Nate's Excellent Adventure

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. :-)


  1. Poor Nate..he was sure that the cow's were really "equi-eat-a-me's".. those dangerous monsters that lurk behind corners and such!

    One of my horses did something like that and we ended up swimming in a lake.

    Enjoyed visiting your blog!

  2. Nate is special, no getting around that fact. I'm glad you weren't hurt, but I would have loved to see the reaction on everyone's face just watching this spectacle. A very funny incident for sure!

  3. Very funny - especially since it turned out OK!

  4. julie - in a lake? that has to be a good story! thanks for visiting :-)

    ghm - we did get some looks! it's not easy being nate... but he does it with style!

  5. Nate is a character and you are clearly an amazing rider to have stayed with him through that escapade!

    I have heard that Keil Bay does beautiful pirouettes when encountering wild turkeys - wonder what a herd of cattle mooing in unison would elicit? :)

  6. wild turkeys would make anyone frwak out a little, especially if they're talking ;-) maybe we could invent a new form of wildlife dressage complete with turkey pirouettes and cow caprioles...

    turkeys are one monster nate has yet to face, but it would be interesting to see!

  7. LOL - I could so relate to this. It might have been my Fame, for sure!!

    Wonderful story, felt like I was
    there with you. Must have been some story to tell for the paying customers too!

  8. Lovely story - thank you for sharing.

    BTW- it's great reading your blog again, I hope to read more soon!

  9. I had to come back and add this today - finally with the sun out the horses made their way all the way to the bottom of the front field - where Keil Bay came face to face with three gigantic "snow balls" my kids and husband made and lined up in a row.

    He was standing there like a deer in the headlights, gawking at this bizarre white "creature." I went out and told him it was snow and he did the equine equivalent of a shrug and proceeded to graze. LOL.

  10. mel - thanks for visiting again. i'm trying to get my act together and post more.

    billie - i can just picture it - too funny :-) nate is famous for the cool shrug after a goofy moment, too. "who me? i wasn't scared, i was just making sure YOU knew it was there."

  11. Sounded like fun, I`ll pop back now and then, see how Nate is getting on!

  12. thanks! he is quite the character, and i'm sure we'll have more fun stories once i can get him back into work. it's been a tough winter :-\

  13. I realize I am somewhat late, but have just encountered your blog and finding it facinating reading. When I spotted this I had to tell you about my usually mild and bomb proof TB (yes, I know it sounds an oxymoron) when a number of riders behind us on a hack got out of control. I heard them coming and had dismounted so when three riderless horses came galloping past us I was on the edge of the road with a firm grasp of the reins. Harry, my normally sedate TB, was inclined to join them and sort of cantered a very small circle around me until he hit a patch of mud and fell over. He was lying there scrabbling in the mud looking surprised, I was standing there holding my now loose reins wondering what on earth I should do, and the last mounted party in our trail ride was screaming blue murder as her horse took off with her down the hill towards home. By the time everyone stopped looking into the distance where she disappeared over the next rise, Harry had regained his feet and was standing next to me, quite placidly. No one believed me he had fallen over until I turned him around and showed them his mud covered side, complete with grass stuck to the saddle.
    Those of us remaining got back on, gathered up the rest of the group and headed (sedately) home. Thankfully no horse or human was injured.

    Thank you for so many insightful posts. I look forward to reading more in future!

  14. tansy - thanks for stopping by! that sounds like an exciting ride! harry sounds like such a good guy :-) i once had a similar thing happen when i was on a trail with mellon, my fearless trakhener, heading back from the beach, only i didn't have quite your control of the situation :-\

    we had dismounted at the beach and my friend's horse got away from her and made a break for home. well, mellon wasn't going to be left alone in that scary place, so he took off after his buddy, but there was a road to cross at the end of the trail and i was determined not to let go of him. i couldn't stop him no matter what i tried, so i just tried to keep up as best i could, clinging to his neck or running along side of him at his fast trot, dodging trees and ditches along the narrow trail. but i ended up getting dragged for a good portion of the trip, including through a nice gooey salt marsh. i came out the other side and out of the woods and stood there in the middle of the road looking like swamp thing ;-) but i managed to hang onto him all the way home!


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