Posted in Music and horses

Thumb on The Bug (or, Arriving at Rockingham Park)

I ran across an old friend on the side of the road, growing in the poor soil full of pebbles, like so many of the most powerful medicine plants do. It was a friend to me, because it was there when I needed it.

When in bloom, it has a funny little flower spike that looks somewhat like a ladies thumb, as pictured in this article. (coincidentally that picture is from a New Hampshire writing)

In the early 2000’s, many of us had gone up to Rockingham Park from Rosecroft Raceway to race in Salem, New Hampshire. My stable decided to go there. This would be the first year in a long time that this track had hosted Harness Racing. It was well known to be a thoroughbred track previously.

I got up there in the driving rain at about one in the morning, expecting my tack room and barn to be ready for me, just like the New Hampshire race office had told me it would.

The night guard at the gate knew nothing about it. I managed to unload four horses and get them bedded down in some stalls. Gates up, Feed, hay, water…

By then I was soaking wet, I dropped the trailer and drove back to the guard shack. “Is there any hotel that I can stay in?” … “aaaahh yaaahhh” he says in a very strange accent, “theaaahs tha manaaaahh down the street”

…I’m thinking in the Biblical sense… Manna from Heaven?!?! “What did you say” … The conversation went on from there, around and around. Finally I realized he meant the Manor Hotel. It didn’t take me long to learn and understand “New England – Eze” It was several “sets of lights” down the road, cheap and comfortable.

To explain something I found out awhile ago, is when you first get to a racetrack that has been shut down for a while, and you happen to be one of the first horses to arrive there before the meet, there are some challenges that one must deal with. First is that a lot of the services that make caring for racehorses easier haven’t arrived yet, such as tack supplies, hay and feed delivery etc.

Another challenge is that the flies will all attack your horses (and you) with long pointy teeth, accompanied by mosquitoes, gnats and other types of bugs… for the simple reason that there are no others around for them to bite. They center around your barn.

Fortunately, my son had begun his blacksmithing career by then. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring fly spray. Not even my holistic mix of vinegar and essential oils.

I watched my son struggle to shoe King Blue Chip. Having white socks made him even more sensitive to the biting flies. They were both blowing and sweating and he had not even gotten the shoes off yet. The 17.2 hand gelding would snatch his legs away, thrashing his tail, kicking and stomping. King was getting worse by the minute, even though he was generally a mild-mannered trotter. I was trying to brush the flies off using the old towel method, but I wasn’t having any luck trying to keep up with all of their blood-drawing bites.

A little weed caught my eye. I remembered something I had read, …I was having a mental picture of Native Americans, standing behind bushes, mounted and ready to ambush, at war or on a hunt. The book had said they would rub this plant on their horses backs, so that the horses would not swish the flies and give away their position.

We didn’t have smart phones yet, so I could not google to make sure this was indeed the plant, it had bloomed, and the small flower spike had the signature “ladies thumb” shape, but there are other plants that have similar blossom spikes.

Lucky for us, the marker for this plant was the leaf, which has a spot in the center that is a darker shade of green than the rest of the leaf.

I ripped a handful of plants out of the sandy dirt and squashed them in my hands, ran over to the by-now dueling adversaries and rubbed them all over King, especially his legs and pasterns. I really wasn’t sure if I was getting any of the plant juices or oils on him.

Suddenly King sighed once and stood stock still for the rest of his shoeing.

I never cease to wonder at what God gives us. If only we look, learn, and believe.

In about half an hour, I started to itch in between my fingers, where my calloused hands didn’t protect me. Turns out that it can be a slight skin irritant, but the itch disappeared quickly after washing.

We watched the other trailers coming in through the gate, Ingraham, Bruce Ranger from Florida, many others from all over the country. The shops, track kitchen and even a chapel opening up.

It was going to be a fun summer.

Author:

DMV: Harness Racing, Musician & Artist working for Radio station

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