By Jan Siegel
Last year, Kathy Holman, president and founder of Otras Mas—which rescues and rehabilitates aging horses and trains them as therapeutic horses—sent me an article about the relationship between local horses and the return of the swallows. It is a little-known fact that makes our community celebration even more special and another reason for enjoying our non-motorized, horse-driven Swallows Day Parade.
“Horse people love spring in San Juan Capistrano for many reasons, such as longer days to ride and beautiful comfy weather,” the article said. “Unfortunately, along with the spring weather come pesky insects, but there is something very special about San Juan Capistrano, the swallows.”
“Not only do the swallows mark the change of the season, but they offer natural insect control services for our horses. Each year along the creeks, there is an invasion of gnats, mosquitoes, and flying termites,” the article continued. “They have a life span from 3 to 5 months, and the females can produce 100-300 eggs per batch. Gnats and the other insects are considered nuisance pests in the horse world.”
“They are bothersome and can cause the horse to stomp, rub, and constantly switch its tail, which alerts us that thy horse is anxious,” the article said. “For our horses, the overabundance of gnats can be more than just annoying; they can cause weight loss and stress, which compromises the horse’s health.”
“The skin reaction to a gnat bite is called sweet itch and is very hard to manage. The gnats congregate around the eyes, ears, and nose,” the article said. “Horses can be irritated to the extreme by these pests. Although gnats aren’t known to transfer any diseases to humans, they can cause stress and are an annoyance.”
“Even more seriously, spring brings mosquitoes that can spread the Zika virus, West Nile virus, chikungunya virus, dengue, and malaria. And we all know the damage termites can do.
“Our horses are more than happy to be wiped down with pesticides, but in San Juan Capistrano, we have a natural way to control these pests and maintain peace in our neighborhood: our swallows. The swallows love the insects that horses and humans consider pesky.
“Our responsibility as horse owners is to keep our horses healthy, safe, and comfortable. A single swallow can consume 60 insects per hour or a whopping 850 per day.
“That’s 25,000 fewer insects per month that might have bugged our horses. These slender little birds provide us with this free insect control without us having to buy anything or use chemicals.
“The springtime return of the swallows conveniently coincides with the horse shedding season, too. During horse grooming sessions, the swallows collect and begin recycling horsehair into nesting material.”
It is almost like the horses are saying thank you to the swallows for eating the annoying insects.
You can spend a “Moment in Time” enjoying the return of the swallows and all of our community activities. Keeping San Juan Capistrano the horse capital of the west is certainly being helped and aided by our swallows, which return every year to do their part for our community.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.