Have we got nudes for you: How cob Jack enjoys national fame
It caused an internet sensation this week when a man in his birthday suit went for a nocturnal gallop on Jack, but Mount Pleasant equestrian centre in Castlewellan has seen many a strange thing over its 50 years. Una Brankin reports.
Jack seems to have got over his shocking ordeal this week. In fact, he and his small friend Rocky are enjoying all the extra attention. It might have been a different story, however, if our photographer had been in the nude ...
Given a horse's excellent ability to remember, the four-year-old cob may never forget the sight of a middle-aged naked man - thought to be from Kircubbin - scaling the gate into his field and clambering onto his unsaddled back for a nocturnal gallop in the Castlewellan hills.
No one - even properly hatted-and-booted - had ever tried such a feat before on the untrained Jack, a 16-hand (5ft 4in) black-and-white stallion, who promptly bucked the unseemly rider off, leaving him moaning against a fence, with a dislocated shoulder and broken arm.
"Jack's a friendly horse - he'd be licking all round you if you came up him at the gate - but he's unbroken, so he'd throw you off if you jumped on top of him," says Patsy King, co-owner of Mount Pleasant equestrian centre, where the mounting occurred.
"We haven't got to the bottom of it yet - his lordship has not revealed himself.
"He's probably not local - you know how that would be, in a small town like this. I'd say he'll definitely be named at some stage though."
Patsy's son, Declan, an optician who lives beside the centre, was the first to be alerted to the nude romping on the hill above the stables, which was witnessed by three local youths.
"A young fella who'd heard the man shouting said he was from Kircubbin - there would be a lot of people from there camping around here, but usually fully clothed," says Declan (37).
"This guy is lying very low, but he could have started a new trend. We've had young campers jumping on horses before, but not in the nude."
There hasn't been such a buzz about Mount Pleasant since the time Transformers actress Megan Fox landed there for a jaunt in 2006, with her chauffeur and bodyguard in tow.
"We've had quite a few dolly birds here, but all the local lads were mad they'd missed this Fox one," recalls Patsy. "They were all on at me for not telling them, but according to our instructor here, Sharon, she was glad of a bit of peace and she wasn't that good-looking up close.
"I wouldn't know her from Adam and I'm a bit long in the tooth to be eyeing ladies, but if there's any inspired by this naked fella's carry-on here, good looking ones are very welcome. The only thing I'd recommend is a pair of boots and a riding hat."
The scene of last week's incident - beside some picnic tables - was rather more sedate for my visit on Thursday.
Against the scenic Mournes backdrop, Jack - so named after Father Ted's raucous housemate - and his mini-companion Rocky, posed happily for photographs in the sunshine with a shirtless local builder, and poked their heads through the ranch-style gate in search of treats.
Thickets of nettles and brambles on the edge of the surrounding forest prevented me from exploring to find them something to munch on - and I hope the midnight rider didn't attempt to, in his state.
There are suspicions, however, that the mystery man could have been nibbling on one of the more exotic breeds of plant in the woodland.
"He must have been on something to strip off and jump on a horse at that time of the night," says Mount Pleasant riding instructor Sharon Mitchell. "But it wasn't like he was some hippie guy - he was driving a BMW estate, apparently.
"He hadn't got as far as putting up a tent, but there was a ground sheet beside the fire he'd lit. It will all come out -it's only a matter of time."
Patsy was alerted to the incident when police, called to the scene by the three locals, asked for the keys to a gate on one of his fields. Worried that someone may have died, or had a stroke in the field, he followed the emergency services to the site.
"Apart from being nude, he looked a sensible enough sort of guy, in his fifties. He was lying beside the wall, completely starkers, and there was a policewoman shining a torch on him while the ambulance crew were treating him," Patsy laughs.
"There were only a couple of horses in the field, the other is a miniature so he obviously tried to get on the bigger horse.
"He was embarrassed all right, but I wouldn't say red-faced - he was a bit pale when he was being led to the ambulance with the blanket around him."
Although he'd be within his legal rights, Patsy has no intention of pressing trespassing charges.
"I was more concerned if the guy was all right. I phoned the police the next day to check and they said he hadn't been seriously hurt. He had been in pain, lying there, but it could have been worse."
"With an unbroken horse like Jack, there's a lot of work to be done, training him," adds Patsy. "You start off with weights on his back to ease him in. This fella went in at the deep end. It's hard to say if he'd drink taken - the police gave the car a brave good look over, anyway."
A grandfather of four, Patsy has run the leading equestrian centre, near Castlewellan Park, for 50 years. Following our coverage during the week, he has been interviewed by the BBC and has been contacted by the legendary Horse & Hound magazine.
Mount Pleasant is popular with families and the odd hen party, but not, generally, with nudists.
"There's always a few cowboy-types who come along, but plenty of filmmakers and directors and so on, too," says Patsy. "We had three flower power guys from San Francisco who came in the late 60s or early-70s - I thought they were hobos, but they worked real hard here and turned out to be from very wealthy families. It takes all sorts. They went on to become doctors and lawyers -they keep in touch with my mother.
"Then we've had young fellas from remand centres - one of them rode a horse into the trees and absconded, but he was captured a couple of hours later.
"There've been no real outlaws since, apart from this naked guy.
"That's a new one for us."
Rude, lewd and sometimes very painful
The earliest report of naked horse-riding goes back to Lady Godiva, an 11th-century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to a legend dating back at least to the 13th century, rode naked - covered only by her long hair - through the streets of Coventry, in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants.
The tag 'Peeping Tom', for a voyeur, originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom had watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.
Macho Russian premier Vladimir Putin has been photographed topless on a mighty steed, but not without his britches, and the stunning actress and horsewoman Bo Derek is reported to have indulged in a nude gallop or two with her late husband, director John Derek, neither getting hurt in the process.
Most naked prankers stick to Shanks' pony, such as Michael O'Brien, who famously streaked at the 1974 England v France rugby union match in Twickenham.
And the famous Erica Roe continued the tradition with a topless run across the pitch of the same stadium during the England v Australia match on January 2, 1982.
And in a nude prank, almost as painful as the nude Castlewellan horseman's, a young woman last year made sure she got painful revenge on her trickster boyfriend after he tricked her into believing he had put her dog in the washing machine.
Dominika Petrinova hit her boyfriend, Erik Meldik, where it hurts by sticking his bottom to a chair with a waxing strip. She had been furious at the shock she got when her hysterical boyfriend told her their dog Sam was in the washing machine, and burst into tears.
Although he assured her it was a joke, she got him back on his birthday by inducing him to strip and sit in a plastic seat - to wait a treat.
The results are there for all to see on YouTube.