When I moved to the Sonoran Desert, I learned about mesquite pods. I knew about the mesquite wood used for barbequing, but not the seed pods of the tree. They’re used as food by both people and animals. The mature pods, not just the seeds, are ground into flour, which is quite delicious. A five-gallon bucket will produce about a pound of flour.
Many animals eat the pods: doves, quail, ravens, bighorn sheep, rabbits, ground squirrels, rats, mice and coyotes. In fact, if you find canine droppings on your property and you wonder if it was left by an irresponsible neighbor, look for the pods. If pods are present, it was left by a coyote, not a dog.
However, mesquite pods are not good for all animals. Horses find their sweet taste irresistible but eating too many of them can lead to colic. The beans impact the stomach or intestines, which can lead to surgery or the death of the horse.
When the pods ripen, the trees fling them about, carpeting the ground.
Unfortunately, some pods land in the areas designated for horses, like this round pen. My horses eagerly head for the round pen in the hopes of finding pods. My task before they arrive is to remove the pods not only within the pen but also within reach of those long necks and agile lips.
Is it fair for me to enjoy something I deprive my horses of? Yup. I enjoy their company and want them with me for as long as possible. Mesquite pods, be gone!
Book Note: The Sonoran Desert is a wild and beautiful place. I have written several books set in this extraordinary place. Please visit my Sonoran Desert Books tab for more information.
My favorite bread flavor is rye. Given a choice, I will always choose rye. So, growing up, I wondered why rye hadn’t been more popular historically. After all, rye is easier to grow than wheat and, in my humble opinion, much tastier.
The reason is Ergot. Ergot is a fungal disease that killed and disabled people throughout Europe. Symptoms produced by the fungus Claviceps purpurea include gangrene, convulsions, headaches and hallucinations. Healthy grains are replaced with dark, hard ergots and get mixed into the flour during harvesting and milling.
Once the source of the ergot was identified, the infections were able to be controlled. An interesting story in history.
I love learning about words and, as a new horse owner, I got a word-surprise one day. I get lots of advice from more experienced horse people. One of the recommendations I’ve gotten is to keep the tissue protuberances on the legs trimmed. These natural calluses are made of keratin that can flake off. They are hidden in the long hairs just above a horse’s hooves. My gelding’s flake off nicely by themselves, but I need to soften the tissue on my mare so I can pull them off.
Why am I telling you this? Because these protuberances on the horse’s fetlocks are also called Ergots. (Their purpose is not known.) The fetlock is sort of the ankle of a horse. Ergot is derived from the French word for a rooster’s spur, which makes sense, since that is what it looks like.
Ergot: one word, two very different meanings: A fungal disease or a protuberance on a horse’s fetlock.
Bonus Word: Higher up the horse leg is a round callus that also flakes off or can be trimmed flat. This is called a chestnut. That’s a word with three meanings:
A tree that produces an edible nut; A reddish-brown colored horse with a brown mane and tail; A callus on the inner side of a horse’s leg.
Book Note: I’ve recently released a new book, Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert. Did you know that every squirrel in this desert is a ground squirrel? Neither did I until I did my research. There are lots of fun science facts in this book, written in rhyme. You can see it on the Sonoran Desert books page.
When I’m not writing fun science books, I’m caring for my animal companions: the iguanas, tortoises and turtle I live with, and my two horses, which are stabled just down the road.
I’ve learned a lot about horses over the past two years. Many behaviors are still mysteries to me, however. One of them is the greeting squeal. When horses meet, they extend their noses to each other. The human handlers often wait cautiously off to the side at this point.
After a moment or two, one or both of the horses will issue a very loud squeaky cry, called a squeal. I’ve been told that the submissive horse will squeal, but I think they just enjoy squealing. If the horses are going to battle, the squeal is the first step before biting and kicking. The first time my mare, Button, met her new neighbor, I made the mistake of standing behind her. I got kicked in the stomach and was left with a remarkable hoof-shaped bruise. (Don’t worry, I won’t make that mistake again.)
The sense of smell is very important to horses. It’s been suggested that the nosing is because of the different odors that are on the other horse. The horses aren’t really “shaking hands,” but are “exchanging medical records and business cards.”
But I’ve noticed that the squealing occurs even between horses that know each other, so it’s not only on the first meeting. Neighbors insist on squealing as loud as they can. Very annoying and a bit painful to my ears. Since horses depend on their sense of hearing, you’d think they’d want to tone it down, too.
Wouldn’t a simple snort suffice? Must such loud noises be uttered? Really, horses? Button? Exuma? At least they don’t squeal when I greet them. I’m pretty certain I’ll never understand why squealing so loudly is necessary.
The following video, showing some of the squealing, may help you to understand my point.
Book Note: Summer and other breaks are soon upon us. Would you like to keep the science education coming, but make it fun? Check out the supplemental, educational, interesting and fun workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing LLC, my book publisher. Click the photos below and check them out. Lots of fun activities and they’re economical, too.
Growing up, and as an adult, I’ve had only reptiles as companion animals. I never wanted a mammal. Okay, I did think about getting a hedgehog at one point, but they are nocturnal and I’m definitely a diurnal type of person. After I retired from my work as a biologist, I began horseback riding lessons so I’d be more comfortable with the stirrups on commercial trail rides.
Even though I enjoyed my lessons with my trainer, Tali, I wasn’t interested in leasing a horse and, of course, I had absolutely no interest in owning a horse. For my lessons, I alternated between Lady, an easygoing horse, and Button, who was stubborn and outspoken about her fears.
Despite Button being a challenge, I sought out every opportunity to ride her. As the saying goes, “calm seas do not a skilled sailor make.” Button provided me with the opportunity to improve my riding ability. Having spent many years wrestling large iguanas like Rango pictured below, I could be stubborn myself. If I was paying to ride Button, we were going to do what I wanted to, whether she agreed or not.
Somewhere along the way, Button grew to like me. Well–she claimed me as hers. It is a very special feeling when another being wants you around. One night, completely unexpectedly, I decided that if for some reason Button ever needed a new home, I’d be willing to take her. The next morning Tali asked me if I was interested in owning Button!
A couple of months later, I moved Button to a stable near my house. Now every day, just like I do with my house reptiles, I spend time with this very special horse. We work on our skills and take trail rides in the wash.
It’s been an eventful year. I’ve learned a lot about horses, about Button and about myself. I have found an unexpected peace when I am with her. Maybe it’s because you have to be focused when hanging out with a thousand-pound, independently-minded creature.
Happy Anniversary to my quite large mammalian buddy, Button!
Note: Though I’ve yet to write a tale about horses (sorry, Button!), I’ve weaved science into adventure tales, hoping to make science education fun, which kids seem to really enjoy. (Why not make science fun?)
47 pages of captivating activities that kids from kindergarten through 3rd grade are certain to enjoy! Includes spelling pages, two Venn-Diagram activities: bats vs. parrots, and bats vs. rats; math pages, reading comprehension pages for both bats and rats; a teacher-driven felt board activity; rhyming words, less than-greater than coloring sheet; two word searches, and MORE! Students will gain a deeper understanding of the Caribbean Fruit Bat and the rats that live on Cayman Brac and how they affect the ecology.
I didn’t like horses as a child. In fact, I didn’t particularly like them as an adult. However, I did enjoy touring the countryside and riding a horse was much easier than hiking it all. When I moved to Tucson, I liked riding though the Sonoran Desert, but I found that the stirrups hurt my aged knees.
A couple of my equestrian friends suggested I learn to ride bareback, which is how I met Button, a Missouri Fox-Trotter, who was one of my lesson horses. She had started her own lessons a month before I did, so we learned together.
Little did I know that I would ever own a horse of my own. Little did I know that three years later, I would own Button! Up until the night before I was asked if I wanted her, I would have told you, no way was I ever going to have a horse. But Button chose me to be her human and I chose her to be my horse.
Who knows? Button just may inspire me to write a book about her one day. But, in the meantime, I hope you’ll check out some of the fun science books for kids that I’ve written. Who say science has to be boring? Not me!
And, we’re all looking for ways to learn and grow at home now. Check out the incredible science workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing. They’re fun, educational, economical and you buy a workbook once and print it as many times as you’d like. Click on the image below to see all of them.
There’s a saying about being comfortable in one’s own on skin. Recently, this saying took on a new meaning for me. Last year, I became the delighted owner of a Missouri Fox Trotter named Button. She was born in Missouri, so every winter she grows a coat worthy of the cold cruel Midwest winter winds; she is quite cozy here in Tucson’s cool winter weather.
Come spring, Button would shed the massive amount of hair down to her more comfortable summer thin coat. This spring, however, she didn’t shed sufficiently. Temperatures were in the 80s with 90s being forecast. Our workouts left her “sopping” wet with sweat. Action needed to be taken.
I noticed that one of the other horses had been shaved by a local groomer. She’d done a lovely job, leaving the horse’s coat smooth. No razor ridges like I would create. I gave her a call, scheduled Button’s hair appointment and off the thick winter coat came. It was like watching a sheep being sheared! I expected her to be a bright shiny copper penny color underneath but she looks more bronze to me. She is now much more comfortable temperature-wise, but I wondered if she would miss her hair.
After a day of multiple rolls in the dirt, I think Button is now truly comfortable in her own skin.
And now, being comfortable in my own skin, it’s back to to stories I go! To see my science-based and fun adventure tales and rhyming stories, please go to the My Books page.
I love having animals in my life. Over the years, they’ve mostly been reptiles and lately, if you’ve been following my story, there’s a horse tale in it.
If we accept responsibility for an animal, we are responsible for its welfare, even if we have to sacrifice for it. This has come up in the care of my horse. She developed chronic sinusitis as a result of an abscessed tooth. Every month, the equine dentist comes out to do the next step in her care. Of course, this specialist’s care costs money. But I took responsibility for her life, so I owe Button the best care I can provide. Apparently, not all horse owners feel the same way, which is very sad to me. There are several famous quotes about judging a person by the way he cares for his fellow animals.
The impetus for this post was a statement in a local neighborhood chat room. The person posting had observed a bobcat enjoying its dinner. A wonderful sight to see in the limited wilderness remaining in the Sonoran Desert. However, the poster concluded that the bobcat’s only purpose was as a threat to local dogs and cats. The bobcat was most likely eating a rabbit – it’s been a good year for rabbits. Of course, the danger from coyotes was included in the post.
I disagree that local wildlife is the threat to domestic companion animals. The problem is people not taking proper care of their pets. When I let my reptiles out in the backyard, I stay with them. We have birds of prey in the area that could carry off an iguana. The bobcats could enjoy a nice turtle or tortoise meal—but it’s not on them. It’s my job as their human companion to ensure their safety in the environment I place them.
Along with watching out for our dogs and pets, I also feel it is our duty to ensure that our pets don’t harm the local wildlife. Billions of birds are killed each year by cats. Please keep your cats inside, where they are safe and healthy, or use a leash. Many people love to feed the birds in their yards but are unable to enjoy them due to a cat(s). I run into cat predation in my iguana conservation work. Too many are the years we don’t see any juvenile iguanas because they’ve all been killed by domestic pets that the iguanas didn’t recognize as predators. Dogs are equally dangerous when not properly supervised.
People, please protect and control your furry family members. We can all thrive together in this world.
Remember, if the local bobcat or coyote gets your family member, it is not the predator’s fault. It’s yours. Protect your pet!
Have you ever tried to take a selfie with a horse? I recently attempted to take one with my mare, Button. Horse noses are really loooong–my arms, not so much.
Here is a recent endeavor.
You’re too close to the phone, Button. Hey, look the OTHER way, please! (Oh, and block out the sun, too).
Better, but you forgot to block the sun.
I think we’ve got this!
Button and I run into a LOT of rocks on our morning rides. I’ll bet you do, too! This workbook is filled with fun activity sheets about rocks. Learning while having fun is a great way to spend some time!
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