THEY WERE THE GENTLEST OF CREATURES and thought all humans were their friends, especially the ones who came bearing gifts of carrots and apples and the occasional, very forbidden candy bar.
The purebred Polish Arabians named Caroline No and Strawberry Fields were born the same February that Big Sur became an island, when El Niño storms caused so much damage to Highway 1 in 1998 that the road was closed for almost three months. For 22 years, the horses had made their home in a pasture along Sycamore Canyon Road, a stretch traversed by thousands of tourists every year as they make their way to Pfeiffer Beach. On either side of the road is the meadow property belonging to Al and Mary Ann Jardine – Caroline No, named after the song written by Al Jardine’s Beach Boys bandmate Brian Wilson, and Strawberry Fields, whose name harkens another musical legacy, this one from The Beatles, had foaled on the land, Mary Ann Jardine says.
And tourists, charmed by the sight of them, would stop and take pictures with the horses, sometimes creating a mini-traffic jam, to snag a memory of their trip to Big Sur to take back home.
“They got used to being mooches,” Mary Ann says. “They got used to people giving them treats.”
Their docility, and their trusting nature, may have been their undoing at the hands of someone only interested in doing them harm.
It’s been almost two weeks since Caroline No was euthanized after being splashed with a caustic chemical – something described by multiple people as what appeared to be motor oil mixed with battery acid – causing burns that ate into the flesh on her cheek and around her mouth and seriously damaging one eye. Strawberry, meanwhile, was also splashed with the same substance but her injuries weren’t quite so severe; she’s been sent to a horse sanctuary nearby, where she’s receiving ongoing veterinary treatment and will live out her life.
“I don’t understand why anyone would do something like this,” Mary Ann says. “This has been such a strange, strange year.”
A strange year for the world, and a stranger year for Big Sur.
JACKIE PELOSI-HARRIS WAS DRIVING DOWN CLEAR RIDGE ROAD, heading home at about 9:30pm on Aug. 14 when she noted the parking lot at Pfeiffer Beach appeared to be full of cars, despite the pandemic and despite the time of day. A yoga teacher and alternative-medicine healer, Pelosi-Harris also works as an animal communicator.
A few mornings later, she received a call from a neighbor telling her the horses were in distress.
“There was this black substance all over Caroline’s face and eye and mouth, and on Strawberry’s neck and chest,” Pelosi-Harris says. “The wounds weren’t apparent because chemical burns take a while.”
A veterinarian who came out noted that whatever the substance was, it was caustic enough to have burned through the metal on the horses’ hay feeder. The veterinarian, Pelosi-Harris says, told the Jardines that the prognosis for Caroline “wasn’t great,” although the horse could have been saved with a long and painful treatment plan that involved removing the badly injured eye, wound debridement and skin grafts. In the end, Mary Ann Jardine says, she couldn’t put the horse through more pain.
“They are sentient beings, capable of deep emotions and levels of understanding beyond what we ourselves are capable of,” Pelosi-Harris says. “They rely on senses grander than the ones we use on a daily basis.”
For both Jardine and Pelosi-Harris, there’s a greater question of why.
“I had to sit here and clear my mind to get to the core of what happened, and the fact is, it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in Big Sur,” Pelosi-Harris says. “Covid and social media have brought the worst of humanity out, and it’s all people coming here to take – there’s a sense of entitlement and it’s rampant. It’s a total disregard for why people come here in the first place, to experience the bounty of nature and be healed.”