09/14/2016 12:06PM

Hovdey: Some wild tales from small towns


We love small town news. Especially, small town animal news.

Late last month in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, reporter Ryan Masters got the story of a one-ton equine runaway who kept his people guessing for days.

“The desperado, a Clydesdale horse named Budweiser, or ‘Buddy’ for short, broke out of his pen in the area of Laurel Road near Highway 17,” Masters wrote. “He was busted out by his best friend, Lancelot, a Nigerian dwarf billy goat, according to owner Tamara Schmitz.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the issue of the billy goat – sorry, the Nigerian dwarf billy goat – and find out why it was so tough to catch a horse better known for hauling beer wagons at a dignified pace.

“Buddy’s very elusive,” Schmitz told Masters. “He’s not like other horses. He can stay hidden.”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to hide a Clydesdale. Wasn’t easy, was it?

“One of the neighbors heard him snorting across the ravine one night,” Schmitz went on. “The next night someone saw him at Redwood Lodge. But by the time we would arrive, we would only find his tracks.”

Let the record show that Buddy led a pack of volunteers on a five-day gallivant before he tried to blend in with a stand of tall manzanita and could not quite pull it off.

“When we got him back in the pen, he was particularly frisky and playful and happy,” Schmitz said. “I think he was glad to be back.”

Or taunting her.

This tale from Rich Landers of The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., is a few years old, but it doesn’t matter when you hear it for the first time:

“Erin Bolster of Swan Mountain Outfitters was guiding eight clients on a horse ride on the Flathead National Forest between West Glacier and Hungry Horse, Mont.,” Landers began. “The group included a family of six plus a vacationing northern California man, who’d booked the trip for his 8-year-old son’s first horse-riding experience.

“The young boy was riding Scout, a steady obedient mount, following directly behind Bolster, who was leading the group on Tonk, a burly 10-year-old white horse of questionable lineage.”

The ride was serene and the boy was enjoying his first horse experience when raw nature intervened. A white-tailed deer burst from the brush with a 700-pound grizzly in hot pursuit. The trail horses spooked away from the threat, although Scout made the questionable decision to bolt into the timber. When the deer sought cover among the other fleeing horses, the bear, a dedicated omnivore, shrugged off the deer and went after Scout.

Did someone mention it was the boy’s first ride?

“The boy was bent over, feet out of the stirrups, clutching the saddle horn and the horse’s neck,” Bolster said. “I screamed and yelled, but the bear was growling and snarling and staying very focused on Scout. I realized I had to get Tonk to square off and face the bear. We got its attention – and the bear charged. So I charged at the bear.”

Okay, how many people ever get to say that?

“Tonk and I had to go at the bear a third time before we finally hazed him away,” Bolster added. The boy “was fine, and I got my biggest tip of the season.”

Bears . . . nature’s way of reminding us we’re puny. Just last Friday, on the online version of the Hudson Valley’s Poughkeepsie Journal, correspondent Nina Schutzman quoted Pawling Fire Chief Everett White as reporting, “A man was taken to the hospital for observation after striking a bear with his Toyota Prius.”

The accident happened on Route 22 about 8:20 p.m. After it was struck, the bear “fled into the southbound lane,” according to White.

“The bear is gone,” White said. “All it left behind was some excrement on the front of the car. The driver was not seriously injured, but he was transported to the hospital for observation – his airbags deployed.”

“The driver” was former jockey and current NYRA and Fox Sports broadcaster Richie Migliore.

“They were surprised I was able to walk out of the car,” Migliore said two days later. “I thought I broke my collarbone, but I guess it was just bruised. I’m swollen and bruised where the air bag hit me in the chest and face. But I was lucky. It was like hitting a wall. The car was totaled.”

Migliore was 15 minutes shy of making it to his farm near Millbrook after working Belmont’s opening-day program.

“Around here, you expect to hit a deer once in a while. But the bear thing’s kind of got me blown away,” Migliore said. “I mean, who hits a bear? I saw ‘The Revenant,’ and I’ve seen them when I’m hiking. But this was way too up close and personal.”

Migliore survived all manner of injuries during a 30-year riding career in which he won 4,450 races, most of them in New York. He was forced to retire in 2010 when old neck fractures needed new surgery, making the risk of another fall too great.

“Look, I lost 10 pounds doing nothing but working the Saratoga meet this summer,” Migliore said. “If I survive hitting something else, and lose weight this easily, a comeback could be imminent.”