We've had a beautiful spring here in Maryland. The past few years we seem to have gone straight from winter to summer, so this cool rainy period has been a welcome respite. Unfortunately, the wet weather has also been a boon to bugs?not nice for my horse Vinny and his sweet itch. It's the worst in years; he usually gets a small spot under his jowl and one on his girth line, but this year it's affecting his mane and the top of his tail, too. I've been treating it with cortisone and that's helped, but he's still very itchy and always very grateful for a good scratching. It never fails to make me smile as I watch his lips start to quiver when I get to a "good spot" and he arches his neck up and begins biting down with his teeth as if he's "grooming" me in return. (Thankfully he knows I don't appreciate his teeth on my skin!) Lately his pasture-mate, Wowie, has started crowding in and demanding his turn, too (even though he doesn't suffer from sweet itch). With one hand on each of their necks, I get quite a good arm and shoulder workout. I've never seen Vinny and Wowie groom each other, but I've been able to gently guide Wowie's teeth into helping me groom Vinny's mane, too. I'm sure our little grooming circle probably looks quite funny, but it certainly seems to make them happy! As soon as I come to the fenceline, they walk over for their evening scratching. In the past, I'd whistle and Vinny would raise his head ? debating whether or not it was worth it for him to trek ALL the way over to the fenceline to greet me. The crumple of a cellophane peppermint wrapper might convince him, but he doesn't even hesitate now. I read that scratching an itch doesn't involve just the skin?it also affects the spinal cord and the brain. There are some nerves in the human spinal cord that are itch specific, believe it or not! Scratching is essentially a reflex action that is controlled by the spinal cord and it reduces brain activity in the areas that are linked to unpleasant sensations and memories. No wonder it feels so good and helps the four-and two-legged herds bond together! These evening scratching/bonding sessions remind me of one of my favorite poems: Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness. They have come gladly out of the willows To welcome my friend and me. We step over the barbed wire into the pasture Where they have been grazing all day, alone. They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness That we have come. They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. There is no loneliness like theirs. At home once more, They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, For she has walked over to me And nuzzled my left hand. She is black and white, Her mane falls wild on her forehead, And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist. Suddenly I realize That if I stepped out of my body I would break Into blossom. ~James Wright, "A Blessing"