A weird and wonderful year for horses

December 11, 2008

by Neil Clarkson


A filly named Gracie found herself in a sticky situation this year.

Confucius once said that if you put people and horses together for long enough, there's bound to be trouble.

OK, it may not have been Confucius who said it, but I'm absolutely certain someone has uttered words to that effect.

Horses and people have come together in their usual crazy way during 2008 and it's time to look back at just how weird and wonderful that relationship has been.

What a year! Horses have copped the blame for everything from Madonna's divorce to providing bad press for a US presidential hopeful.

Several incidents have proven that alcohol, horses and people never mix - and it doesn't matter who is doing the drinking.

A pony with the unlikely name of Fat Boy got a little tipsy on fermented windfall apples in Cornwell, England. He staggered across someone's garden and fell in a swimming pool. Fat Boy fortunately ended up in the shallow end and found his rescue by a bunch of firefighters a sobering experience.

People who have a few too many don't fare too much better when they decide to ride their horses. Curiously, most of these tales seem to come out of rural Australia.

One such Aussie battler thought he was doing the responsible thing by taking his horse instead of a car for a night on the town. The evening went well until the trip home, when the 22-year-old found four police cars and 10 police officers tailing him. He ended up in court and was fined $A900 for riding a horse drunk.

He had a few words for the media, ruing the fact that he thought he was doing the right thing in taking his horse, and not a car. He added: "What damage can you do on a horse? Nothing really, just fall off, same as a pushbike; same as you can do walking."

Another Aussie opted for old-fashioned horsepower to get him to and from a pub in Windsor. The ride home was going swimmingly until the pair were wandering past a petrol station. His horse, called Donkey, decided it was time to fuel up and gobbled up two bunches of flowers worth $A20 each which were for sale on the forecourt.

The service station attendant got grumpy and tried to make a citizen's arrest and it all went downhill from there.

The moral would seem to be: take a taxi.

Some revellers appear to have an uncontrollable urge to manhandle police horses.

Slapping a horse on the backside is not a good idea at the best of times, but it's even more dangerous if it happens to be a police horse - complete with mounted officer. A Wisconsin man learnt that's an easy way to get your own butt into court for assaulting a police horse.

Another man in Florida did exactly the same thing, but with a closed fist. He similarly found himself in court.

Our final tale about horses and alcohol centres on Peggy, a British cart horse who was apparently partial to a pint with her owner, Peter Dolan, down at her local in South Tyneside.

Peggy would breast the bar with other patrons, enjoying not only a pint but a packet or two of potato crisps. Then along came a new owner and an expensive new refit, which spelt the end to her pub-going days.

Peggy still went to the boozer, but had to remain tied up outside. Perhaps they could build a beer garden in her honour?

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Horses can add a great deal of pomp to any occasion and what could be more dignified than having your coffin carried by horse-drawn carriage to your final resting place?

It generally goes pretty well unless there's an accident along the way, and that's exactly what happened in Suffolk, England.

It appears an overtaking car caused the horses to move off-course and the 100-year-old carriage hit some parked cars and overturned. The clatter of it all persuaded two of the horses that they would rather be elsewhere and they broke free of their harness.

The graveside ceremony was two hours late.

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Researchers have poked and prodded literally thousands of horses in our quest to learn more about them. It is entirely possible that a horse named Rex may well be a folk hero in the equine world.

He was chosen to take part in a Swedish study exploring night vision in horses. He was trained to distinguish between two colours displayed randomly in front of him, receiving carrot pieces each time he correctly chose green. The lights were gradually dimmed and Rex found the going a lot tougher.

In the end, it seems Rex wasn't too concerned about the carrot pieces any more.

"Rex totally lost the motivation for the experiment and after that chose randomly, even in tests in brighter light," the researchers noted.

Rex was retired to his paddock.

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Horses have a lot to answer for, so should we be surprised that some are blaming the divorce of Madonna and Guy Ritchie on a horse?

The British mass circulation tabloid, The Sun, quoted unnamed friends who believed it was Madonna's bone-breaking fall from a horse in 2005 - on her 47th birthday - that was the beginning of the end.

The material girl reportedly felt Ritchie was unsympathetic to her plight and did not show her the love and emotional support over the accident she felt that she deserved.

Later arguments often returned to the accident, which proved to be a turning point in the marriage - or at least so the story would have us believe.

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Now for the tale of Peter Rabbit, a 32-year-old horse who wanted to see out his days grazing quietly in a paddock in Hickman, Nebraska.

However, the suburbs have encroached on his home and town officials said Peter - the only horse left within city limits - had to go.

His owner said Peter was too old and suggested the council worry about other stuff. We're unsure of the outcome, but it seems in Hickman you were either for Peter Rabbit or against him. There was even a telephoned death threat against the mayor and a councillor.

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Thumbelina had a lucky escape from floodwaters this year.
Hurricane Ike delivered a major hit to parts of the United States and caused a good deal of distress to many animals. Floodwaters from the burst banks of a creek suddenly began swirling through a barn at Goose Creek Farm.

The barn happened to be home to Thumbelina, the world's smallest horse.

Thumbelina stands just 44.5cm tall at the withers and doesn't have a lot to come and go on when it comes to floodwater.

One of Thumbelina's caregivers rushed into the barn and found Thumbelina, sitting her on a very comfortable armchair to ride out the rest of the storm.

Once the waters subsided, Thumby took a dignified stroll to the Thumbymobile (her vehicle) where she could relax and dry out.

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Remember Mike Huckabee? He was in the race for a US presidential nomination for a while. He found himself in the gun over reported comments about a horsemeat dish, which he listed to a reporter as being among his favourite Dutch foods.

The anti-slaughter movement made mincemeat of Mr Huckabee, who might find it safer to stick to jellybeans.

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It gets cold in Russia and what horse wouldn't accept an invitation into the warm lobby of an apartment block? That's just what a kind-hearted passerby did and left the horse to it.

Unable to use the lift, the horse took to the stairs. While he proved skilful at going upstairs, going down was altogether too hard.

In the end, emergency services had to rescue him.

A Serbian apartment was also visited by a horse, but in rather more unpleasant circumstances. The block was evacuated over fears the bad smell through the building may be coming from a chemical spill.

A thorough check uncovered a dead horse in a 12th floor ventiliation shaft. "How on earth someone managed to get a horse's body 12 storeys up and why someone would put it there, we have no idea," a police spokesman said.

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Finally, the horse that got itself in the stickiest situation this year would have to be Gracie, who got her head hopelessly wedged in a tree.

Her owner took to the tree with a chainsaw. Gracie leapt up at the noise and freed her head, only to get one of her hooves caught in the gnarly old remains. It took another 20 minutes of careful chainsaw work to get her free.

The pair got their moment in the spotlight, with the saga even making a Fox News report.

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Wild horses from the Onaqui Herd near Dugway, Utah. © BLM
The fate of wild horses in the US has been in the news all year. There are now more held by US authorities in captivity - some 30,000 - than wander the rangelands.

The Bureau of Land Management, which is charged with their care, says it is running short of cash to care for them.

Madeleine Pickens, wife of Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, has stepped in and is looking for some land to buy where the animals could be turned out.

The bureau is interested in the offer if Mrs Picken can pull it all together.

If you've got a suitable spread of about a million acres, give Mrs Pickens a call.