What's the Buzz? Use Our Horse Owner's Checklist for Hornet and Bee Sting Prevention This Fall

Why is the autumn the most active time for bees? How can you keep your horse (and yourself) safe from stings?
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Why is the autumn the most active time for bees--and how can you keep your horse (and yourself) safe from stings? Whether it happens out on the trail, far from home, or while working around a barn or pasture, horse owners should be aware that warm fall weather is when bees and hornets are active. Take the sting out of the perfect fall weather and “bee” prepared with this checklist from The Jurga Report.

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The weather is perfect: Under a dazzling blue sky, you set out for a trail ride on a balmy fall afternoon. They call it “Indian Summer”, and it’s the ideal riding time. The trails tend to be nice and dry, and your horse may trot along kicking up colorful leaves as you go. But how many riders are shaken to the core when a horse’s hooves suddenly disrupt a nest of angry hornets or bees out on the trail?

Maybe your brush with danger will come when you go up in the hay loft to stack a delivery of new bales, only to discover that your barn rafters are alive with hornets who quickly chase you down the ladder.

Bees and hornets live everywhere, even in the city, and the last warm days of the year signal a change in their diet, lifestyle and activity. Learn how to be proactive about bees around horses and where they may be hiding.

Warning: Encounters with bees can be dangerous for both horses and riders, as well as anyone working in, visiting, or playing around a barn. Be defensive, instead of a victim, and remember that bees are (for the most part) a fragile, beneficial, and important part of the ecosystem. Some, like carpenter bees, are a danger to property and still others, like "killer" bees, can be a threat to the lives of everyone around them.

Today we will start with a checklist of DO’s and DON’T’s for trail riders. Tomorrow, come back for the checklist to safeguard your horse in the barn and pasture.

An ideal fall day on the trail can be ruined by disturbed bees. Prepared and maintained trails that are frequented by people and horses are less likely to have problems. Side trails, especially single-file trails, can be an invitation for a horse to step in a nest or disrupt a trailside nest. (Jim Brekke photo)

An ideal fall day on the trail can be ruined by disturbed bees. Prepared and maintained trails that are frequented by people and horses are less likely to have problems. Side trails, especially single-file trails, can be an invitation for a horse to step in a nest or disrupt a trailside nest. (Jim Brekke photo)

On the Trail: The DO List

  1. DO learn about bee sting treatment now, before it happens.
  2. DO buy the supplies you will need if you or your horse is stung.
  3. DO tell others around you if you are allergic to bees and DO have a bee sting kit you can carry in your jacket.
  4. DO investigate commercial anti-bee products like Guddyap Girls’ Be Ready, but don’t depend on them as an absolute preventative.
  5. DO carry a fully-charged mobile phone with you when you ride out.
  6. DO wear a long-sleeved light or bright-colored shirt and/or helmet cover when you ride. This makes a fallen rider easier to spot.
  7. DO carry or wear a bandana.
  8. DO make a plan with other riders in the event of a fall or runaway horse.
  9. DO keep an eye on the horse or horses in front of you. Be ready in the event one shies or bucks if stung.
  10. DO carry a lead line with you, if you can, in the event of a loose horse or broken bridle.
  11. DO keep moving if a horse is stung. Regroup at a safe point further up the trail to examine the horses.
  12. DO have a first aid kit for horses ready at your return point.
  13. DO have a first aid kit for humans ready at your return point (or in your saddle pack).
  14. DO go back and mark the point on the trail where you were stung, if it is safe, and put up a sign, or post a notice at the trail entry point.
  15. DO tell other riders you pass on the trail if you see bees during your ride or in the direction they are headed.
  16. DO take pictures if your horse is stung, and make notes of how severe the reaction is and what type of bee was involved, if possible.
  17. DO learn about the species of bees in your area. Be particularly cautious in bees in your area are known to have become “Africanized”.
  18. DO notify local officials if you come across an active “wild” honeybee colony on the trail. A local beekeeper may be able to help them find a safer place to colonize.
  19. DO get a stung horse home as soon as possible. Anaphylactoid shock is not common in horses, but it can happen. Look for signs of respiratory distress and hives. Call a vet immediately.
  20. DO go to the hospital if you feel ill after a sting, or multiple stings. Danger signs are nausea, fainting, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the throat or tongue.
  21. DO expect a bee sting to burn and then itch when it forms a welt. A wider area around the welt may swell as well.
  22. DO investigate safety developments for people with bee sting allergies, and stay up to date with the expiration date on your Epipen, if you are allergic to bee stings.
Horses often step in wasp nests, but they can also disturb nests built in tree branches, like this "paper wasp" type of nest. Some old nest are abandoned, while others may be full of wasps. Tying a horse to a tree branch, or alloweing horses to eat leaves on the trail, can disturb resting wasps. (WP Lynn photo)

Horses often step in wasp nests, but they can also disturb nests built in tree branches, like this "paper wasp" type of nest. Some old nest are abandoned, while others may be full of wasps. Tying a horse to a tree branch, or alloweing horses to eat leaves on the trail, can disturb resting wasps. (WP Lynn photo)

On the Trail: The DON'T List

  1. DON’T ride with bare arms or legs.
  2. DON’T drink sugary sodas or juices when trail riding; “sugar water” attracts bees.
  3. DON’T wear perfume or scented deodorant around horses; a flowery smell may attract bees.
  4. DON’T use scented products on horses in the fall, such as creme rinses in tails and manes, if you are going to be trail riding. Use them when you get home.
  5. DON’T expect fly spray to repel bees and hornets.
  6. DON’T let your horse “graze” on tree leaves or “star gaze” as you ride; his head may disturb a nest along the trail. Keep reasonable contact with your reins.
  7. DON’T try to ride two abreast on the trail if it means one or both riders or horses brush the foliage along the sides of the trail.
  8. DON’T wear ear buds while you ride. Listen for sounds like a scrambling horse up ahead or behind, or the buzz of bees.

Remember! Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the list: Bees and wasps and hornets in and around your barn! 

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