When I moved back to Texas in 1986, one of the chores I was given was to bring in the horses from the field when I got home from school. Seems innocent enough, you would think. Keep in mind, I was newly 16 and had lived in California for the prior 9 years. There are worlds of difference between dealing with your Shetland pony and rounding up 8 horses to get back in their stalls.
Obviously, I wasn’t completely equine ignorant. Still, I wasn’t used to the shenanigans full sized horses get up to. There are different tactics ponies use from those that horses use when they decide they don’t want to do what you want. I wasn’t warned about it and I was unprepared for that first day. Thankfully, I am a fast learner.
I knew enough to go after the lead mare. Get her and put her in her stall and the others would come in with her. The wily critter had other ideas that day. She calmly waited me out, letting me get in arms reach before simply turning and walking away. Elementary basic move and right out of the standard equine playbook. So, I tried again to get to her halter. Control the head and you control the half ton beast.
She was still having none of it. She headed for the cedar trees. Dad’s 22 acres had a plenty of cedar forest that hadn’t been cleared yet. Grumbling, I followed her, hoping the trees would slow her down and give me a shot at getting her under control. Being an idiot, I let myself get directly behind her at one point. She kept walking and pushed a low hanging branch forward as she went by. Then she released it as she moved past.
There is now a branch coming at me a pretty good clip. I put my arm over my eyes and stopped to wait for impact. It didn’t come. The branch wasn’t close enough to actually touch me. Then there was a burning point of pain on my arm. Then there were several. I lowered my arm and looked. Tiny, barely visible red and black ants were all over my arm. Not just my arm, all over me, head to foot. The branch had acted like a catapult and launched a swarm of ants onto me. The mare disappeared into the trees.
Meanwhile, tens-of-tens of blasts of pain were igniting on my skin. After my initial surprise wore off, I discovered I could run. Not only could I run, I could strip and run at the same time. My world narrowed down to two objectives: Get the ants off immediately and get to that garden hose 200 yards away. Off came the shirt and onto the ground. A trail of clothes soon showed my path to that gleaming faucet that held my salvation from this hideous burning pain blossoming all over my body. A shoe kicked off flew to the side as I ran, the other followed to the other side. The belt was yanked open and then the pants. Mid-stride I managed to get the pants off without stopping. I to this day don’t know quite how I managed that without a faceplant into the ground. By the time I hit the garden hose and that blessed water, I was, in fact, buck-assed naked and trying to keep ants off my face and away from my tender bits.
I was covered in them. They had gotten inside my clothes as if the clothes weren’t even there. I took no chances and nudity taboo be damned. Actually, that really wasn’t a worry. Neither Dad nor Sylvia were home yet. Hell, even that wouldn’t have stopped me or made me pause. The pure pain of the fire-ant bites and stings, along with the sheer number covering me head-to-foot, precludes any such artificial niceties as nudity modesty. To hell with that! I got that water running as fast as I could. I drenched myself and made sure I sluiced every inch of my body, starting at my head, to get the lil bastards off of me.
I had horrible visions of them biting into my eyes or up my nose, or in my ear or heaven forbid, my balls! If it hurt on tougher skin, what was it going to do to sensitive, tender, vulnerable skin?? I made sure I was not going to find out. I scrubbed at my hair, my skin and kept that water on me until I could not see a single speck on me. After what seemed an eternity, I finally turned off the water.
Turning around, I was face-to-face with the lead mare. Literally. She had walked up behind me and with me so busy getting ants off me, I never noticed her. Behind her were the rest of the herd, patiently watching me hold this hose over my head and wiggle in the water. Their ears forward, they watched the Fire-Ant Dance with total interest. I am ready to swear that lead mare had a gleam of satisfaction in her big brown eyes. She nodded once and walked right into her pen. I promptly shut her in and then got the others put away.
Only when the last gate shut did I remember I was still naked. I hurried to gather up my clothes. Running back up to the house, I pounded the crap out of them, piece by piece to make sure the ants were gone. As I scrutinized each piece for any tiny invaders, I kept an eye and ear out for my dad’s car. Somehow, I got everything back on without any more stings or bites. I sat on the steps and waited. I also dreaded what that lead mare was going to come up with the next day. It was obviously that I would have to learn fast if I didn’t want to be a poster boy for the terminally stupid. Gritting my teeth, I vowed that never again would I allow myself to end up having to do the Fire-Ant Dance again. My teenage ego would implode if it did.