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A Horse Walks Into A Bar…

Garberville's Blue Room Bar has a sign on their front door reading, “No Patchouli”.

The 'necky' older crowd of loggers, cowboys and country folk seem to find peaceful solace together inside the Blue Room in those afternoon cocktail hours when the sun is low in the sky. As bad as it gets with the transient population along the 101 corridor during the summer music festival seasons, no wonder locals want a respite from the patchouli circuit.

Mendocino County law enforcement encourages transients to shuffle it on up to 101 via Garberville, where they are provided with basic care out of a mass transit sized “medical” bus: free condoms, head lice shampoo, food coupons, info on camping areas, lunch in Redway, and maybe even free health care as they travel through. The “Bus” even provides flea & tick meds for their also indigent dogs. Some dusty drifters are absorbed by the marijuana industry — some squat, harder to get rid of than infested chiggers.

The CHP headquarters in Redway informed me that horse traffic law had essentially fallen off the books along the 101 and in Garberville (if there ever was any horse law in that horsy little town). The 101 has unusually wide shoulders for bicyclists, hitch-hikers, pot-trimmers holding large cardboard cut-outs in the shape of scissors, and, even ...horses. There are frequent pull-overs in the “Valley of the CHP Training Ground” between Garberville and Phillipsville.

My Coastal horse, Vic, lived a summer or two on shady pastureland high above the City of Garberville's water tanks. Vic was 12 years old at the time. She's a no-nonsense, smart and wary Quarter/Standard bred mare originally trained in dressage and jumping. She's small at 800 lbs., resembling a Blood Bay Morgan, with straight legs and platter hooves. She ponies well alongside my larger herd-bound gelding, Mr. Handful, who needs to be ridden, so I take them for rides in tandem. Vic is eight-teen now. My best trained horse, I can safely say I don't remember the last time she did anything wrong. She's just plain good and cooperative if she can see you're trust-worthy. And I trust Vic. Horses are a huge psych-sync. I believe that's why hippo-therapy (equine therapy) works so well for autistic riders and folks who view life mostly from their intuitive third eye; rather than straight on with the “bald eye”.

I often rode Vic down to the Garberville quarry where we had to treck over the 101 overpass. As we walked peacefully along, a huge 18 wheeler “shooshed” us at high speed — passing too closely for any safety at all. Vic just leveled out her ears, squinted her eyes, and sucked it up, unflinching. I guess you could say that after owning Vic for ten of her 18 years, we trust each other, and to me that spells s-a-f-e-t-y. If you don't know what you're doing on a horse, it could very quickly hurtle you toward a speedy death.

Our favorite time to ride in Garberville was before dusk. We stopped to joke with Deputy Hamilton (Read the chapter which perfectly describes him in Emily Brady's humorous and riveting collection of local law enforcement personalities and pot growing characters in..., “HUMBOLDT”). Deputy Hamilton is allergic to weed, but holds no ill will toward it. He's a mellow man who understands his community with the tolerance of a kindly grandparent, and with a killer deadpan sense of humor, too.

That evening Peace Officer Hamilton had hidden his “crotch rocket” dirt bike, stashed behind the Subway Sandwich sign at the corner gas station in downtown Garberville. He was ready to whip into gear, after “the guy he was looking for”, but in the meantime, he was sort of hiding his silhouette behind a potted Italian Spruce. He often stood downtown and waited for suspects to drive by, instead of beatin' the bushes. This day we just critiqued my horse's new haircut. The teenager who rode Vic now and then, had taken the scissors to Vic's forelock (bangs) a few weeks earlier, chopping her hair off at the root. After several requests not to use scissors on my horse, the crazy kid had even hacked at the hair at the top of Vic's tail, making her look a frizzy mess. We agreed: Vic now resembled Joan Jet.

Across the street we rode, walking up to the drive-up window at Cowgirl coffee, past the downtown businesses. The street traffic was getting hectic at 4:30. We sauntered along reaching the restaurant adjacent to the Blue Room, where Vic did a sweet little dressage step up onto the sidewalk. A man from the bar appeared with an apple to give to Vic. She shook her head “no” to the apple. She had lived in an orchard as one of our pasture options, leaving her sick of apples. “She won't usually eat apples”, I suggested, “She likes carrots, better.” (Vic remembered that she'd once been fed carrots there.)

Vic's a head-bobber. She points with the swing of her neck and head: tells me “no”, “yes”... Ears flat out to the side when annoyed, but tolerant. She's pointed out wild cats lurking on the periphery of her pasture quite a few times, inviting me to go chase them away with her. I've trained her to turn and face all predators: dogs, and the big wild cats, who might try to aggressively chase her. She grew up in a pasture near Gualala with a visiting mountain lion who let her chase it. We unexpectedly turn and go after them, ending the foolishness of a deadly “chase”. She's an assertive communicator.

The apple guy returned with carrots. A few folks fauned over Vic as I looked over and saw the “No Patchouli” sign on the front door entrance. I assessed the crowd. Hmmm... seemed like a few of 'em might have worn patchouli at one time or another, I mumble. Maybe the sign was just a joke — or a not so subtle preference... maybe even just a ...loose guideline. At that point I could hear Vic's teeth gnoshing, and turned back to see the guy shoveling carrots into her face; everyone full of smiles at Vic simultaneously bobbing her head; affirmatively delighted. She can really let her hair down when humans treat her well.

The smokers standing outside the bar asked me if Vic would go inside the bar. I told them we don't go anywhere we're not invited by the owner, but that she has no qualms about walking inside buildings and being in throngs of folks if she trusts her rider. She's been in a few parades... she's urban. I try not to abuse her good nature, though. One of the smokers snuffed out his blunt and went inside to ask the owner, returning with an invite from the owner. “It's okay!”, as he swept his hand and arm in gesture to us through the open entrance... “Go on in!” Vic nodded.

I turned Vic to the door as she took on a sense of calm, curious cooperation. She kept her head low as she walked through the door. I ducked down over her long neck through the door frame, kicking my feet back, out of the stirrups. I noticed the linoleum floor and inquired, “Is your floor strong enough for a horse, cuz in Point Arena, she nearly went clean through the floor of the Whale Bar that time...!?”. I was met with assurances, so continued as we bellied up to the bar with the swamp cooler blowing on us.

Vic looked right, then left, then just stood there calmly as a few got out their cellies and snapped a shot of her at the bar. Nobody bothered to offer to buy her a drink. (The difference between Point Arena and Garberville!) I called out, “Who's the owner of this bar?”

A woman sitting at the far right side of the room raised her hand. I confessed, “Ya know, I hate to admit it, cuz Vic really likes your bar here, but, I'm a patchouli-wearin' cowgirl.”

I barely got the words out of my mouth when the owner stood up from her bar stool and pointed to the door, “Your horse can stay, but you gotta go!”

Garberville, like Boonville, is still a good horse 'n' rodeo town...


  1. Louis S. Bedrock August 27, 2015

    Wonderful piece!

  2. Debra Keipp March 8, 2020


    I was given Vic in 2000 from the Ratcliff Ranch in Gualala. She’d been a dressage jumper for their teenage daughter when I got her at age 12. She was the smallest horse who ever owned me, and the biggest surprise. She wound up being one of the best horses I ever had and she gave me nothing but fond memories. Funny how pleasing she turned out to be with no expectation at all.

    Thank you to all the kind folks who helped with Vic’s passing on leap year Saturday 2020: Josh Jordan, Jed Adams, Ernie Pardini; and Floriane and Jeane at the stables. Thanks also to Aurora and Arturo Bucio for arranging and assisting me with her burial in a timely, professional, respectful, caring manner, and to Greg Ludwig for saying “yes” without a moment’s hesitation, in providing an easily accessible burial spot for internment. I had the old girl for 20 of her last 32 years – the longest relationship of my life and one of the most satisfying! Vic always did what I asked of her… a one-of-a-kind really good mare. She’d been in a few Point Arena Parades, Garberville Rodeo, regular picnics out to the Point Arena Lighthouse, the Whale Bar in Point Arena, and even the Blue Room Bar in Garberville. The old girl got around!

    Thanks, old Vic, for a nice long ride. Happy trails!

    With much appreciation to all you kind souls,

    Boonville, CA

    • George Hollister March 8, 2020

      Great horse story.

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