Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tuscan Wildlife

Last night as I drove home from a friends house a little before midnight, I was suprised to see so many foxes out on the road. One zig zagged in front of my car like a drunken teenager, even skipping and throwing his back legs in the air as if he was giving me some sort of sign that this was his territory. Further on another fox cruised over the road and turned to look straight at me. Then instead of disappearing into the scrub, he walked the road as I drove slowly beside him – he wasnt at all bothered by the car, and only ran off when another car came in the opposite direction at speed.
Living in rural Tuscany, coming across wild animals after a night out is a fairly normal occurance. Usually on these roads it is fox, wild boar, badger and porcupine that I see most often, but neighbours tell of seeing wolves roaming the old White road near Castellare di Tonda.

This road is currently closed to cars due to a landslide; but we still frequently use it on horseback. The farm along the side of the road has a flock of sheep and goats and a large herd of cattle. The stock are protected by big maremmano sheepdogs, but every now and then a lamb will wander too far from mum, or an old sheep will distance itself from the rest. The elusive wolf is patient, and these unfortunate cases are those that become his prey.

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Other animals that we see frequently on our rides, are deer (Fallow, and whitetail’s) as well as squirrels, buzzards, snakes and lizzards. Rarer still are beavers and badgers, and the rare speckled salamander that lives in the canyon bordering the castellare property.

The land between Castellare and Castelfalfi reserves is now a protected park, where guests can take enjoyable shaded walks down through a seriers of maintained trails; and even try and spot the salamander in his habitat. We ride these trails too; and we are so lucky to have them when its hot.

I often remember areas where we have ridden in the past where the picturesque Tuscan landscape (sparse olive trees and vineyards) can turn into a fierce and unforgiving terrain to cross by horseback. The lack of shade, and the flies make for a fairly torturous ride. Luckily we now have the option of the dozen or so trails in the Carfalo torrente park.  Below you can see the difference from riding in May and now…

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African Heat Wave Hits Italy

Did you know that the frequency of a Cicader’s chirping varies according to temperature.

Its actually possibile to gage the temperature by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds and then adding 37 (for degrees farenheit that is).

As I write this post, the Cicaders are chiping so fast outside that I cant even count the chirps they make in 15 seconds. and the heat outside is stifling and oppressive to suit.

Interestingly, a chorus of cicadas can reach volumes greater than 100 decibels, a noise that is louder than your neighbours lawnmower.  The cicada’s group chorus repels birds that hunt by day and they usually quiet their racket when the sun sets.

According to the news today, this week may be one of the the hottest of any during the summer. Italy is expecting a heat wave stronger than any other in the past 10 years.

High daytime and evening temperatures, high humidity, intense sunshine and lack of wind will make the area seem like a virtual sauna bath.

Our horses are all now well used to the Tuscan heat, and are worked only in the mornings and evenings when the weather is cooler, but we are still constantly alert to the possibility of the non sweating syndrome of Anhydrosis: in which the horse has problems cooling off after work (heat overload).

There have been cases of horses dying at hot events or races due to this sydndrome, and I am Always on the lookout for horses looking distressed after rides. Horses out in heat over 33 degrees without shade will start to suffer from the heat. Whilst many people think a sweated horse means he is stressed, in extreme heat this is a good sign, whereas a horse with a dry or slightly patchy coat is a sign that his own personal cooling system may not be coping. This is a cause to worry. Some horses with age (like people) loose the ability to cool there bodies down.

Horses do have special  ways of dealing with heat overload and one of these (much like camels) is for them to push a certain amount of the heat into fluid in their hindgut (called heat sink), for later heat shedding in the cooler hours of the evening. Basically they hold the heat during the day, and release it when the evenings turn cool just as camels in the dessert do.

One of the nicest ways to cool our horses down is to take them swimming in our lake.  Kiss, the quarter horse in this photo really loves to swim, and during this photo shoot took me far deeper than I originally planned to take him (how to clean a saddle….).

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Tuscan Sunset Images

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As we head towards the end of July, the season has picked up considerably here at Castellare di Tonda. The stables are closed today allowing the horses a well deserved day off.

We have had a busy spring season, and now most of the trail horses will only do a couple of short rides a day due to the heat. We start out long rides again at the end of August when the weather is cooler again.  We have a busy second half of the year, with a full workshop for Christiane Slawik, with an interesting bunch of people hailing – literally,  from all over the world.

We have a new horse in the stables. Brownie, a gentle natured 15.3 hh quarter horse gelding. He is a sweet and handsome boy, comfortable to ride, and easy going with the other horses. Il try and get some nice pics of him to put up soon.

For now, a nice pic to end this post of the pretty sunflowers currently in  bloom near Peccioli. So very summery!

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