It's been another crazy year for horses

December 28, 2010

by Laurie Dixon

The most entertaining doping story of the year had nothing to do with a horse being drugged up at all.


Horsetalk's Mr Cutie award goes to tiny Einstein, a six pound foal who arrived in April.

News emerged on New Years Day that the common deworming agent, levamisole, was being added to cocaine.

A United States drug agency said levamisole was found in over 70 per cent of the illicit cocaine analysed in July.

A study in Seattle, Washington, found that almost 80 per cent of those testing positive for cocaine also tested positive for levamisole.

Hey, even horses don't take much levamisole! It doesn't work so well in equines and has a narrow safety margin, so it's mostly cattle, sheep and pigs that get a regular dose.

Authorities are unsure why it is being added. It could be used as a bulking agent, while another theory suggests is it augmenting the effects of cocaine.

Whatever the case, don't expect your cocaine-using friends to have many parasites.

• The 1972 movie, "The Godfather", taught us all what it means when you wake up to find a horse head in your bed.

It seems the message is so clear, that even sending a toy one can land you in hot water.

In January, a New Jersey man ended up in his local county jail for hand-delivering a packaged toy horse head to the West Deptford office of state Senator Stephen Sweeney, president of the New Jersey State Senate.

Perhaps he was "toying" with the senator. Perhaps not.

• The year was not without its innovations, and Horsetalk's Invention of the Year Award goes to .... the humble manure fork.

Well, not just any old manure fork. We're talking about the Shake'n Fork, powered by lithium ion batteries to enable it to shake itself after every scoop of poop.


Shake'n Fork inventor Joseph Berto and equine friend Conquest.
The "auto-sifting technology" is the brainchild of Equi-Tee Manufacturing's Joseph Berto, who developed the new tool.

The operator holds the fork handle in the usual way and by depressing a variable speed trigger switch, moves the electrically powered tynes, which agitate 30 times faster than what can be done manually.

• If you think vet care is expensive enough, spare a thought for the hapless British victims of Russell Oakes, 43, who paid the full noise for veterinary care when Oakes wasn't even a vet!

The imposter bungled a pony's castration and was formally struck off the register of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Needless to say, he shouldn't have been on the register in the first place.

His elaborate subterfuge involved posing as a vet and a doctor. He admitted 41 charges of fraud and deception and was jailed in January for two years.

He had posed at first as a doctor and then supposedly undertook a fast-track course to become a veterinary surgeon during his 16-month ruse in northwest England.

Police believe he made around £50,000 through his fake services.

Oakes had even set up a veterinary clinic at Warren Fold.

Why would he choose a fake veterinary career? Perhaps he saw an advance copy of Forbes magazine in May, which listed the veterinary profession among the top 20 most profitable small businesses.

• The unsavory side of the horse-meat trade got a regular airing throughout the year, but nothing was quite as left-field as a takeaway outlet in Britain that offered zebra pizzas.

The Yummy Yummy Italia takeaway in Burnley's town centre also added crocodile pizza to its menu.

Owner Arash Fard got the idea for a zebra pizza when he saw frog's legs pizzas being offered in London.

He told local media in March he sold around 20 of the exotic offerings each week, with the meat bought from a supplier which sources the meat from responsible sources. The meat, he explained, was legal and legitimate.

• March seemed to be swimming month for horses around the world. A pony fell through a pool cover in Massachusetts and needed to be hoisted free in a harness.

Star, 10, fell into the deep end of the pool after escaping from his stable.

Firefighters from the Marshfield Fire Department cut the cover to enable Star to walk to the shallow end. He was sedated, after which he was lifted free.

Across the Atlantic, a 17-year-old horse in Essex similarly escaped from his stable and made straight for the nearest swimming pool.

Cunning firefighters pumped the water out of the pool and then built some steps from straw bales to provide a path to freedom.

It wasn't until April that things really got messy. A horse was found up to its neck in a slurry pit in Somerset and had to be rescued by firefighters.

Firefighters donned dry suits to enter the pit, and strops and slings were placed around the horse.


Einstein with owners Rachel Wagner and Charles Cantrell. © Mark Wagner
• Horsetalk's Mr Cutie award goes to tiny Einstein, a six pound foal whose April arrival had people flocking to see the pint-sized sensation.

It seems Einstein was in line to claim the record as the world's smallest foal.

Einstein was born at Tiz Miniature Horse Farm in Barnstead, New Hampshire.

Einstein is a miniature, but even for a miniature foal his dimensions are tiny. A more typical miniature horse would weigh three times as much and stand around 53cm (21 inches).

He showed no signs of dwarfism, nor was he a premature foal, having been born three days after his due date. Everything was in perfect proportion.

Go Einstein!

The Guinness Book of Records listed the smallest foal at nine pounds.

• The man British horse owners love to hate was in the news in May. Horse trader James Gray became a fugitive for a few days after failing to return to court for sentencing.

He was in line for some jail time over his treatment of horses at Spindles Farm, in Buckinghamshire, the scene of what was thought to be the biggest equine rescue operation in British history, in 2008.

Gray, 46, was caught by police at a routine checkpoint in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.

Gray was jailed for 26 weeks in his absence immediately after he did his runner, but when the courts finally caught up with him, he copped another two months' jail time.

Gray was also ordered to pay the SPCA £400,000.

• A furore erupted in July, with news of a donkey being strapped into a parasail and sent airborne over a Russian beach.

The donkey was braying in terror and one report suggested it made a difficult landing in the water and was in some difficulty when pulled from the sea.

The stunt was roundly condemned by the British-based charity, The Brooke, and animal advocate Brigitte Bardot.

Police investigated and Britain's The Sun newspaper dispatched a reporter, who promptly bought the 17-year-old donkey, named Anapka, announcing she would never parasail again.

However, questions later emerged over whether Anapka was the donkey that made the flight.

While The Sun delighted readers with its plans to rehome Anapka to Britain, and recounting her arrival at luxury stables in Moscow, a Russian tabloid claimed Anapka was not the real deal.

The Guardian newspaper reported the revelations, suggesting the Russian businessman who reportedly parted with Anapka for 70,000 roubles, or £1500, had "made an ass" out of The Sun.

The Russian-language tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda claimed the real donkey was named Manya, and she remained with the Russian businessman, Vasily Gorobets.

Gorobets was reported by The Guardian as saying: "I can't believe they didn't notice the trick. Manya's with me and I'm guarding her closely. I wouldn't give her away for anything."

While Donkeygate rolled on, pressure mounted on Russian authorities to mount a prosecution over the 30-minute parasailing ride.

• Two of the world's most famous dearly-departed horses were on the move in 2010.

New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, loaned the skeleton of mighty racehorse, Phar Lap, to the Melbourne Museum, where it was re-united with the champion's mounted hide for a special exhibition marking the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup. Phar Lap had won the great race in 1930.

In the United States, the treasures from the Roy Rogers Museum went up for auction, and the mounted hide of his most famous horse, Trigger, sold for $US266,500. The singing cowboy's Edward H. Bohlin parade saddle was sold to a British buyer for a remarkable $US386,500. His wife Dale Evans's famous mount, Buttermilk, sold for $25,000; and Bullet for $35,000.

The mid-year auction included more than 300 iconic lots from the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum.

• No crazy horse year is complete without at least one decent mystery - and what could be more mysterious than "Horse Boy"?

A man wearing a horse's head gained international publicity in June after his first appearance in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Google's Street View.

It was followed by yet another Aberdeen appearance, standing this time with a blonde schoolgirl.


Horse Boy made appearances on Google's Street View in July.
Horse Boy's motives were the subject of much conjecture. Was it a corporate publicity stunt or simply a middle-aged man having a little fun with Google?

• Mid-year saw a world-class sprinter pit his skills against a racehorse in a 100-metre charity sprint in Britain.

Welsh speedster Jamie Baulch took on a thoroughbred, Peopleton Brook, at Kempton Park racecourse.

But even with a 100-metre best of 10.51sec, Baulch was no match for his four-legged competition, trained by Brendan Powell.

Baulch started well, showing superior acceleration, but eight-year-old Peopleton Brook, ridden by jockey Fergus Sweeney, was well into his work at the 60-metre mark and the race was all but over.

Baulch confirmed afterwards he heard the approach of thundering hooves from behind and knew at that point the race was over.

Peopleton Brook swept past to win the race in a time of 10.06sec, about half a second clear of Baulch.

The race raised £10,000 for charity.

Baulch, 37, is one of Britain's best-performed athletes. He was twice the world indoor champion over 400 metres.

The race was reminiscent of the efforts of American sprinter Jesse Owens, who won four Olympic golds. Owens used to race horses for cash and proved able to beat them.

He revealed later that the trick was to race a highly strung thoroughbred that would be frightened by the starter's shotgun, resulting in a bad start for the horse. Owens said: "People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals."

Madonna can usually be relied on to make the headlines with a horse mishap, but not so in 2010. Madge stood aside for other celebrities to step in to the gun, with bone-crunching consequences.

First up was British television presenter Coleen Nolan, 45, who first found fame as a member of the girl group, The Nolans.

She broke fingers and injured her arm in trying to free a pony whose head collar was caught on a stable door lock. The pony reared and crushed her hand against the door.

She had gone to the aid of the caught pony while visiting an equestrian centre near her Manchester home.

She broke three fingers in all, and told local reporters she could hear the bones cracking during the incident.

She was followed by US actress Katherine Heigl from Gray's Anatomy, who was injured when she bailed out after her horse bolted during a ride on her ranch in Utah.

Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny in the hit TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory", also felt the bones crunching after a fall from her horse.

Cuoco, who lives in California'a San Fernando Valley, was hospitalised with the injury and had two metal bars inserted in her lower leg. Cuoco later revealed she was told before emergency surgery that she might lose her foot.

"It was the end of my lesson. I had been jumping all day ... at the end of the lesson my horse spooked and I wasn't really expecting it and I fell off. I was laughing and my trainer was laughing. It was all very silly.

"I was actually getting up but my horse was still kind of spooking. He was in the corner trying to get away from me. He leaped over me and landed on my leg."

Cuoco said she looked down and her foot was facing her, describing it as the "Exorcist of my foot".

She spent two weeks in hospital in a stay which included two surgeries. "For the rest of my life I'll be setting off metal detectors," she announced.


Roy Rogers' horse Trigger fetched $US266,500 at auction.
In September, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons broke his pelvis in two places when an Arabian mare bolted when he had one foot in the stirrup.

He got free - receiving a kick in the stomach for his trouble - but the damage was already done.

He had a two-hour operation to sort the broken bones and, while not terribly mobile, quickly resumed his governor's duties.

In December, Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung sustained "scratches to her face, neck and shoulder" when she fell from a horse during the filming of a Jackie Chan movie in Inner Mongolia.

• Horses and ponies copped more than their fair share of injuries from vicious dogs in 2010, so Horsetalk will simply provide the solitary account of a South African horse that "got one back for the Gipper", so to speak.

A pitbull chomped the pony, named Bertie, on his genitals.

A passerby prized the dog's jaws open with a stick and Bertie, not one to miss an opportunity, punted the pitbull squarely in the head.

The dog was nursing a nasty head wound, according to reports out of South Africa. Bertie was taken into the care of the Cart Horse Protection Association.

• Bertie was one smart cart-horse, but perhaps not quite in the same league as equine brainiac Lukas.


Lukas with his owner Karen Murdock. © Linda Walton

Lukas, 17, used his smarts to secure an official Guinness World Record.

The formerly down-and-out thoroughbred, who was no good on the track and showed little aptitude for dressage, managed to identify 19 numbers in one minute under strictly controlled conditions.

Lukas is an international equine celebrity and receives more than 100 emails a day.

Being a smart horse, he has minders to answer them on his behalf.

• Germany decided that horses are cool enough without tattoos.

A German wanted to tattoo the famous lips-and-tongue logo of the rock band, the Rolling Stones, on his white pony, but was banned from doing so by a court.

The court ruled it would contravene animal welfare laws by causing the pony unnecessary pain.

The owner intended to tattoo the famous tongue on the horse's right thigh, and one report said he had already shaved the area and marked the outline.

The court rejected the justification offered by the owner, who said he wanted to beautify the animal. The court noted the inability of the pony to understand the reason for the tattoo.

It also noted that the man wanted to make money from an animal-tattooing service.

You're out of luck, buddy.

• Firefighters have done sterling work all year helping horses out of sticky situations, but the annual Horsetalk Firefighters Award goes to the Devon and Somerset Fire Rescue Service for their dramatic rescue of ... a vet.

Two fire crews were called out in June after a veterinarian became trapped under a horse she had sedated.

Oops.