Of Tracks and Planty Things: a personal exploration and explantation
Of tracks and ‘planty things’: a personal exploration and explanation
Stuart Attwood of Total Contact Equine Solutions (first published in The Barefoot Magazine July 2017)
I don’t find it hard waking up on a summers morning; I just leave the bedroom curtains and window open and the sun and blackbirds do the job that a jangling alarm clock would be so much more brutal about. The hard part for me is actually getting up but a cup of tea helps that along. The real bonus of a summer’s morning is arriving at the track about 10 minutes away from where I live and being part of that stillness and silence before the day gets underway. Today the air is still, the sun is just warming up the ground and the horses are standing in a group just near the field shelter as spaced out as if they’ve all just come in ‘with the milkman’ from a wild night out. Chiron Horse walks over to the gate when he sees me. He’s my very special person. We say, “Good morning” to each other. He looks for the carrot that isn’t there lipping me as he does so as his special greeting and then wanders back to the group. The rooks are standing on the fence posts like sentinels waiting for the horses to do a poo so they can come along and mooch about in it spreading it around as they do. In the summer this is great because it ends up dried and so easier to scrape up with our very own ‘patent’ poo scraper - which is actually a leaf rake from B&Q which is so much cheaper than the tack shop equivalent and more effective too (‘trackies’ are great at adapting and upcycling things and are the ‘Wimbles of Wombeldon Common’ in the horsey world !).
Walking across to the field shelter I gather up the broom and wheelbarrow to brush the night’s deposits from the concrete standing and then all the horses decide they need a scratch at once. I do my best and then Chiron Horse places his bum towards me for his favourite scratching spot to be dealt with. He looks behind him as if to say, “Come on hooman. I’ve been waiting for this since yesterday”. He obligingly sticks his bum over the wheelbarrow and between me and it so that I can’t get to it so am ‘forced’ to indulge his bodily and emotional needs which I do – of course. Eventually even he has enough and then he goes and plays the face biting game with Charlie. It’s not malicious and akin to a young lad taking on an older man at arm wrestling just to see if the result might be different from yesterday. They spar for a while and then Charlie wins with his better timing (again).
As I go about poo picking around the track my mind wanders zen like into the forage walk that I’m doing tomorrow near Glastonbury. I start to wonder if tomorrow will be the day that I forget stuff in front of others. “Hmmm, I’d better practice”, I say out loud to Chiron Horse and Miss Doubtfire as they follow me around the track - knowing that at some point I’ll pull up a sow thistle or some yarrow that they can have before they have their breakfast proper. They don’t answer – why would they as horses can’t talk …. but they can speak if we’re sensitive enough to listen ! They just pause by the barrow as I scrape up another poo pile that the rooks have got to before me. I pass the ubiquitous nettles under the fence line. “Nettles are one of nature’s medicinal super foods”, I practice out loud. Chiron Horse just looks on. “They’re anti histamine related which is good for lammy prone horses, packed with Vitamin C which is also good as it’s an anti-oxidant vitamin to mop up all of those free radicals that can do so much damage as they get released from fat cells and are blood sugar balancing”, I say to myself.
A lovely nettle with the flowers just coming out
Miss D has moved away as I must be boring her because they only like them when they’ve been cut and are wilted. I move on and see the young Chenopodium album plants near the muck heap (fat hen or lambs quarters some call them). “Another good plant for lammy type horses”, I say. Ted chooses to have these when his laminitis is painful and although we try to manage it as best we can on his ‘inner track’ is still comes back albeit it not as bad as the, “Your only choice is to have him pts” from the vet analysis when he first came. Ted has RAO which is a terrible combination as one thing is helped it has an impact on the other. I provide him with Green Alkanet and Common Mallow for his RAO symptoms and Hawthorn for the inflammation that results in laminitis. He loves both as does Magnum who lives with him. Hawthorn is one of my Top Five planty things as it reduces blood pressure, strengthens the heart as a muscle, converts ‘bad’ cholesterol into ‘good’, is blood sugar balancing. Ted will also have willow cut for him as do the other horses as all willows are especially good for pain relief (one of the original sources of the active compound in aspirin), and the digestive system. I remind myself that we should try and get some Goat Willow (Pussy Willow) planted on the track as this is the best type of willow to offer but we do have four weeping willows so the horses have access to them for now. The bind weed is starting to come through the fence now by the muck heap and the horses will be offered this soon (slight sedative effect/calmer – but beware of FEI testing as it’s similar to reserpine ! – , muscle development and a blood sugar balancer for the PPID/EMS horses).
I move the wheelbarrow around to the top half of the track which is simply made up of very compacted dirt (alluvial clay). This is the muddiest bit in the winter rain but the compaction helps to minimise the potential mess and the horses don’t mind it at all. Providing they have a choice as to where to go and on what surface that’s what counts. We have concrete, gravel based and road plainings around the track and the variation in surface works well for their feet with no incidences of mud fever last year and very minimal thrush or abscesses (mostly with Amber as she has Cushings which reduces her immune system among other things). I walk past the many Hawthorn bushes that we’ve planted, some just this Feb, and all are doing really well with lots of new growth. Eventually these will be provided as free access for the horses but for now they still need some protection from ravenous mouths (and the rabbits where we can as they also ‘self select’ what we put in !)
The most wonderful Hawthorn. So many legends and medicinal uses
Turning the top corner I poo pick around the Gorse bushes in the horse’s favourite spot for ‘loafing’ and lying in the sun. This corner is wide to allow them to just congregate and lay out as they wish. Chiron Horse and Miss D are still in tow as we near their anticipated snacking spots. “Now”, I say to myself (and them), “This is the bit that I sometimes forget to brush up on so, gorse is good for weight reduction, feeling ‘fullness’, controlling ACTH levels and reducing fat pad and cresty necks. There, now all I need to do is to remember to say that tomorrow if we see any”. Chiron Horse just starts to nibble some of the tips and flowers at which his lips are very dextrous at getting to. Pushing on the with poo picking we now move down the other long side of the track and this side is packed with masses of planty things like Yarrow, (anti-inflammatory, good for digestive health and repair, excellent at stopping bleeding in cuts and wounds, anthelmintic effect, anti-bacterial so great for making up a simple poultice for thrush, abscesses, mud fever) and I can pretty much remember this. There’s also Blackberry (anti-oxidant, Vit C rich), Common Hogweed (digestive health but mind the sap on a hot, dry day like tomorrow might be as it can cause blisters), Rosemary (insect repellent when rubbed on the skin), some Cow Parsley (yes, I need to discuss the ID’ing features of this , Common Hogweed, nasty Hemlocks and other umbellifers as people do get a bit ‘twitchy’ about them – with some reason in the case of Hemlock), Lemon Balm which is good for attention/focus and a bit of relaxation in big enough horse mouth snatches. Yes, of course Chiron Horse and Miss D now get their ‘reward’ for following me around talking to myself as I poo pick. They get handfuls of Yarrow and Common hogweed and some fuss. We come on down past the ‘hedge’ rose bushes. Okay, not so much of a hedge right now but there are masses of buds on them which will produce pink flowers soon and one day they’ll grow into a hedge – maybe ! Roses in common with Dog Roses and Blackberry are high in anti-oxidants as they all come from the same planty thing family albeit garden roses have less than Dog Roses. We do have a good planting of Dog Roses now in “Apple’s Paddock”; she was the track pig before she passed away, and these produce hips which are rich in Vit C – more than oranges – and are good for general pain relief which the horses will be offered (and they won’t refuse them even if it’s just on taste grounds !) later in the year.
Soon we’re back to the main gate. I undo the leckie fence around Chiron Horse’s and Charlie’s feeding space and they wander in there waiting patiently for breakfast. All the horses have their own spaces and know to stand in them waiting for their food which consists of Agrobs ‘cobs’, linseed, copra, a regional balancer for the south east area. Some also get Turmeric for various aches and pains like arthritis – it comes to us all in the end but Chiron Horse had it early in his life but is now managed well with his lifestyle and feed. Just by here is “Apple’s Paddock”. It’s a wild garden area full of indigenous grasses that we can use to ‘green sow’ over what was there before around the inner track to make it less sugar rich. There’s also various mints, Borage, Comfrey (tendon, joint and soft tissue injuries), Green Alkanet (RAO), Lavender (calming and insect repellent), Common Mallow (RAO), Fennel (digestive health and rebalance), raspberries and Blueberries (gut fill/health and reduction of sugars) and more which the horses will have free access to as the winter goes on.
Our horses do have some access to grasses and the middle section is full of wild flowers and medicinal plants like Ribwort Plantain (digestive balance, aiding in gastric ulceration issues), Birds Foot Trefoil (improve the quality of the pasture, help absorption of minerals through the gut), Yellow Rattle (weakens existing grasses by ‘feeding’ off them but harmless to horses), Yarrow, Ox-eye daisy, thistles (anti-bacterial, high in phosphorous, reduce glucose in the blood stream – especially as winter approaches), Mugwort and many, many more. The track is not simply a place to ‘keep horses’ but it’s a wide environment that is suitable to attract birds, bees, insects of all sorts, bats, owls and it’s an attractive, peaceful place for the human herd to ‘hand out’ as well. Things in nature work in harmony – the flowers and planty things attract the insects and bees the birds, small mammals and bats feed off these when they can, owls feed off the small mammals and the horses are just part of that natural environment where they fit in perfectly. The human herd just fit in as best they can and try to do as little ‘damage’ as possible to the natural way of things and just not get in the way too much but help to create the place that things exist, and co-exist, in whilst seeing to be part of that whole system – it’s a Horse Track System at the end of the day.
The whole middle of the track is full of so many great planty things (and a human and Chiron Horse today !)
Chiron Horse and Miss D have now disengaged from their following me and the wheelbarrow. It’s time for their breakfast food. It’s the time when the day starts and that uniquely peaceful time stops for a while as the herd breaks up for now. They’ll get back together as they forage and browse for hay and bits of ‘stuff’ throughout the day and they’ll go off into their friendship groups – Evee for instance tends to stay by herself much of the time but she knows where the others are if needed and is happy with her own company. The track jobs carry on; water, hay net filling, making up the feed for later and I’m left wondering how I’m ever going to remember all the many things that simple planty things (weeds most people think of them as) will do both for the horses and the human herd. That’s the sheer beauty of them; they don’t just target one thing like modern drugs do but they offer a scatter gun effect to the body that has an effect – albeit it maybe not as fast as a ‘big pharma’ drug – and addresses many issues in one mouthful. Chiron Horse has already finished his breakfast. He seems to ‘inhale’ his food. Maybe we’ve grown too much alike ? Emotionally, physically, how we are with others, sensitivity …. I think I’ll go and ‘inhale’ a full English today and do a bit more revision for tomorrow in the garden later – much later !
Writer’s note: I’ve tried to describe some of the benefits of some of the plants on our track. However, some planty things may well have more than I’ve described as this is what we use them for in the main. You need to do your own research into what will be good for your horses. Many of these planty things are also good for the kitchen (wild food cooking) and the human herd too – again, do your own research.