Notes From The Coast

The beach does funny things to the brain

Don’t call him a pony.


At first, people stare. It’s not every day you see a grown man traveling in a dinky cart drawn by a miniature chestnut-colored horse down the posh streets of the East Bay neighborhood of Crestview, California. Not unless there’s a parade going on. Which there isn’t.

Normally, I drive a Prius. Not because I want to. I hate Priuses. But because “it makes sense,” according to my wife who drives our Mercedes SLK 250. We also have a Ford Explorer, a much more definitively manly car. But we also have a teenaged daughter who is much safer driving a vehicle like that. So, the Prius is how I get around. That is, when I’m not in my little horse cart hauled by “The General.”

Originally his name was “McLovin’.” The owner, a stoner from Humboldt county who had a buzz on homegrown herb called “Outdoor Church” and an affinity for the movie Superbad, deemed him so when his uncle talked him into trading a pound of product for the miniature horse. Our daughter, for whom this animal was intended, mercifully did not get the reference. So, his name then became “Bandit.” A proper, friendly, western-y type horse name. That lasted for about two weeks until our diminutive horse started getting surly around the other full-size horses. That’s when the entire stable staff started calling him “The General.”

My wife and I (and by that I mean myself, alone, with no other financial help) spend a small fortune for horse room and board. Lately, the staff at Roughriders Stables called us to talk about The General’s attitude problem. He’s ornery, selfish and an overall asshole to the other horses. He somehow breaks into the other stables and eats the other horses’ food. This feat requires unlatching not one, but two “horse-proof” gates. The stable hands have no idea how he does it. I personally think this also makes him a genius. I’m considering teaching him how to talk. This is a testament to our relationship from that first contentious day.

About a year ago, my sweet fifteen-year-old daughter started to develop a love for horses. Showing the first signs of interest in anything beyond and Snapchat, my wife and I leaped at the chance to foster a good, old-fashioned hobby for her that didn’t require a Genius Bar appointment or contraceptives. We bought books on horses, horse figurines, and ordered every horse-themed DVD on Netflix. A friendly warning here: Repeated viewings of My Friend Flicka will drive a man to drink a half bottle of Scotch in one sitting. So, I suppose looking back on it now, it seemed inevitable.

My wife started secretly trolling horse auction sites. It didn’t help that California Chrome was all over the news. An unassuming stable in Central California had sired a horse with an obscure bloodline. He was sold for a pittance in the Thoroughbred world. Yet, the horse turned out to be a champion, winning the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness. The Triple Crown was in his sights. Deemed “The People’s Horse” for his humble beginnings and astonishing success, California Chrome had given unknown breeders a brand of hope they had scarcely experienced before. And sent my wife on her own determined search for equine greatness. However, Anne claimed that her search was altruistic. Our daughter was having a tough time in school. Anne reasoned that pets could help a child through the tough teenage years. I rebutted that surely a guinea pig could offer the same comfort or even, and I said this with all the trepidation that comes with a future of hairballs and Fancy Feast barfed up on my carpet, a cat. But it was too late. They were leaving that Saturday morning to drive two hours north to “take a look” at a horse. I strongly protested. I stated that a horse was not practical in any sense. The work. The money. The commitment. Didn’t these things live to be, like, thirty? I stood strong and put my foot down.

But I think we’ve already established that I had no real control over my life.

Three hours later, I get a call from my wife.
“Hi. We bought a horse.”
My anger at being patently ignored put more force in my voice than normal and I was surprised to hear myself bellow, “God damn it, Anne!”
“Oh calm down. It’s a miniature one.”
I think she felt that because it was not a full-size horse, that this was some kind of warped compromise.
“We are NOT getting a pony!” I bellowed louder. The line remained eerily silent. Maybe the bellowing had worked.
Finally she said in a clipped, indifferent tone, “Don’t call him a pony.”
And then she hung up.

Frustrated and utterly dismissed, I angrily tapped the finicky call back button on my iPhone and waited for her to answer. At the last possible ring, she picked up.
“I AM NOT going up there to get it,” I said, hoping this would thwart her plans.
“Fine,” she said. Her voice had an unnerving calmness to it.
I waited for more. An explanation or instruction or cue, so I mimicked her, “Fine?”
“I got it covered. I don’t need you.”
Stinging words for any man to hear as it strikes at the heart of our greatest fear; that deep down women believe we’re only good for siring children. Or opening pickle jars.
Resigned, I finally said, “Anne, you cannot get that horse home without my help and a trailer. Don’t get any crazy ideas.”
She hung up again.

She had no trailer, no bona fide or legal horse carrier in her possession. But Anne had an idea and a strain of genetic stubbornness that was rivaled only by the deep, momentary lunacy this act would take. My wife, an educated, decent, mannered woman of privilege descended from Texas oil money, decided that the best way to get this shrimpy horse home was to drive it there. In the back of our 2009 Ford Explorer.

Given its small stature, the theory was that the miniature horse was going to lie down in the back, like a Great Dane. It would buckle its knobby knees, and nestle into the horse blanket and have a lovely ride south. But that’s the thing about theories. The horse did not lie down. There was no nestling. Anne could not bully this animal into doing what she wanted. She had effectively met her match. The only more poetic turn would have been if it had been a miniature bull. The horse stood there, cramped, terrified and angry as hell in the back of the Ford Explorer riding at a steady 55 miles per hour for 113 miles down the I-5 freeway.

Now, any Californian can tell you that driving a torpid 55 miles an hour down the I-5 freeway is taking your life in your hands. Big rigs barrel down on slower travelers, they honk, they swerve, they go screaming by while flipping the bird. The big rigs own the road on the I-5 as it is a major trucking route from the fertile farming communities of the north to the ever-demanding masses of Los Angeles. Driving with the flow of truck traffic, which is somewhere near the speed of light, is well advised.

But Anne had no choice. The horse wasn’t steady enough for them to go any faster. It wasn’t long before a pair of big rigs barreled down, one on each side. The horse, rightfully sensing imminent death, came unglued. He let out a panicked whinny and then his squat legs kicked hard at the back of the SUV. The rear window shattered just as another Semi roared by letting out three thunderous horn blasts.

And then all hell broke loose. Anne and my daughter first heard what sounded like a garden hose on full blast as the distinct and overpowering smell of horse urine permeated the cabin of the Explorer. Anne tried to roll down the windows but the noise only made the animal freak out further. In fear, or perhaps in protest of its horrifying circumstances, the miniature horse let loose its bowels in a slurry across the entire back of the SUV. Fresh, runny, and hay-scented yet foul smelling manure dripped from the walls and remaining windows. It started to congeal all over the back seat. Gagging and sweaty, Anne blasted the air hoping that cooling it down would diminish the stinking horror in the back seat. Impervious to her circumstances, she continued down the I-5 toward Crestview on what would become the worst road trip in living memory. For the humans, and the horse.

It was then that I received a text from my daughter with five of the most powerful words I’ve ever read. Words that would delineate a shift in my world as I knew it.

The text read, “Mom says you were right.”

The Ford Explorer has never recovered. It still smells faintly of horseshit but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind. She gallivants all over town telling her hilarious horse story. Although, she’s lost interest in the horse itself. This isn’t completely her fault. After all, it’s a miniature horse. You can’t ride it, or jump it, or show it. There’s really only one thing this horse breed was meant to do.

The General and I come to a stop at our local farm-to-table restaurant & wine bar. I step out of my cart and tie him up to the patio railing. The General starts munching on the sustainable local kale growing out of the flower boxes next to the entrance.
Horrified, a flustered waiter approaches us.

“You can’t tie up your pony here, sir.”

I look back and watch The General happily mowing through the butternut squash in an adjacent flower box.

Like a proud father, I tilt my head and say, “Don’t call him a pony.”