Seamus The Escapologist
In the summer of 1991, I was camped up in County Wexford. I was working on a number of organic farms, earning the money to buy myself a new horse. During the winter before, my mare had passed away, and I was stuck with a newly-built wagon until such time as I could afford a replacement.
Finally, in late summer, I’d saved up enough to buy myself a young piebald colt. He was a two year old stallion. He wasn’t exceptional as piebald’s went, and people wouldn’t be queuing up to breed from his distinguished pedigree, but his markings were good enough to think him worthy enough to remain a full stallion. I’d never had much fondness for geldings personally.
Although still young, he was placid natured and trained both to ride and drive, so he would do all that I needed of him. I named him Seamus after my father. My father had always been a hard worker, and I hoped for no less from my new stallion.
As things transpired, the colt turned out to be the laziest horse I have ever known, but that’s not the reason for this story.
Soon after buying him, I hitched him up to my wagon and set off. I’d been in Wexford for almost a year now and needed to blow the cobwebs from my mind. Having returned to Ireland the autumn before, I yearned to explore more of the country of my birth.
I’d hardly had the horse for more than a few days, but already I was getting a sense of him. I learned two things quite quickly. The first was his sloth-like nature, and the second was his ability to escape confinement. He was always too lazy to actually go anywhere when he escaped, but nevertheless, escape he did.
Halters inexplicable became unfastened when no one was watching, tethers uprooted, and gates miraculously opened. At first, I considered it coincidence. Perhaps I hadn’t fastened the halter properly. Did I shut that gate correctly? However, I soon became over-diligent in everything I did around my new horse.
Being a harness repairer by trade, I reinforced his halter with leather to stop it breaking. I even went so far as to tie up the loose ends with bailer twine, so that even I had trouble unfastening it. I started driving the half-shafts I used to tether him with, deeper into the ground so they wouldn’t be pulled free with ease. There is nothing more dangerous that a stallion roaming lose on a country road.
I bought higher quality chains and swivels that he couldn’t break. I carried a pliers around with me to give the clips an extra tightening when I staked him out to graze, to make sure that they would not – could not – come free on their own. Eventually, I procured a mountain climber grade double clip to stop him escaping his bindings.
He was an escapologist, but I was confident that I would win out in the end. When tethering him to a lamppost, I would use intricate knots that could not be undone by idle lips or teeth. This meant that I would not have a quick getaway, but it also meant that I wouldn’t find my horse and cart gone when I returned from the shops. He was safely secured and could not do himself or anyone else any harm.
One evening, as I went over for a last check before bed, I found him gone. I’d given him a long tether rope, with a swivel in the middle, and a good 10 feet of chain leading to his halter. This way, there was no risk of him becoming tangled. If he got caught on chain, it would shake loose whereas a rope tether always had the risk of becoming ensnared. If caught up in rope, the animal could hard himself as the rope would have a tendency to tighten rather than shake itself loose. I tied his tether to a tree at the edge of the field, and we were in a disused factory with a solid gate leading to the road, so he couldn’t have got far.
I looked around for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Finding the tree I had used, I checked the rope. It was still attached, so I followed it. A few feet away it disappeared into a hedge. The hedge was dense, though thankfully not thorny. It was made of willow and alder, so although it was dense, it was penetrable. I could barely see through the dense foliage, but on the far side, I could make out some piebald shapes. There was a herd of Friesian cows in the field beyond. I pulled hard on the tether, and heard a snort from beyond the hedge. My stallion was still attached. He might have escaped the field, but he hadn’t escaped my tether. I could just about make him out through the thick foliage, standing on the bank at the edge of the field. I pulled harder and heard his snort of protest. He didn’t want to come back through the hedge.
By this time it was getting dark, and it was a long walk around to the entranceway of the next field, to say nothing of the risks of walking a horse at night along a busy road, so I made a decision and pulled harder. He tried to resist, not wanting to leave the field, but I was having none of it.
“Listen mate, you got in there, so I’m sure you can get yourself back out the same way.”
Eventually, after a lot of huffing and puffing, he emerged from the hedge. Apart from a few minor briar abrasions, he was none the worse for wear and happily strolled over to drink some water from his bucket.
I untied him from the tree and used a half-shaft to tether him out instead, thus avoiding a repeat of the hedge-pulling the following morning.
I headed north for Ferns. A friend of mine was camped just outside of the town, and she had invited me over for a week or two before continuing my journey. She had a pretty mare that was in need of servicing and she wanted my stallion to run with her for long enough to tease her into season and service her.
My friend was camped at the edge of some forestry, and her black mare was running loose in about ten acres of woodland, with an old donkey for company.
Seamus greeted them both with youthful exuberance, eager to get straight to the task at hand, but the mare was having nothing to do with his adolescent advances and tried to kick and bite him whenever he came within range. He took rejection with good cheer and continued to court her despite her attitude. Eventually, he would wear her down with his charm.
We left them to it. She was unshod, so she was unlikely to do him any real harm. I was confident that with time, he’d figure out the intricacies of equine courtship.
Occasionally, over the next day or so, we would hear the odd squeal coming from within the woods, and at regular intervals the mare would lead her newly-enlarged herd back to the gates of the forestry to say hello, get a drink of water, and get a bit of human companionship.
On the third morning, however, the mare and donkey arrived at the gate without my stallion. We waited for a while, but there was no sign of his return so with some concern I set off to look for him. I walked the woods, calling out to the horse, but could find no trace of him.
I was assured that the woods were well fenced, and that my friend’s horses had never escaped, but that didn’t allow for my colt’s enthusiasm for escape, so I walked the perimeter looking for any possible gaps in the fence. I could find none. The two fields on either side were empty of horses and the field at the rear was full of cows.
I returned to the camp to get a bite to eat, and the kettle had not even boiled when a local farmer arrived.
“I think your stallion is in my field with my cows,” he advised. The farmer was well acquainted with my friend and was aware that I had brought a stallion around to service her mare.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll go and fetch him straight away.”
“I’d have brought him over, but I was afraid he might attack me. I have to bring the cows in to get milked shortly, so I thought I’d better come over and get you.”
I assured him that the stallion was no threat to man nor beast, but apologised again and followed the farmer to his fields. His herd of Friesian’s were the ones I had seen earlier, and sure enough, standing happily grazing among them was none other than my Seamus. He gave me a happy snort of greeting and readily allowed himself to be led away.
The farmer pointed out that his electric fence had been pulled down in the corner of the field, next to the forestry. “Look at the marks on his chest,” he pointed out. “That fence is on high power. It must have smarted a bit when he pushed his way through. He dragged it half across the field with him.”
I could indeed see a thin marks where Seamus’s coat was singed by the electric fence wire. I apologies again and promised to block up the gap before letting the horse back out into the forestry.
Tying Seamus up, I set off into the forestry with rope and billhook in hand. Now that I knew where to look, I found the spot where my stallion had escaped. He had crawled down into the ditch at the back of the woods, pushed his way beneath two strands of barbed wire, leaving some mane hairs behind in the process, and climbed out of the ditch on the other side, bringing the electric fence wire with him as he galloped away up the farmer’s field.
First, I repaired the farmer’s fence, and received a few jolts myself in the process. I then cut some young ash trees down and rammed then into the dirt of the ditch, securing them to the barbed wire and interweaving more brush to make the barrier impenetrable. Finally satisfied, I returned to camp and released the stallion.
The following morning, the farmer returned. “You’re horse is back out,” he informed me amiably.
I couldn’t believe it. How had he made his way through my barrier? Could he have found another weak spot? I set off to collect him, with further apologies to the farmer.
Once this was done, I went to check the fence. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had forced his way through the ditch again, despite there being other places much easier to probe for his initial escape route. It had clearly taken some effort for Seamus to break through the meshing of tree limbs in order to get into the field beyond. I couldn’t understand why he would bother. There was plenty of grass in the laneways of the woods, so it wasn’t hunger. There was a big barrel of fresh water by the gate, so that ruled out thirst. Added to that, he had the company of other horses: well, a grumpy brood mare and a donkey, but still, surely that was better than a herd of cows.
It finally dawned on me. Seamus was a traveller’s horse and had spent his whole life in a herd of piebald horses. He was breaking into the field next door to be with the piebalds there. The fact that they were cows, rather than horses, didn’t seem to bother him. He felt at home there. Maybe he was short sighted.
I rebuilt my barricade, and further fortified it with my tether chain. I felt confident that he would not break through again.
I let my stallion back out, waited half an hour and then went to check. He was grazing in the neighbour’s field. Cursing, I went around and brought him home.
Once again I repaired the barricade, adding more wire and tree limbs. I felt confident that a hamster wouldn’t squeeze through the ditch, but allowing for Seamus’s stubborn single-minded nature, I went one step further. Attaching a piece of wire to the farmer’s electrified fence, I attached this to my barricade. The whole thing now sizzled with energy. The stallion would get an unpleasant jolt if he tried to force his way through the gap again. Seamus had used momentum to break through the electric fence before, but this time, he wouldn’t be able to. If anything was going to stop him, this would. If this didn’t work, I was at a loss to find another way to stop him breaking free.
I released him and stood by the gate, watching. He trotted off with a purpose and disappeared from sight. A few minutes later I heard a loud squeal of surprise. Shortly after that, Seamus came galloping back up the forestry track looking very unhappy with himself. The barrier had finally defeated him.
I managed to stay there for another couple of weeks without any further incident, well, apart from the mare kicking him into a bog hole, but that’s another story. He even got to lose his virginity, though not without a little help.