August is never the easiest of months – it is hot and sweaty and pretty much exhausting – which is why visitors to the Ranch are often surprised to see so many of our horses cloaked and masked like extras from the cult series ‘Game of Thrones’.
Of course, there’s a reason why we dress some of our horses and ponies in rugs during the hottest days of the year and it is to save them from the attention of flies and the dreaded scourge commonly known as ‘sweet itch’.
The scientific term for this all-too common skin condition is Insect Bite Hypersensitivity (IBH) and it’s basically an allergic reaction to the saliva of certain types of midges. It is a problem in Cyprus during the summer months, just as it’s a problem in the UK, France, Germany, America… in fact anywhere you find sensitive horses and midges because just as some people react badly to the bites of mosquitoes, some horses and ponies also suffer badly and, in extreme cases, sweet itch can be horribly debilitating.
As the name might suggest, a horse that reacts badly to a bite will feel extremely itchy and will do anything to relieve the irritation – sometimes rubbing their mane and tails away as they press against trees, stable doors and walls. In some cases, horses will even bite themselves. The result of which is often acute hair loss and breaks in the skin, which can lead to infection. Once this occurs, the only thing we can do is to try and ease the soreness and irritation by keeping the skin clean and soothing any open sores and wounds with ointments such as Sudocrem. Yes, the nappy rash cream!
However, prevention is always better than cure, which is why we try to protect our horses and ponies as much as we can in the summer by spraying them with insect repellent and covering their heads and bodies with fly masks and fly rugs. It’s not always successful because midges are persistent little blighters and they will find a way in somehow – and we also have a few naughtier ponies and horses that treat their rugs like a tug-of-war game – but by and large it does help alleviate some of the problem. So though they may look funny, our horses are a lot happier dressed up at a time when most people are stripping off! And when it’s extremely hot, we shower our horses in their rugs because it’s a great way to keep them cool for longer in these crazy summer temperatures.
Now, another great trick to take minds off all things itchy and scratchy is to distract our horses with lots of little Ranchers armed with apples and carrots. Lucky for us then that the second Sunday of the month is almost upon us – the time when we welcome our Trotting Toddlers to George’s Ranch!
From 10am to 11am, mums and dads can introduce their little ones to the wonderful world of horses in a safe and controlled environment. For €10, youngsters get the chance to fuss, feed and groom our star ponies and, if they feel brave enough, enjoy a pony ride. It’s a great morning out and one of our favourite events at the Ranch so we hope to see you there!