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Horseman. Passing By.

I encountered the Horseman in Laguna Beach riding along the Pacific Coast Highway. He was ahead of me moving at horse speed. The traffic, hurried as always, slowed to a pause and then pulled around him. As I pulled past him, I could hear the clip-clop of the hooves of his mount and his pack horse. I glanced into the rear view mirror after I got ahead of him and saw the blinking red and blue lights and heard the short bleep of a siren tapped once. The Horseman had been pulled over by the Laguna Beach police for an interview. I pulled in around the corner, walked back, and joined a group of citizens already watching this encounter.

The Horseman was riding to Texas. He said he’d started at the Canadian border. The cop asked him why he wasn’t driving. He said he didn’t have a truck and a horse trailer, just a horse, a pack horse and a dog. His plan was simply to ride the coast to San Diego and turn left until he got to Texas.

He had what he called a “shoulder pass” which he drew from his pocket and presented to the officer. The officer, being confused, was not even sure such a document existed and examined its molecular structure.

Then the Laguna Animal Control officer showed up. That officer informed the cowpoke that he did not have his dog on a leash. Something all good little citizens of California do as willingly as they carry bags of dogshit around in their hands.

The Horseman replied sensibly that his dog (named, I swear, “Dog”) knew how to follow along, and that if he put a leash on him from the saddle he risked strangling the dog.

“Horse goes one way, Dog goes another. Tough on Dog, officer.”

At this point, having been alerted to the Horseman, another police car showed up with another, but more senior, officer. He stood to the side a bit taking in what the situation actually was.

The animal control officer, failing to see the sense of not strangling a dog on a leash tired to a horse, began a hectoring lecture on the very special ordinances of the very special town of Laguna Beach, California. The Horseman stood motionless as the scolding went on. Finally the litany of banal cop-talk was interrupted by the senior officer who evidently had less patience for the Animal Control claptrap than the Horseman. After all, if you are riding a horse from Canada to Texas in the 21st Century, you are probably not in much of a hurry.

In short order, the senior officer informed the others that, regardless of the endless petty ordinances of Laguna Beach, what they were actually going to do was let this man continue on his way. Not only that, they were going to give him a police escort out of town.

I assume the senior officer looked into the near future of any other action. And in that future he saw the issue of providing transport for two horses to some undisclosed location as well as the dog, while they were arraigning the Horseman, was going to be far too much paperwork to contemplate. That and noting about 15 citizens gathered nearby, ready for a sincere chat with the city council probably gave him pause as well.

The Horseman had heard and seen it all before on the long road between Canada and Laguna Beach. He took “The Cowboy Way.” He rolled a smoke, nodded, saddled up, whistled to Dog and was escorted out of town.

That was all years ago and on another planet “in another country; And besides, the wench is dead.”

But I still like to think of the Horseman. I like to think he’s still out there making his way from Canada to Texas — via a left turn in San Diego.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • w barnacastle April 28, 2018, 10:34 AM

    Mr V, THAT is a very cool account! I appreciate you, and the tales you tell, Sir!

  • Terry April 28, 2018, 10:37 AM

    If that cowboy had ridden through this town, which he may have, no one would have even noticed. Highway 93 is Main street. One of the largest horse sales in the US is held here every April. Horses and cow boys/girls everywhere.

  • MOTUS April 28, 2018, 11:13 AM

    My heroes have always been cowboys
    And they still are, it seems
    Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of
    Themselves and their slow movin’ dreams”
    I’ve got to go play that song…

  • TN VOLUNTEER April 28, 2018, 11:33 AM

    …..Bye, bye Miss American Pie.
    Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.

  • Dr. Jay April 28, 2018, 1:08 PM

    Laguna Animal Control: Occam’s Principle of Limited Imagination. Great read by the way.

  • Patvann April 28, 2018, 1:38 PM

    I’ve read that every time it’s been posted. I die a little more every time.
    Today I “died a little ” more than I did before.

    May God bless the Horseman in all of us who remain.

  • ghostsniper April 28, 2018, 1:50 PM

    The American Cowboy, don’t get no better’n that.
    2 horses and a mutt, man, that would be the life.

  • Casey Klahn April 28, 2018, 3:22 PM

    That’s right. This is the end, plus a handful, of a hundred year waltz.

    Is this horseman story true? Be that as it may, only *California* could stand in as the mythical place of stupidity and intolerance. Of busy-bodies, bureaucrats, and misbegotten platitudes. Only the cowboy could symbolize legendary individualism, and lost dreams.

    No matter. In my mind, I’ll be living by the Code of the West.

  • Howard Nelson April 28, 2018, 3:45 PM

    Nice, nice, and clever too.
    Who’d have suspected free horses and Dog would
    mannap a cowboy and cajole him to be their mouthpiece for freedom.

  • Vanderleun April 28, 2018, 4:44 PM

    It’s true Casey. Took those photos on the spot at the events unfolded.

  • Island Girl April 28, 2018, 5:48 PM


  • Larry Jones April 28, 2018, 5:52 PM

    In a similar vain, Kirk Douglas made a movie a few (many) years back that I always enjoyed entitled, “Lonely are the brave.” If you’ve never viewed it…you might give it a try. Great piece as usual. I grew up in an environment much like that ol’ Horseman. Appreciate your writing very much. Many thanks.

  • steve walsh April 28, 2018, 6:02 PM

    A sensible solution to an ordinance filled and urban created problem. Kudos to the officer with common sense. I’m left to wonder if such would happen today, in 2018.

  • Casey Klahn April 28, 2018, 6:23 PM

    I thought it was true, Gerard, and you wove it such that it has that “is it true?” flavor. I consider that the best sort of tale. In some ways, the internet has taken that factor away. A good tale has a BS factor, but is actually true.

    My compliments.

  • RedFred April 28, 2018, 10:40 PM

    Just want to point out how nicely composed and cropped these four photos are. This means our host GV was alert enough AND skilled enough to get a nicely coherent image sequence that told the story almost as well as his words did. Of course, he was listening all the while, as well.

    That, ladies and gents, is how an old pro does it. Smooth, Gerald. Smoooth.

  • Melinda April 28, 2018, 11:11 PM

    I love this story. And the photos, especially the one where the cowboy is having a smoke. Classic.

  • Ed April 29, 2018, 12:34 AM

    Entering the page, I scrolled casually down. As more of the image came into view, it evoked memories of “The Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey. I see I was not alone. Larry up above must have had similar thoughts. The movie he recommends was based on that novel by Abbey. I will echo his recommendation to see the movie, and also read the book.

    Great photos and writing also, Gerard.

    I’m fortunate to live in a place where wranglers and their dogs are not uncommon, although they have the good sense to stay well off the roads and out of the way of speeding commuters and hair on fire teens and their soccer moms. I’ve been blessed to have a few of them for friends. The wranglers and their dogs, that is.

  • MMinLamesa April 29, 2018, 1:46 AM

    You’re a wonderful wordsmith.

  • ghostsniper April 29, 2018, 4:12 AM

    In which play is an entire convent of nuns poisoned by a rice pudding? Who says, “but that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead”? Who ends up drowned in a vast vat of boiling oil, bubbling to the surface even as the final curtain falls?

    The answer in each case is “The Jew of Malta,” 1589, Christopher Marlowe’s wonderfully politically incorrect alternative “Merchant of Venice,” a play hardly ever revived nowadays, not least because it has something to offend just about everyone.

  • Jayne April 29, 2018, 4:52 AM

    Fabulous story. Men, the cowboy and the senior officer, are marvelous things!

  • Gordon April 29, 2018, 5:22 AM

    Most likely today he’d be arrested for exposing Laguna Beach to tobacco smoke.

  • Brendan April 29, 2018, 8:27 AM

    That scene would have been common 150 years ago, minus the civilization. A burro, carrying supplies, tags along behind the rider, who hopes to strike it rich in the canyons of western Nevada.

    Today, the descendants of those animals still roam the American West, much to the chagrin of the cowboys and ranchers.

  • ghostsniper April 29, 2018, 9:10 AM

    @Brendan, nice site, just spent the past hour there readin’ and lookin’.
    I’ll be back.

  • Jim in Alaska April 29, 2018, 9:17 AM

    Over the years we’ve had domestic animals; horses, cows, peacocks, etc., wander in to our yard. We’d check around, find their owners & get them back home.

    Of course the natural fauna; moose, bear, lynx, etc., stop by occasionally as well.

    Stories like your cowboy, Gerard, even though it ended well, remind me why I left the lower forty eight behind fifty years ago.

  • Dave April 29, 2018, 6:48 PM

    I enjoyed this story the first time you posted it. Always nice to see Heinlein references, as well. Keep up the good work.

  • Joe Krill April 30, 2018, 9:18 AM

    “But I still like to think of the Horseman. I like to think he’s still out there making his way from Canada to Texas — via a left turn in San Diego.” Great message here. I would like to think that we all have some of the “Horseman” still left in us. Joe Krill

  • Curtis April 30, 2018, 10:46 AM

    I lived in both Solana Beach and Encinitas. The cops there got up to the damdest things. I much preferred the city cops of San Diego. I knew a good number of them from my Reserve unit. Admittedly accidental discharge was their middle name.

  • sock_rat_eez April 30, 2018, 11:27 AM

    “The officer, being confused, was not even sure such a document existed and examined its molecular structure.”

    That exceeds the usual standards of a blog that is notable for really good wordsmithing.
    Poetry, pure and serene.

    Every time I read this post, it becomes more of a parable about Our Times, which is also pretty impressive, considering it started out that way almost a decade ago; or maybe it’s that the changing of our society / culture over that time just makes the contrast greater.

    Thank you.

  • Ten April 30, 2018, 2:10 PM

    That scene would have been common 150 years ago, minus the civilization. A burro, carrying supplies, tags along behind the rider, who hopes to strike it rich in the canyons of western Nevada.

    I moved to NV in ’94. First memorable sight upon crossing the state line down on the Boulder Dam end of the state was of a pair of fifteen hundred year old locals, more or less, dislodging from thousand year old pickups at the filling station. The holstered rattlesnake shooters had to be at least a foot long. I instinctively knew this was as things should be.

    It was the way things should be for awhile until the wealth of the Tahoe end of the state siphoned off what would become a fairly criminally insane ex, her of the psychopathic*, child-tormenting new millionaire spouse. My child, a girl of six and as right as rain.

    With regard to “would have been common 150 years ago”, it eventually struck me that half that span likely would have seen this minor choad twisting silently the next morning, had he done those same things as recently as the twenties or thirties. “Minus the civilization” we are indeed.

    *Simply: A narcissist who consciously uses the quality to harm others.

  • Ten April 30, 2018, 2:45 PM

    It could be that some of Vanderleun’s tale’s lure is that it takes place approximately where a lot of folks make their living from their acutely styled renderings of vivid, alien creatures just like cowboys, but when a real McCoy wafts silently through – as if in a film – apparently this is a flatly terrorizing occasion. The inherent contrast presented by the typical asshole local here is therefore self-evident. No offense.

    Or maybe it’s that a dog with no name managed to keep it between the shoulder and traffic for three thousand kilometers on probably half a daily ration of kibble. You’re better people than people, girl.

    You’d think the nice folks whose grandfathers filmed Old Yeller would be impressed enough to help out instead of managing a giant conniption two thousand clicks from point of origin.

  • Vanderleun April 30, 2018, 2:54 PM

    “Where is my John Wayne
    Where is my prairie song
    Where is my happy ending
    Where have all the cowboys gone”

  • ghostsniper April 30, 2018, 6:10 PM

    During supper tonight we watched another episode from the 1st season of “Tombstone Territory” and it closed as it always does with this little tune:

    Tombstone Territory
    Whistle me up a memory
    Whistle me back where I want to be
    Whistle a tune that will carry me
    To Tombstone Territory

    If your past has run afoul the law
    It’s a handy place to be
    But your future’s just as good as your draw
    In Tombstone Territory

    Whistle me up a memory
    Whistle me back where I want to be
    Whistle a tune that will carry me
    To Tombstone Territory

    Hear it here:

  • P in America May 1, 2018, 1:00 AM

    That movie mentioned above with Kirk Douglas 1962,
    Lonely are the Brave

  • m9777 May 5, 2018, 9:22 PM

    Grand story and thank you. Was a deputy Sheriff in Dallas County TX years ago. My father had been a police officer and later a Special Agent. He had wished I’d put my degree to better use but finally agreed it was OK with one condition…”son, damn near anyone can be a cop, but it takes someone special to be a Peace Officer. Be a Peace Officer like your Commission states.” I think the Officer in this story knew how to be a Peace Officer too. Just not enough of them these days.