen for the first six months without her trying (and more than once, almost succeeding) to escape by climbing over the 7 foot fence. 

Gretchen tamed her, with love, patience, and a kindness that radiates from her. (She did not break the mare. That was done by an expert). Gretchen is the gentlest of souls.
but she's also, I think, afraid. Of Sunny. Or of falling, or of losing control.

She rides with an iron fist. This is more out of fear, I am convinced, than cruelty. She is afraid and so she hangs onto the reins.

She is like me in that I came to riding very late in life. She, like me, had to work for a living for years, moved every two years (as one does when one is in the military), and lived in military installations that had no room for horses. Unlike me, she had children. Her daughter Sadie rides like a centaur. Unlike her mom, Sadie was given the opportunity to ride from a very early age.
The difference between me and Gretchen, when we got back into riding, is that I gave it all up. All the things I'd learned from the handful of 'lessons' I had had, all the advice one reads in the books-I let it go. Other than keeping my ear, shoulder, hip and heel in a line, I 'forgot' all the rest. I figured, I might be old in body, but I am very green in my riding ability. Why not start like the greenest of riders? Start from scratch?

 When Sue finally allowed me to ride Raven, all of it was (and continues) to be bareback. The first several times I rode, Sue led Raven. I was embarrassed, but I also wanted to really and for sure learn to sit on a horse with balance, not hanging onto something. So I shut my eyes...yes...and kept my hands behind my back.

I tuned my attention to the horse, and how he felt. Once I had her permission to ride him without her presence, it was much easier to direct all my attention the horse underneath me. It was just him and me. We developed a conversation that continues every time I ride him.  As time has passed, I am more able to actually get into his mind, and he mine...and now we talk. I can feel him. He is a stern teacher. He won't do what I ask him, not out of meanness or stubbornness, but out of  duty. He is my teacher. He knows this. I ask him to do something. If I don't ask correctly, he gently refuses my requests, but is patient with my fumbling about on his back. Sometimes I get off wondering if I'll ever learn, or if I even have any business being on a horse. I must ask him, the right way. When I do, oh my god, the reward is instantaneous and fabulous. 

That was several years ago. I still ride him bareback. Now I can sit his trot without fear. I have learned harmony and balance. I seldom use the reins. I can drop them, and direct Raven with my weight, my leg aids, my head turns. Sometimes I touch his withers to tell him to turn. 

Gretchen cannot bring herself to do that. She clings to her reins like they are lifelines. Poor Sunny, she asks, she pleads, please, give me my head. I want my mouth back. Please. Gretchen does not hear. Consequently, they argue. There is no happiness, no willingness in Sunny when Gretchen rides. On the ground, they are lovers. In the saddle, they are arguing. 

Sue has very gently tried to tell Gretchen that she is too tight. The Barnlord, who is a professional trainer, has given up. Gretchen does not want to hear it. Is it pride? It shouldn't be. Look at me, I want to tell her, I'm not afraid to look foolish. No one here has ever laughed at me, or thought me a dumbass for admitting I was green. We all were novice riders at one time. No one will make fun of you for admitting you are afraid of a horse, or don't know what to do, or are worried you'll look foolish. It doesn't matter. Let it go.
Is it fear? I think so, but I wish to heaven she'd face up to it rather than cling tightly to the reins.  

Sue, ever the diplomat, gently broached the subject. She got a terse excuse back. 

I would dearly love to ask Gretchen if I may lead her on Sunny, bareback, eyes closed, hands behind her back. 
But I don't think she will listen. 


10 August 2016

When one horse for sale is really two.

   I recently saw the following ad on Craig's List. I have dedacted the contact information as I don't know if what I am doing is legal or not. Besides, I don't want these folks figuring out who I am.

   In addition, I have left in all misspellings and grammatical errors. This one isn't as bad as some I've seen on Craigslist, but it is fairly typical. I will try to insert it in the original font but that, too, may not work:

For Sale:  Gentle Giant, 17 hand Appaloosa cross gelding. $1500 No papers. Zeke has been there done that. Done it all. Sort cattle, trail riding, packing, western showmanship equitation. Big babysitter. Put your 2 year old kid on him no problem. Great for beginners. No vices, big dog personality, baths, shoes, UTD on shots. Trailers great he is point and shoot. No spook.
It is true he is just coming off ingury but heals fast and should be good for whatever you want to do with him. Tons of potental. 18 years old lots of life still in him. He needs a job to do and we are getting out of horses.
Zeke comes with everything. Newer saddle bridle, grooming,  pasture buddy, blankets and cooler. $1500 cash takes him home. Need gone ASAP.

   Sorry, folks, but it didn't work. Blogger doesn't like to switch fonts. Just take my word for it, I'd cut and pasted the ad from Craig's List in their font and it came through in mine. 

   Anyway, if you're a speed reader, slow down and read it again. I have seen over the years that folks do not read the craigslist ads, no matter how clearly you word it. They just don't read it. This, I'm sure, is what the seller of Zeke is counting on.

   Did you catch it?

   This is not an ad for a horse. This is an ad for TWO horses. One is named "Zeke". The other...well, the pasture buddy is another horse.
   I called the seller, not because I wanted the horse (no way) but to ask her what did she mean by "pasture buddy"? What is this pasture buddy? What, a goat?
No, the pasture buddy is a full grown horse. He is 25 years old. Blind in one eye. Cannot be ridden. Is on ''meds", whatever those might be. He's the sweetest thing, just a doll baby, won tons of ribbons on 'the gaming circuit'. Gentle as a lamb.  He and Zeke are (this isn't how the seller pronounced it, but I don't mispell purposefully) inseparable. He's just a pasture buddy. He's free. Can't I  understand that? They don't want Zeke to be lonely, nor the pasture buddy. They've been buds for ten years.  Zeke is this incredible horse, I mean super. There isn't a better horse on the planet. He's a bargain, he's a sacrifice at 1500 bucks. He is worth  much much more but a good home was more important than money, know what I mean? Newer saddle, all that stuff, they can meet today with me if I want. Maybe they'll cut it down to $1200. There's illness in the family, they have to get out of the horse business. He needs to be gone as soon as possible. (that phrase, 'needs gone' just grinds my ass.)

    So I'm getting a bargain?? Two horses for the price of one?  The second horse is a 'thing',  included with the accoutrements, like tack and grooming tools?

   Whoa. That's no bargain. That's getting two horses. There's no such thing as a 'free' horse. No matter the purchase price, the second horse costs just as much as the first. Board for TWO. Farrier for TWO. Vets for TWO. Hay, feed, shots, pasture, for two.  

  That, I'm sure, is part of their problem. 

   Why didn't she advertise it as two horses, one free, one for sale. She didn't tell me the truth. I gathered it just from one conversation, through intuition (as her story changed three times while I talked to her.) This is a woman who is desperately trying to unload the second horse. He can't be ridden and needs doctoring, so he's pretty much unsellable-and expensive. Years ago, he  and Zeke would have probably gone to the auction (and probably on to the meat man), but that's no longer legal in the US. So he can't be sold. 

   Maybe they tried to, but I bet the thing is that Zeke is herd bound.

That's no crime in and of itself- herd bound horses probably make good pack horses, for instance. Herd boundedness (sic) is natural equine behavior, honestly. It's how horses live in the wild.
 I wouldn't ever have a herd bound horse, but there are folks who have no problems with it. But the seller should state this.  

    And, despite her subterfuge, I cannot believe she'd just have the horse(s) put down, not for no reason. I don't know a veterinarian that will put down a healthy animal solely because the owner no longer wants it. 
    To give her a little credit, she hasn't dumped the horse(s), like so often happened right after the Crash of 2008, when horses were being dumped in the thousands because the owners had lost their homes.

   She mentioned that they'd sold Zeke (for a lot more money)  and then "had to go get him back" because the new owner 'abused him' and 'that's how he got hurt".  She kept assuring me that he'd be good to go in 'just a few weeks'. 

   It just irritated me that this woman knew enough about human nature to know (well, as natural as reading ads on Craigslist can be considered) that most people don't read, and knew that if she could get a sucker in to look at Zeke, she might just pull off getting rid of both horses at once. Yet, she couldn't-or refuses- to see how galling her gig is. It's rude. It's being 'clever'. It's chutzpah.
She is counting on the average horse shopper to be stupid. Or perhaps she wants a kid to fall in love with the horse and demand it no matter the consequences.
   Her story changed three times while I was talking to her. They were getting out of horses. Did that mean they had more than just the two, or had had a bunch and these were the last? I don't know. But then there was 'illness in the family', then it was they took the horse back because the new owner abused him. I bet the new owner-if there truly was one,  said, no thanks, I don't want two horses, just one; managed to get Zeke home only to find him insane, or lame, or un-useable without his buddy, and returned the horse. 

   I mentioned that she might want to put the horse(s) on Dream Horse. Maybe someone out there DOES want two horses, one unusable and one almost healed up. But I wasn't surprised when she scoffed and said Dream Horse wanted too much money to advertise him. Besides there were 'too many people just wanted to look and not buy.' So...she wants a fool to come in, fork over the money and get these  horses off her hands.

   So, as is always the case, Caveat Emptor. 

07 August 2016

Why you should never eat raw fish.

Why you should never eat live (or dead) raw fish

Before I go any further, I admit I love sushi. But so far, all I’ve eaten is squid and shrimp sushi. I’ve never had the courage to try raw fish sushi.

Why? It’s because raw fish are already being eaten. From the inside. By parasites.

Several years ago I heard of an idiot who was fishing with some of his idiot friends-and of course, drinking beer. The fishing was no good, they were bored out of their skulls, and, now, being drunken idiots, they decided to dare each other into eating the live bait.  Who had the ‘courage’ to swallow a live minnow? C’mon, what could it hurt; they were drinking BEER, right? Alcohol kills everything, right?
Such is the reasoning (or lack thereof) when one is drinking while male.

One man, perhaps all, did. He downed a few live minnows and of course, was the man of the hour.
I bet they all forgot about it for a while. Until The Man got sick.

He finally went to a doctor who found that he had tapeworms. In his BRAIN.

The minnows had been infested with tapeworms. The tapeworm larvae had not been killed by his stomach acid (or the beer). Of course not. Any parasite that’s life cycle is meant to be inside a critter won’t exist for long should it be easily killed by stomach acid. Oh, heck no. Usually a tapeworm that has evolved to parasitize fish instead ends up in a warm blooded mammal, it doesn’t die. It gets lost. It (or they) wander about and sometimes end up in places like one’s lung, or eyeball. Or brain.  That’s where they found Mr. Minnow’s tapeworms. In his brain.

Here’s an X-ray of a Chinese man who is absolutely LOADED with tapeworms after a long period of time eating sashimi (raw fish). 

Before you think it’s a one off occurrence, understand that virtually every living thing has a parasite evolved specifically for it. A case could be made that parasitism drives evolution. Read Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer if you want to know more about that.

The current belief is that cooking or freezing raw fish will kill parasites. That’s true, to a degree. But it isn’t foolproof. A study of flounder infested with Anasakis simplex, a nematode commonly found in infested fish (and humans who eat them raw), found it could survive microwaving at lower temperatures. (i.e., half power). Roasting temperatures below 77 Celsius (~165 F) weren’t reliable in killing them, either. Freezing at 0 C (32 F) for 24 hours was good enough to kill them.

Anasakis causes a great number of human infestations in countries and cultures that routinely consume raw or lightly ‘cooked’ fish. Japan, of course, provides 90% of these cases due to the consumption of sushi and sashimi, but Spain (ceviche), the Netherlands (marinated herring) and Scandinavia (smoked fish) all rank high in infestation cases and resulting illness. Even the US, where sushi consumption is common, is seeing an increasing number of cases of illness.

Why do I bring this up? In January, I started up a freshwater aquarium. I stocked it with Amano shrimp, a fresh water shrimp from Asia, and dwarf neon rainbows, a lovely fish from New Guinea.

12 weeks later, almost to the day, I found one of the six fish dead. I took it out of the tank and put it in the trash. Before I did so, though, I noticed it had two little red threads protruding from its anus. I trashed it and almost forgot it-until a few hours later. The
 the biologist in me woke up and wondered, what killed this fish? This tank is fully cycled and well balanced, nothing else is sick. One day the fish was fine, then next, dead. Why is it dead?
Several hours later, I retrieved the dead fish from the trash. This time I saw NO red threads. Hmmm. I put it in the freezer, intending to dissect when I had a little time.
It had been in the freezer for about an hour when I put it under my dissecting microscope.

There was a little red spot at the anus.

I opened the dead fish. It was full of red worms. LIVE red worms. Not only alive, but vibrantly so. I could see the blood coursing back and forth along its intestines (as the worm was transparent.) They literally crawled out of the fish’s stomach, trying to escape the glaring light. This little monster is Camallanus.I believe the fish had it -or contracted it-when I got them from the local fish store, but it could also have been brought in by the shrimp, who can serve as an intermediate host.

The fact that they had been in a dead fish, then a dead fish out of water, then a dead fish in a freezer, made no difference to the worms. I believe had I dropped them back into the tank they would have been fine.

Now I know all my fish are infested with this nematode. You can see the females protruding from the anus of a fish, laying its eggs. Its life cycle is 12 weeks. Once it’s in your tanks, you are screwed. All of your fish will get the parasite. Everything that has had any contact with any water from the tank is contaminated with the virtually invisible eggs. 

  I had to humanely kill one of the fish today. You could see the adult female worm routinely extruding from the fish’s anus, laying her eggs in the water. I couldn’t catch her to kill her and I didn’t want to stress her by chasing her. It’s a big tank and a small fish.

She had stopped eating. When I caught her today during a water change, she didn’t race so hard. It was easy to catch her. She was tired. She was thin, so thin it’s hard to imagine how she lived for so long. Poor little thing.

By the way, NEVER EVER flush an unwanted, a sick or dead fish down the toilet. That’s how these parasites-originally from Asia-establish themselves in North American waters in the first place, and why our rivers and lakes are full of carp. Folks got tired of the kid’s goldfish and flushed them, never dreaming they could survive. They do. I am sorry to say, they do.
(For that matter, never dump an aquatic pet of any sort into any body of water. It’s how invasive species get into them, critters such as red slider turtles that have completely eradicated our native turtles…by overtaking their habitat and reproducing like crazy.)

After I killed her (a swift decapitation), I opened her up.

There was nothing in her. Not a lick of flesh. All her muscles and flesh were gone. . She was literally skin and bones…and worms. The little effers were alive and well.
Not anymore. I took a few pictures and here is one of the best:

Here's a close up of this nightmare:

I put the fish in the trash…along with the devil worms. It’s only a matter of time before I have to kill the rest, but for now, they look fine, although I’ve seen a worm protruding from one’s anus. They’re too healthy, at the moment, to catch. But as the number of necessary hosts drop, and the number of parasite worms eggs grow, it’s only a matter of when, not if.

These nematodes are piscine specific, meaning they apparently  can only survive in fish. But, as is always the case in biology, you can never say never. You cannot even say “generally speaking.” That’s how evolution works…one out of a thousand worms manages to survive in a new and utterly different host. It’s like landing on a deserted island. They have free rein to evolve and explode in numbers because they have no competition, and the host’s immune system has no knowledge of this completely alien creature, so it leaves it alone. 
 Now that I know that these little effers are in all types of freshwater fish (because someone flushed a sick or dead one), and that salt water fish have either the same or related nematodes (or other monsters) fish, I won’t ever eat sushi again.

What are your chances of eating one of these parasites? Probably pretty good, but they’re probably dead, if you haven’t eaten the fish raw, freshly dead, or whole. 
Do you have one of them in you? Probably not. For now. But as more people (we’re up to almost 8 billion now?) eat more fish, as more of the more popular species go extinct (i.e. tuna), we will find ourselves eating lower down the food chain. Species that were, up until now considered “trash fish” and were used solely for bait, will suddenly end up on our tables because the desirable species are gone. Parasites that, up until now, were manageable because there were millions of fish in the sea, now find themselves having to settle for the handful of ‘trash fish’ as that’s all that is left. 

Climate change is warming the oceans, conditions that are favorable to parasites due to more stress on a fish’s immune system. Fish that can tolerate worsening seawater conditions (i.e. pollution or acidification) are more likely to be infested, again, due to a stressed immune system. Improper cooking of raw fish doesn’t kill the parasites. 

So. Freeze that fish hard, and cook it thoroughly. Don’t eat the guts, in other words, don’t eat a whole fish. Tapeworms encyst in muscle but high heat kills them. But, as I proved, intestinal fish such as Camallunus can survive for a very long time…days, perhaps, in a dead fish. And if it finds itself in you, it may just like what it finds.

Sorry to say, but sushi is probably  going to have to go by the board. I’m sorry.