The weird and wacky stories of 2013

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Who says horses don’t have a sense of humour? A check through the Horsetalk archives reveals that our equine friends have given us plenty to smile about this year.

The curious thing is, we normally need a touch of zany human input to help weave the magic.

Warning! Fake zebra on the loose

Staff at a Japanese zoo took simulation drills to a new level in February, chasing down a zookeeper in a zebra suit to practise its techniques for recapturing escaped animals.

zebra-featSixty staff from Tama Zoological Park were involved in the exercise, based on a scenario in which an earthquake knocked down a stone wall around the zebra enclosure.

Yosuke Tanaka, 31, earned the right to play the part of the zebra, but, not content to simply recapture a zookeeper, zoo administrators kitted him out in the zebra suit.

Tanaka played the role with aplomb. He charged at staff trying to contain him with a net, knocking down and “injuring” a fellow zookeeper – which was also part of the scenario.

Eventually, the zebra-suited Tanaka was subdued with a fake shot from a tranquilizer gun and he crumpled gracefully to the ground, where staff successfully netted him.

The zoo was reportedly evacuated for the drill, which was declared a success.

In the past, the zoo has simulated the recapture of lions, gorillas and tigers, which must surely have kept local costume-makers busy.

Tanaka, who deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance, confessed that the suit was a little warm for a romp around the zoo.


Innovative uses for horse stalls!

The fake horse yard was a front for a massive dope-growing operation.
The fake horse yard was a front for a massive dope-growing operation.

The Horsetalk annual award for most innovative use of horse facilities goes to … a group of Canadian dope growers!

At a distance, it looked like a nice Canadian horse pasture housing a barked yard with lovingly crafted open-air stalls lined up along one side.

A closer examination revealed the whole setup was fake, designed to cover a sophisticated muiltmillion-dollar underground cannabis-growing operation.

The fake stalls were doing nothing more than disguising large vents used to keep the underground environment for the plants healthy.

“They were not at all usable,” Sergeant Lindsey Houghton, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia, told Horsetalk. “They just looked the part.”

“From far away, it looked like a very nice, quaint horse paddock and fenced corral, but in reality, when you got closer, it was constructed with plywood and was completely fake.”

Vent lids made from timber and aluminum were in the stalls where the horses should have been, which could be open and closed as required to regulate the environment in the bunker, Houghton said.

The marijuana growing operation in the bunker.
The marijuana growing operation in the bunker.

The bunker itself was located underneath the barked area of the yard. “It would have required a great deal of money to operate,” he said. “Its generating capacity would have been enough to run a small northern community.”

A total of 10,000 marijuana plants were seized during the operation across four rural properties.

“Experienced officers describe it as one of the most sophisticated grow-ops they have ever seen,” Houghton said.

To add a little spice to the tale, two men were arrested trying to flee on foot from the bunker as police closed in.

Houghton continued: “For the owners of these grows, it is all about creating an easy, untaxed, very lucrative income stream from the production of marijuana.”

In addition to the 10,000 marijuana plants, there was about 200 pounds of dried marijuana seized. The marijuana has an estimated value of $C5m million to $C10 million ($US4.9 to $9.9m).

The equipment used to produce the marijuana is estimated to be valued at $C1 million. Of note, each property was operated by a natural gas generator capable of providing power to a small town. Worth an estimated $C100,000 each, the generators had to be removed by a large crane.

Loveable rogue Socks is a true celebrity

No line-up of wacky stories from 2013 would be complete without Socks the moonwalking Shetland pony.

He took the online world by storm in February, with his short-legged digitally assisted dancing routine collecting 8 million views to date on YouTube.


The one-minute video, made by the London-based creative communications agency Wieden + Kennedy for British mobile phone company Three, carries the campaign strapline, “Silly stuff. It matters”.

The video was shot against the dramatic backdrop of the Shetland Islands and shows Socks moonwalking to the Fleetwood Mac song, Everywhere.

It was filmed at Eshaness, a headland on the northwest coast of the north Shetland mainland, and on Foula, an island west of the Shetland mainland.

Socks is now an international celebrity, appearing recently in a sexy Christmas woollen jumper.

Like all celebrities, the whiff of scandal is never far away. In June, it emerged that Socks was embroiled in a paternity case, having apparently swum across a small lake to befriend a mare, much to the chagrin of another Shetland stallion named Scamp.

“He most definitely has a real eye for the ladies,” owner Mari Williamson said. “He doesn’t need any encouragement.”

Williamson paid for DNA tests to ensure her bloodlines were kept correct. The results confirmed that Socks had not fathered a love-child.

Going clear at Badminton – forget the horse!

Should our equine friends ever go on strike, cross country courses will still have their place.

It transpires that horses aren’t necessary to complete them!

Mat Armitage takes a flying leap.
Mat Armitage takes a flying leap.

A video of Mat Armitage jumping around the Badminton course is enough to make an equestrian tired just looking it – and there is not a horse in sight.

Armitage is part of 3Run, a professional performance team which specialises in what they call the arts of movement, free running, martial arts and urban acrobatics.

Armitage, 22, from Basingstoke, is recognised for his powerful fast spins and rotations. He has a martial arts background and fought for the tri-service taekwondo team in 2009.

He was dared to jump the course by his girlfriend, event rider Amy Williams.

Armitage cleared all the jumps that were open to the public to walk on the final day of Badminton, but took four hours – somewhat longer that the 11 minute, 13 second time set over the 6km course for horses and riders.

Jumps ranged in size up to up to 4’9″ high and 6′ 6″ wide.


Horse drops a whopper in McDonald’s restaurant

The offending offering was captured by @hollysinar on Twitter.
The offending offering was captured by @hollysinar on Twitter.

This July tale comes from our “It seemed like a good idea at the time” department.

A woman was refused service in England on a Saturday night when she tried to take her horse through a McDonald’s drive-thru, so she ended up taking it inside the fast-food restaurant.

This caused a degree of surprise and mirth among customers until – you guessed it – some horse apples appeared on the scene.

The smell was apparently entirely unappealing to customers trying to tuck into their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders in the restaurant in Fountain Place, Manchester.

The boys in blue from the Whitefield branch of Greater Manchester Police turned up and the woman was issued a fixed-penalty notice for causing alarm and distress to customers and staff.

The branch reported on its Facebook page: “The staff refused to serve the woman due to company policy. The woman then took the horse into the restaurant, who ended up doing his business on the floor.

“The sight and smell of this caused obvious distress and upset to customers trying to eat, as well as staff members,” police said.


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