Jul 6, 2009

Nettles & Noggins

My horse is a bit of a princess. Not only is she the prettiest bay mare in the world, she is also the most sensitive, it seems. Sensitive to what, you ask? Urtica dioica. Nettles. Stinging nettles.

I’ve known this for several years, but had written it off as just one of her idiosyncrasies. Ginger, her dam, walks right through them without any problems. So do the rest of our herd. But the first time Windy encountered them several years ago, she started stomping and trying to flee the area. Subsequent times, it has turned into a Mexican hat dance of sorts. All four of her legs keep moving and she tries to chew and spin at the same time. My best defense when I know my horse is in trouble is to dismount as soon as it’s safe and that can be quite a challenge when she is in “full nettles rage”. Picture hanging on to the saddle horn, horizontal, with my legs straight out behind me, as she spins like an out of control carnival ride! Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

If I know I am going to be on a trail that might have nettles, I will put boots on all her legs. And ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, I can avoid the weeds by taking another trail or picking our way around them. Not truly understanding what she was feeling, I guess I also thought maybe the shock of touching them initially is what sends her in the rage and perhaps she just needs to get used to it – get over it already! Okay, you don’t have to hit me over the head more than once for thinking that. I get it now! It hurts her. And I think it always will!

We came down a hill this weekend and she reacted before I even saw the nettles. She lunged forward off the trail. I’d come short of calling it bolting because there was really nowhere to go in the wooded area. There were horses in front of us, a horse behind us and a very low downed tree that we both wouldn’t fit under. As I was looking for a place to bail just in case she thought we’d limbo, she turned to the right, lunging forward once again. I flopped like a rag doll, coming down toward her head just as her head came up. And we collided. I didn’t see stars but heard the vertebrae in my neck pop rapidly. At first I thought my sunglasses were broken, but realized I wasn’t wearing any. I got her stopped as quickly as it seemed to have started and quickly dismounted as she stood quivering.

I know one other horse who responds to nettles this way. Normally a very steady ride, nettles will send him in almost the same rage as Windy. I’m curious if any of the rest of you have encountered this?

I also wanted to show you my helmet. If you read my earlier blog about helmets, you’ll see that I agree that statistics show that most of the time we will probably end our ride without a head injury. Helmets are there just in case we don’t. Well, I think I had better go buy a lottery ticket because this is the second time in less than a year that I believe a helmet has saved my noggin! No, I probably wouldn't have died, but I would have been a hurtin' cowgirl!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but as I get older, I’m finding it harder and harder for my brain to work right on a good day. It can’t afford very many crunches to it. My helmet – right at the visor – took the impact from Windy’s head when collided. I felt it and I heard it. The visor broke away from the helmet when her head slammed into mine. The inside foam casing has a small crack in it. I had a mild headache for about 24 hours and a stiff neck.

I didn’t put my helmet on thinking I was going to get bucked off. And I certainly have never entertained the idea that I would need it for a head butt. Like any other time I ride, I didn’t really think about my helmet at all when I put it on that day. It has become as much a part of my gear as my boots. It’s nice to know, however, that it was there when I needed it and I'll live another day. Perhaps you'll put yours on today, too.


  1. I have never had a horse react like that to what we've always called "fireweed", they've always just walked on thru. Me on the other hand, if I look at the stuff cross eyed I get huge stinging welts so I can feel Windy's pain! LOL

  2. I had a gelding that would FREAK out if we got into nettles.

  3. I used to ride a young gelding that reacted very badly to nettles. I couldn't figure out what his problem was at first because he was lunging and rearing and flinging his head around and just moving like a crazy horse.

    When I finally figured it out, I felt so bad for not even realizing I was the one who rode his poor, sensitive body through those nasty nettles!

    I rarely ride without my helmet any more. Call it age, call it wisdom, call it whatever, but it's a new thing for me. I never, ever wore it when I was younger unless I was either showing and HAD to or I was jumping.

    Replace that helmet! It's done it's job, toss it and get a new one. Most people forget to replace their helmets after they've taken a fall or a blow to the head, but the integrity is compromised now and it won't be able to protect your noggin very well any more.

  4. Ha! There was a woman at our stables recently riding barefoot but wearing a helmet. When I teased her about it, she said feet are tough and brains aren't so she thought it more important to protect her head than her toes.

    I don't know too many people who ride without footwear, but lots without helmets. Maybe a re-evaluation of what they're trying to protect would be good!

  5. Well IF- we had the nettles like you do My mare is second- only to yours- for the sensitivity stuff!
    I think she'd probably balk about going down any trail tweice that stung her..her memory is too good. She too, is the most beautiful(in my eyes)bay mare!
    She has not allowed me to ask her to go across the bog again that almost ate her legs off...don't know what to do about that..then the trail tripped her too..she fell on me and ran home without me.
    These are our "nettles".
    HELMETS are good for a great many things other than falls! Mine saves me from brush and tree limbs almost every time we go out! I am sure I'd be knocked out, save the fact I had my helmet on!
    Kacy W/ Washashe mare~

  6. Lysh - I think fireweed is another name for nettles around here, too.

    Lulu & Jenn - at least I'm not the only one with a thin skinned horse. In talking with others, I don't think it will ever get better for her. It is what it is. Is that your experience?

    Jenn - Luckily this helmet is my "winter" helmet. It is a size bigger so I can wear an earband under it. It has a bigger visor than my tipperary, so I had worn it a few days prior when I knew I'd have been facing the sun. So will need replaced by winter...

    Mindee - OMG, I go nuts when I see bare feet around horses and they are usually my kids! At least THEY know where not to stand. I'll have other shoeless kids run up to my horses when we are on the trail and have no clue. Makes my toes hurt just thinking about it. Quite a contrast with helmet & barefeet! LOL! (By the way, printed your pasta salad recipe but haven't tried it yet - looks great!)

    Kacy - Wow, I didn't know there was another prettiest bay mare around! We'll let them share the title! LOL! And we must share notes on their "issues". My Windy is quite a princess & when we did a competitive ride IN THE MUD and BOGS, I knew she wasn't thrilled, but she put on her big girl panties and plowed right through!

  7. I can't imagine how bad of headache you would have had if you didn't wear your helmet! I'm glad you are ok! You know where to come for a new helmet!

  8. I never ride without my helmet and over the years have gotten into some scrapes that could have been ugly. My helmet did save my bacon on more than one occasion. You might want to get a new one after seeing how the old one is sort of crushed a little. I replace mine every time it gets a crack.

  9. Yikes! I'm sorry you got hurt, but am glad to hear it wasn't too serious and that you were wearing your helmet which protected you from a worse injury. You're also lucky that the impact didn't beak your neck or rupture discs. yikes!

    I've never seen or touched stingling nettles. We don't seem to have them around here, though we do have poison ivy and sumac up in the higher wetter areas of northern, nm canyons.

    I did attend a class offered by someone from the PNW a few years ago, making stinging nettle jewelry. We basically took the dried stems (no leaves) and pounded them with a rock, until it was fibery. And then we peeled any bark away and started braiding and twisting the fibers to make bracelets and necklaces. It was fun.

    Fresh nettles sound like a nightmare, though.



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