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August 8, 2020

Hidden Danger in the Woods ~ Bee Careful!

They’re very small, nearly invisible. They hide in tree stumps, in trees, near trails, even on or under the trail. If you’ve ever encountered bees on a trail ride it cannot only be terrifying, but dangerous.

I’ve only run across bees twice on a trail ride. Both times could have been devastating. The first time was on Excelsior Pass, Mt. Baker. There was a pretty large group of us. I remember not too far into the ride we hit some pretty sticky bogs. The horses struggled to get through. Once on the other side of the mess we started climbing. I was in the middle of the pack.

All of a sudden someone yelled, “BEES, RUN!”. I was on a green horse I had recently purchased in Hermiston at a horse sale. Not sure how she’d react I just kicked her into a fast trot; very glad the horses in front of me took off. The people at the back of the group didn’t fair so well. A few people came off as the bees were finally pretty angry and were stinging horses and people alike. No one was hurt too badly but it could have been much worse.

The second encounter was years later on the trails at the Harry Osborne Trailhead. At the time I had a lot at “Cowboy Campsite”. It was a private campground for horse people. I wanted to go out for a ride and headed out by myself to enjoy an afternoon ride. It was early fall so it was a very pleasant day with a cool breeze. About a half hour into the ride I met a couple of other riders and joined them.

I was at the back of the group this time. It had gotten pretty hot and we’d been climbing for a while. We stopped to give the horses a break. Whenever you stop on an incline it’s usually a good idea to turn your horse sideways in the trail. It’s easier for them to rest. I had been sitting there for just a minute when I felt wind from below. It was the strangest sensation. Then came the pinches on the under side of my arms. Suddenly I realized that April had stepped on a hornet’s nest in the side of the trail. She started swishing her tail madly and crow hopping.

I yelled at the other two ladies, “Run!”. The three of us took off at a gallop, crashing through the underbrush, not paying attention to where the trail was. We were just running like mad to get away from the bees. As soon as we were out of danger we realized that the only way to get back to the trail was back the same way we came. SO we headed out at a brisk pace hoping the hornets had dissipated. As we galloped past the spot where the stinging began I again felt the pinches of the hornets. It was horrible.

We finally got far away from the hornets and stopped to take stock of how many bee stings on both the horses and ourselves. The adrenaline rush was over and all of a sudden I felt sick, light headed and nearly fell off my horse. She had been stung several times as well so I felt terrible for her. I did not have anything with me as far as a first aid kit or epinephrine pen. God was looking out for me. The two riders I had joined had Benadryl. I immediately took some and we gave some to the horse. One of the ladies was a nurse and knew what to do. Thankfully.

  • Carry Epinephrine or at the very least, Benadryl.
  • Always carry a first aid kit in your saddlebag. Even for a short ride.
  • Get away from the bees as quickly and safely as possible. Ride in the opposite direction of the person who yelled, “Bees!” – call for help.
  • Wear light colored clothing (Helmet too).
  • Beware of riding late summer and early fall as the days get shorter. Wasps, hornets, and bees are more aggressive as the days get shorter.
  • Ask the locals if there are any reports of hives or nests in the area to avoid. Many times local groups will have members go out and spray the nests before planning larger organized rides.
  • If you encounter these pests yell “Bees” right away.
  • If someone gets thrown from their horse, don’t ride over to them. Dismount, have someone hold your horse, and go help the person who might be injured.
  • Don’t wear perfume or use fragrant shampoos for either you or your horse.
  • Check your horse trailer before heading out. Sometimes these nasty pests will take up residence in your trailer, especially if its been sitting for a while.

I say all this to beware of the potential for bees in the great outdoors. Be safe, learn from my mistakes and always pay attention to your surroundings. If you’ve had an encounter with bees on the trail, send us your story! Perhaps someone has some other safety tip to offer! You can email [email protected].

©NWHS Photo
Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages.  Now 25 years later, it's an online magazine and website with a reach of over 19,000 per month and growing! Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses!

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