Married with Horses: When Bed Bugs Bite

A horsewoman and her husband get more than they bargained for while 'roughing it' at a horse show.

| © Andy Myer

I awoke just after 11 a.m. with Jack and Pickles lying on me. They hadn’t moved since I’d begun napping. The extra shut-eye was needed because I wanted to be fully rested for Kimberly’s horse show. Kimberly, Vander and Pepper were already there.

It had been a long week divided among the farm, office and the restaurant where I recently started cooking. Hay for the winter had to be picked up with the pickup and then put up in the barn. Pictures of halters, bridles and saddles had to be taken for several office projects. And after receiving its most recent 4.5-out-of-5-star review, the restaurant was packed nearly every night of the week.

I was thankful for the farm, photography and food, but also ready for a day at the show. I nudged Jack and Pickles aside before hopping out of bed and into the shower. I was excited to get to the show.

When I arrived at the show barn, Kimberly was just getting Vander tacked up. Pepper sat in the barn aisle beside Kimberly’s tack trunk.

“You’re just in time,” Kimberly said. “Our class is scheduled to start in 20 minutes.”

An hour later her class began. I didn’t mind the wait. For most of it I watched Kimberly and the others in the warm-up ring. The sun was warm, and the horses kicked up trails of dust as they trotted and cantered past one another. Leaning against the ring’s wooden railing, hypnotized by the hoof beats, I felt like I was worlds away from everything.

Kimberly’s hunter-jumper classes were held in a large indoor arena. Her classes at these local shows had grown considerably. A lot of former “A” show riders were saving the cost of the “A” show travel, board and entry fees; they were sticking with the smaller, closer and cheaper local events.

It meant that Kimberly was competing against some very accomplished riders, and our economical Vander was up against some $50,000 mounts. It also meant that Kimberly and Vander would have to be perfect to place.

All of Kimberly’s classes went well. I clapped and whooped when she finished her courses. I snapped a few pictures of Kimberly and Vander jumping. They performed better than ever, but it wasn’t enough for a ribbon.

It was, however, enough for Vander to get some treats. I suspect he prefers treats to ribbons anyway.

“Vander and I may have come about as far as we can,” Kimberly commented later. “He’s not a fancy horse, but he’s got a lot of heart and enjoys the shows.”

Vander wouldn’t be going anywhere soon–if ever. Even if we could find a more graceful athlete at a good price, neither Kimberly nor I could imagine the farm without our moody-but-dependable Vander.

After a romantic dinner of ham sandwiches, chips and canned beer, Pepper, Kimberly and I lay on the air mattress in our horse trailer’s dressing room. Kimberly and I recounted our favorite stories about Vander.

We laughed about the first time I met Vander during a visit to North Carolina, not long before I moved from Colorado. I rode him on a short trail ride during which he tried to buck me off. I stayed on, which made Kimberly think I might be a keeper.

We also giggled as I described seeing a fully-tacked, but riderless Vander run past the kitchen window of our old house. When Kimberly reminded me that was the time Vander ran off after throwing her into a poop pile, we laughed so hard that Pepper bounced right off the air mattress.

When Kimberly suggested that I stay the night I quickly accepted. Fortunately, I had thought ahead and left Hazel a big bowl of kibble in the barn. Also, the horses were turned out on good pasture, and I could easily get back in time to drop the morning buckets.

We fished a couple more beers out of the water in the cooler and walked to the barn. Vander was nodding off, but didn’t mind being awakened for more treats, pats and scratches.

When we returned to the trailer to go to sleep, Kimberly couldn’t get comfortable on the air mattress. Her discomfort turned into a mild attack of claustrophobia. Turning on our little camp light and opening the windows didn’t help. Before things got any worse, I suggested we move the mattress to the bed of the truck and enjoy a night under the stars.

Kimberly and I put a couple of horse blankets underneath the mattress to smooth out the truck bed, spread out a sheet and quilt, and tucked ourselves in. Pepper was skeptical and opted to stay in the dressing room. We would later recognize Pepper’s skepticism as great wisdom.

Above our bed in the truck was a beautiful sky full of stars. We took turns pointing out constellations for each other before we both drifted off to sleep.

I awoke several hours later utterly confused. My face and pillow were wet. I wondered if I had gotten too hot and sweated myself awake. I ran my hand across the quilt–it was wet. The stars were gone. We had been rained on. Kimberly awoke shivering.

She didn’t want to return to the trailer, so I exchanged our wet quilt for a dry, waterproof horse blanket and snuggled up next to Kimberly. She soon stopped shivering, and we both fell back asleep.

I was soon dreaming about my senior year in college. It was then I first got chicken pox. I was so itchy. In the dream, my friends tried to help by drowning me in Calamine lotion poured from giant bottles, and I floated out of my apartment on a pink river. I couldn’t get out of the river, and I couldn’t stop scratching.

When I awoke in the back of the truck I was uncontrollably scratching my face, neck and arms. It was still dark and the clouds had cleared, but it was insanely muggy. Despite waking up, I couldn’t stop scratching.

“You’re shaking the bed,” Kimberly mumbled, scratching her face and neck.

I turned on the camping lantern and leaned in with it close to Kimberly’s face. She opened her eyes wide, and we both let out a shriek. Somewhere a horse whinnied.

“OHNOYOURFACE!” we both exclaimed.

We leapt from the truck and scurried back into the trailer. By the light of the lantern we could see that our faces, necks and arms were covered with mosquito bites. Pepper studied us like she wasn’t sure who–or what–we were.

We had scratched ourselves enough that the bites were bright red and the rest of our skin was pink. Kimberly retrieved some ibuprofen, Calamine lotion and cotton balls from the trailer’s medicine kit.

We took turns dabbing each other with Calamine-soaked cotton until we both looked like kindergarten art projects gone wrong. Kimberly had miraculously overcome her claustrophobia, and I retrieved the air mattress and blankets from the truck bed.

We slept well for the few hours before the alarm on my cell phone woke us up. Kimberly and I were tired, but we had a good laugh when we saw each other’s pink-spotted faces. Pepper still seemed a little worried.

I arrived home with plenty of time to get the horses’ breakfast ready. When I approached the gate carrying the buckets, Ellie, Madison, Mandy and Justin stood motionless and silent. Their glances jumped from my face to my arms and back to my face.

“Well,” Mandy remarked dryly, “I always figured you for an Appaloosa.” The other horses exploded with laughter, whinnies and snorts. Ellie bucked. Justin fell over, his legs jerking with spasms of amusement.

“Wait,” Justin said, standing up. “What’s an apple-oosa?”

With that, the mares burst into another uncontrollable fit of whinnies and laughter. I just shook my head. They started to quiet down as I dropped their buckets. They began eating, but I could still hear giggling as I latched the gate and walked to the house. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so much laughter without saying a single word.

Hazel met me near the back door. She studied me for a moment before speaking.

“Wouldn’t it be ironic if I–a dog–called you ‘Spot?'” Hazel asked with a smirk. Nearby, Macy and Sascha stopped grooming themselves and giggled. “Am I right or am I right?” Hazel asked the cats.

All three were still laughing as I entered the house and closed the door behind me. I was tired, a little irritated and very itchy. I thought a nap might be in order. Besides, I wanted to be awake enough to cook something good for Kimberly when she got home from her show.

I observed my face in the bathroom mirror before undressing and crawling into bed. Jack and Pickles jumped up on the bed as I adjusted my pillow. They stood on either side of me and stared at my face.

“Go ahead,” I said impatiently.

“Go ahead and what?” Jack asked.

“Go ahead and say it,” I responded.

Jack and Pickles looked at each other. Pickles tilted his head. Jack shrugged his shoulders.

“We don’t know what you mean,” Pickles said. “We’re just glad you’re home.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”

I let my head fall back on the pillow and resisted the urge to scratch. The cats curled up beside me. I thought I heard Jack and Pickles giggle as I fell asleep, but I was too tired to care.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.

Read Jeremy’s other columns in’s Humor section.

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