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Wrangling on the Range #103

The UN-alergic horse



Horse ownership seemed for this reader - until she met the
American Bashkir Curly.


I STROKED HER LONG, ELEGANT neck. She turned her cute dished face
to me and nickered.
"She's beautiful!" I told my sister. The mare nickered again and
I stood admiring her, secretly wishing my sister's new Arabian
were mine.
Then I sneezed. Not once but several times, in quick succession.
My eyes began to water and my throat felt scratchy. "Are you all
right?" my sister asked.
I reached in my pocket for a tissue and wiped my nose. "Yes, I
think so. This just sort of came on." I wiped my nose again, then
lapsed into another sneezing fit.
"I think you're allergic to my horse!" she exclaimed, ushering me
out of the paddock. I peered at her through redrimmed eyes and
sneezed again. Reluctantly, I had to agree she was right.
When it was confirmed that I was indeed allergic to horses, I was
devastated. I'd finally acquired enough land, marshaled my
finances, and carved out enough time to consider owning a horse.
And now, whenever I was near one, I broke out in welts, had
sneezing fits, and was left gasping for air.

It hadn't always been this way. As a child, I was exposed to
horses every day. My sister owned one, as did our neighbors. I
spent many lazy summer afternoons riding in open fields and up
and down dirt roads.

But then life happened. My sister got married and sold her horse.
I also married, started a career, and began raising three
children. Years passed and horses took a back seat to life's
other endeavors. Then, on that fateful day, while visiting my
sister's new mare, I discovered that somewhere in the 20
intervening years I'd developed an allergic reaction to horses.
"Why don't you get an allergy shot?" a friend asked.
"Is there such a thing?"
"Sure, people get allergy shots for all sorts of things-hay
fever, dogs, cats.
There must be one for horses," she asserted confidently ... but
she was wrong. After a couple of disappointing doctor visits,
searching for a miracle cure, I grasped the tiny hope that one
doctor offered--that I might build up my immunity again by slowly
exposing myself to horses. It could take years, though, he
warned, and there was no guarantee it would happen. Plus I didn't
have the time - or the patience - to "wait and see" if this would
"Let it pass," my husband urged, seeing my frustration. "Forget
about horses." But I couldn't. After waiting this long, I wasn't
giving up now!

It was then I took my search to the Internet and made a startling
discovery: the hypoallergenic American Bashkir Curly, I'd never
heard of such a thing! I learned that although there's no
scientific explanation as to why a Curly's hair is
hypoallergenic, one theory speculates it has to do with the
breed's having a different sort of hair shaft from a regular
horse. I also learned there are only about 3,500 Curly horses in
the nation. Undaunted, I began my search, and soon was
corresponding with a breeder in Northern Wisconsin. She sent
several hair samples clipped from various areas of her Curly
horses' bodies so I could test my allergic reaction to them.

I gathered my family for the 3 and 1/2-hour drive to the
breeder's farm, giddy with the prospect that this mysterious
breed might be my ticket to horse ownership. The breeder welcomed
us warmly, then introduced us to her herd of Curly horses. Her
pasture was dotted with bays, duns, and palominos, their hair
coats ranging from wavy to micro-curled.

Our visit was a success, and in August of 2007 I brought home my
first Curly horse, a handsome 2-year-old. Neither his curly black
coat nor his wavy mane and tail caused even a trace of a welt on
me. As a bonus, Storm's friendly, intelligent personality -
characteristic of the Curly breed - made my first-time horse
ownership a genuine pleasure.

Storm grew from a spindly legged adolescent to a strong,
confident gelding. Our relationship blossomed, and our bond only
strengthens over time. I've also added two more Curly horses to
my collection, plus two American Miniature Horses. (The minis
cause me no more allergy problems than my Curly horses do, so I
guess my immunity is back.)

There's not a day goes by that I don't feel thankful for the
opportunity to own horses. My dream has come true! And I hope my
story will encourage others who, like me, once thought allergies
would keep them from ever owning a horse.

If you're allergic to horses, consider an American Bashkir Curly.
He might be just what the doctor ordered! 

Shelley Ellingson lives in rural Hokah, Minnesota, with her
husband, three children, five horses, and an entourage of pets.
She recently formed a nonprofit organization to use her pets as
therapeutic animals, and she hopes one day to offer therapeutic
riding using her Curly horses.

Have a poignant or humorous story to share? E-mail jfmfeedback@; 700 word maximum.


To be continued from time to time

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