As I mentioned in The Mare Agreement, my Arabian mare, Haley, is a bit of a drama queen.

She does not tolerate discomfort of any kind under any circumstances—unless it is of her choosing (such as crawling under a stall guard on her knees). She enjoys being spooky for no reason, but is a surprisingly reliable trail horse. She is very intelligent and learns quickly, and decides just as quickly that she’d rather not do what you want her to do based on principle.

Basically, she embraces all the Arabian stereotypes, good and bad, at the same time.

©Nancy Rich-Guiterra

©Nancy Rich-Guiterrez

When I moved to Florida, Haley started gaining weight but we couldn’t figure out why. Her feeding plan hadn’t changed, and she was getting more exercise than she had been. She was turned out in a huge pasture with other mares, where, true to her semi-anti-social personality, she pretty much kept to herself. I figured it must have just been the change in pasture grass that was causing the problem.

One day, a non-working day for veterinarians, the barn owner looked out in the field and saw Haley running with her neck outstretched and her head twisted to the side. She was lathered in sweat and seemed distressed. The barn owner and her husband caught her, but she would not change her head position.

Fearing some sort of neck injury, they shuffled her into the barn without a halter and called the vet for an after-hours call. My horses are adamant that they never have issues crop up during business hours.

When the vet got there, he sedated her, and he quickly discovered that her neck was functioning fine. His next assumption was some sort of object, perhaps a stick, had gotten lodged in her mouth or throat. After a thorough exam, that was deemed not to be the case.

Since she was so sweaty, he suggested taking her in the wash rack and hosing her off to make her more comfortable. As she was rinsed, they discovered the cause of her panic—Fireweed.

Fireweed is a plant that grows in Florida and burns and stings if you touch it. Apparently, Haley had rolled in it and got it on her neck. The patch of skin affected was VERY small, but it does really burn. True to form, it sent her into a total panic.

Why didn’t the other mares get into it, though?

Haley doesn’t like other horses much. She does get along pretty well with other animals, though—cats, goats, donkeys, even the occasional dog (non-approved dogs better watch out!). There was a pen where the goats were fed adjacent to the pasture where she and the other mares were turned out. It was back behind some trees and the mares all stayed away. Except for Haley.

Since she was considerably shorter than the rest of the herd, she could move around under the tree branches without getting scratched. She quickly discovered that the goats were being fed alfalfa back there, so she would sneak around behind the goat pen and steal as much as she could reach.

Shady spots are a favorite place for fireweed, and back behind the goat pen, under the trees, was the only place in the whole pasture where it was growing. Since Haley was skulking around alone back there to steal alfalfa, she was the only horse that found it.

Several hundred dollars in an emergency vet bill and I found the cause of her weight gain. The fireweed was removed, the alfalfa factory was locked down, and Haley was on the road to losing weight, which provided more ammunition for her attitude. Life was back to normal!

About the Author

Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at