Manes and Trails: Rattlesnakes and your horses
Rattlesnakes are common in Ramona and the backcountry. In Southern California we have several species of rattlesnake including the Southern Pacific, Southwestern Speckled, and Red Diamond. In the desert areas, the Desert Sidewinder is most present. I have no idea how to tell the difference, but I know they are all dangerous for me, for my family, and for my horse.
On March 8 there was a report that a horse died from a rattlesnake bite and I’ve seen a snake out on the trail just a few days ago, so I had to remind all of you of the danger now — and as the weather warms up, snakes are out and about more.
My first encounter with a rattlesnake was just up the street from my own home some years ago. In all of my years of riding, I had never heard or seen a snake out on trail. I was out for a ride on Jane one afternoon and a friend came riding along, so we cut through the brush to meet up with our pals. I had never given much thought of how to handle a snake encounter. That was about to change.
Upon entering the brush — we call it “bush whacking,” which I rarely ever do — there it was; the distinct noise of the rattler! Even though I had never heard it before, I knew what it was immediately. Jane froze as she obviously knew as well. As she stood with me on her back, trembling in fear, I called out to my friend to tell her that Jane was right on top of a rattlesnake.
I contemplated my options and decided that, since I really had no idea what to do, I’d best let my horse handle the situation. After all it was she that was in immediate danger, not me. I couldn’t see the snake so I had no idea where it was exactly. I figured that since Jane was no longer moving the snake would slither away. After what seemed like an eternity the snake remained under my horse. I had to reconsider how to handle the situation.
My brain ticking through my options, remaining as calm as possible, I asked my friend to get the vet’s phone number up on her cell phone and get ready to push the send button in case we needed to make an emergency call. Once that was done, I kicked and whipped Jane like a maniac to get her to jump forward and move as fast as possible. I had never done anything like that to her. It was so unexpected that up she went and forward in a flash. I am not sure her feet even touched the ground until we were half way home. Disaster averted.
As time has rolled on and trail miles accumulate in the saddle, my encounters with snakes have become almost commonplace. They have excellent camouflage and, even in the clear of the trail proper, they are difficult to see. Typically they are alongside a trail in the brush or grasses and I am thankful they give the warning of their rattle so we can stay away from them.
As I have encountered more snakes, I have also seen that the typical reaction of a horse, mine or someone else’s, is to spin away or jump out of the way if the snake is close. Cricket has thus far been great at avoiding snakes with the jump and spin. If the snake is far enough ahead and gives its warning, horses will simply refuse to go any closer toward the snake. Pretty smart cookies if you ask me.
Spring is the season in which most of my snake encounters have occurred and it is now springtime, so beware! Snakes can be anywhere. Please be diligent in keeping your eyes and ears open. I’ve seen them on my porch stoop, under trees in my fields, and along many, many trails as I ride. Of course there are the non-venomous snakes thrown into the mix from time to time but being more than eight feet in the air, and not wishing to find myself guessing at the actual species of snake, I just avoid them all.
It’s important for horse owners to know that I found out that it is rare for a horse to die from a snake bite, but it does happen as it did on March 8 of this year. I also noted that most bites to horses are on the face or muzzle since they are reaching down to graze and snakes are on the ground. The bite (venom) makes their face swell and breathing difficult and, if the airway is completely cut off, suffocation is the main cause of death from a bite. The case in East County noted that the venom went straight into the bloodstream, so there was nothing that could be done to save the horse.
I’ve met folks who carry around lengths of ½ inch hose so they can place it up the nose of their horse in case of snake bite. I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing that. What if I missed or ripped up Cricket’s sinus or went too far and damaged her esophagus with the hose — too many what if’s for me to handle. I’ll keep a good eye out, trust my horse, and I intend to remain calm, keep her calm, and call my vet if ever needed.
To find out more about snakes, visit the San Diego Herpetology Society for quick answers to questions you may have. Their website link for rattlesnakes is: www.sdnhm.org/archive/research/herpetology/resources4b.html.
- Manes and Trails: Lower Santa Ysabel Truck Trail
- Diamondback Rattlesnake Safety
- Manes and Trails: Upper Santa Ysabel Truck Trail
- Manes and Trails
- Equine population — Ramona is NOT a one horse town
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