Nate's Excellent Adventure

nate scotland.jpg

GHM recently posted some amusing horsie stories and encouraged the rest of us to do likewise.  Since so many of my own embarrassing or funny moments have already been described there, I thought maybe I’d share one of my personal favorites that you probably haven’t heard.  It involves my horse Nate while we were training with the British Horse Society in Scotland.

As regular readers here may know, our Scotland adventure may not have been all we dreamed it would be, but it did have its moments....

One of my favorites involved trail riding.  It’s not a particularly funny or exciting story, but it is just so classically “Nate” that I have to love it.  It’s probably my favorite story from that trip.  You see, the facility we were at was not just a top equestrian center in the area; it was also an exclusive resort.  And many of the hotel’s clients would pay a good deal of money for the privilege of getting on one of the centre’s trusty school horses and hacking out through the beautiful Scottish countryside.  They needed to have some riding proficiency and experience with horses, but these were not necessarily expert riders.  Our job as guides was not only to lead the ride, but also to take charge of any potentially dangerous situation, including wrangling misbehaving horses, keeping riders off the farmers’ land, heading off run-aways and helping riders with emergency instruction, etc..  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, one fine fall day a ride was scheduled and I was to bring up the rear in case anyone fell off or their horse made a break for home.  But on this day, there were no free school horses available, so the manager insisted I ride Nate.  I wasn’t sure if this was a vote of confidence on her part, ignorance of Nate in general, or the fact that she wasn’t going to give up and hour’s lesson money to free up a school horse for me.  It was probably all three.

Now, because the center was such a nightmare, Nate and I spent every free minute hacking out around the countryside by ourselves, not only because it was a spectacular place to ride but because we needed to get the hell out of there as often as possible.  I knew I could handle him and he could handle the terrain.  I just wasn’t sure he could handle a group ride – and in a position of responsibility, no less.

Nevertheless, we set off anyway, and the ride was going amazingly well.  The weather was fine, the scenery lovely, and the horses all well behaved, even during a group canter.  Nate was doing me proud and I began to think maybe my doubts about him had been unfounded and unfair.  He handled himself with confidence and ease, and remained steady at the back of the pack without getting strong or trying to catch up. 

About midway through the ride, we entered onto a sunken lane separating a barley field (freshly harvested) on the left and a cattle pasture on the right.  The rest of the ride had almost cleared the end of the pasture, but we were still trailing behind at the end, which had given the cattle enough time to take notice of us and get curious.  As the entire herd approached the wire fence as one, Nate’s eyes grew wide and his head got higher until it was nearly on my chest.  He was a coiled spring, but so far, no reaction.  I spoke to him and stroked his neck, and it seemed we would just make it out of there without an incident.  Until, in unison, the cattle all said “moo.”

This is when Nate lost it.  He began to run in place with a sort of spastic tap-dance, kind of like the one you do when you walk through a spider web.  As he did this, he began to run backwards at 50 MPH, as only a horse can do, in order to keep the fearsome mooing things within sight.   

By this time, the rest of the ride had stopped to see what all the commotion was about.  Nate, as he ran backward, seemed to have forgotten that we were riding along a sunken lane.  Behind him was the barley field, but about three foot above ground level.  So as he backed up, he hit the bank with his hocks and sat on it.  I thought that would be enough to deter his flight from the moo-monsters, but in his mind i guess he was running for his life at this point.  He reared up and back, flipping over on his side (and my leg) and flopped around like a fish out of water for what seemed like a half an hour until he had spun himself in a semicircle.  With his front feet now on top of the field, he lurched awkwardly to his feet (I have no idea how I managed to stay on for all that flailing) and bolted across the barely field for about 20 strides of mad galloping until I could rein him in, leaving foot-deep giant hoof prints in the freshly harvested soil.  

Of course, there was no getting Nate anywhere near the edge of that pasture again, so we rode out the rest of the way across the farmer’s field, jumped down off the bank and met the ride further up the road past the cattle.  When I turned to survey the damage, we had torn a sizeable swath across the field, and Nate was covered in mud as if he had just had a good roll in the pasture.  There was even grass stuck in his bridle and girth buckles, down the top of my field boots, and in my coat pockets.  He had managed to skin himself from the pasterns all the way up over his Achilles tendons on both hind legs.

For this fiasco, we had an audience of resort clients who were there to have a relaxing ride in the country, with us as their responsible leader.   They may not have had that, exactly, but at least they got a good show for their money!   For his part, Nate was an angel for the rest of the ride but, alas, we were never asked to lead another group...  I suppose it reflects badly on a facility when their guide horses get so scared when they see a cow they pee their pants and fall over. 

Poor Nate.  He is a spaz, but he’s my spaz and I love him. :-)