One Smart Horse-A Santa Barbara History Story

Jun 8, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Hometown History, Maria Ruiz

by Maria Ruiz

In honor of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, being run this Saturday, we decided to post a historical article that involved a horse!

The hills were a dry brown on the coastal slopes and the winter rains had not come. Fire, an ever- present danger in the summer, was sweeping down the mountains toward the small town.

Ernesto and Anna lived in a wooden shack, like their neighbors on the edge of the town. They watched the smoke all day. Toward evening the Sheriff’s office sent men on horseback down the little streets preparing the residents in case evacuation might be needed.

Anna sent Ernesto over to fetch the horse and wagon, kept several blocks from home. Ernesto gladly went because next to the rental yard was the local tavern. He didn’t know when he would be able to visit it again and decided to stop in for a quick one. That helped his nerves and he joined the other men in discussing the upcoming night. The ‘quick one’ turned into several more and now he was calm.

The Sheriff’s deputy came in and told all the men, “Return home now. Get your families ready, and move out. We’re lining up on State Street and some deputies will escort you out of town and to safety. Now move!”

When Ernesto hadn’t come back with the horse and wagon, Anna sent two of the bigger boys to fetch the rig.

Ernesto left the tavern and crossed the yard to find his horse. The horse was gone! He ran and looked in the barn and found no horse. Now, a bit panicky, he headed back home, all the way thinking of what he would tell Anna and his ten children. Would he have to watch as they all burned up? Why did he stop for a drink? What was the mater with him?

His little legs ran the several blocks to his street and then he saw the horse, hooked up to the wagon sitting in front of his house. “I’ll be dammed.” he thought. “That horse is so smart. It must have known I needed it and brought itself and the wagon over.” He rushed home. The more he thought, the smarter the horse became. He understood how the horse knew its way home, but how did it hook the wagon up?

Anna was coming out of the house with her arms full of bedding and belongings. She shouted orders to the mess of kids as they were running, to bring things to the wagon.

“There you are, you drunken fool,” she shouted when she saw Ernesto. “Get the baby, we’re ready.” Anna, now very angry had realized that Ernesto must be in the tavern and had sent two sons to fetch the horse and wagon.

Ernesto, still amazed at his intelligent horse, staggered up the steps into the small house… “Baby. Baby. Now where would that be?” he thought as he pushed aside one of the smaller children. “Oh yes I know,” he said as he entered the second bedroom where the children slept.

There was no crib, they couldn’t afford one. And if they could afford one, there would have been no place to set it. This baby, like all the ones before it, slept in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Ernesto reached down and pulled the bundle out, tucked it under his arm and ran out.

“Ernesto, get the baby,” Anna shouted.

“I have the baby,” Ernesto replied as he ran down the steps.

“Daddy, get the baby,” someone shouted.

“I have the baby,” he shouted back.

Ernesto reached the wagon as Anna grabbed the reins of the horse. “Ernesto, I said get the baby,” she screamed at him.

Ernesto screamed back, “I have the damm baby, now shut up.” He grabbed the bundle from under his arm and laid it in the back of the wagon. By now everyone was screaming at him. “Why are they all screaming?” he thought. Through the haze of blurring alcohol, he looked down at the bundle. For a brief moment he saw the shapeless form and saw what he had been carrying, a pillow.

Fortunately, as he looked aghast at Anna, his oldest daughter laid the baby on the pillow. Ernesto climbed up on the seat and the family pulled out.

As he drove toward State Street, all he could think of was telling his drinking buddies of how smart his horse was.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. Presently, she lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Currently she is writing short stories as part of the Puerto Vallarta Writer’s Group. Her blog can be found at and her travel photos at


  1. Oh Maria, what a fun story! And what a lesson for Ernesto. I love the idea of a horse so smart he could find his way home and hook up the wagon. A lot smarter than his owner, that’s for sure!

  2. Well done, Maria. Chalk another good short story up to a member of the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group.

  3. Well done, Maria. Chalk another short story up to a member of the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group.


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