On a typical day, the strangest sight on Madison's Capitol Square might be the dude in the Viking helmet riding by on a double-high bike. That wasn't the case Monday, when passersby were distracted from their routines by three horses tied up outside Brocach Irish Pub and their owner, a short man in a cowboy hat and Hawaiian shirt, sipping whiskey nearby.
"What's the deal with Pecos Bill there?" inquired one.
"What's this? A demonstration? Somebody makin' a point?" asked a Madison Metro bus driver.
"City's so broke it can't afford lawn mowers?" cracked another guy, noting the horses were eating quite a bit of grass outside Brocach.
According to Phil Yahnke, an officer at the scene, a complainant had called alleging animal neglect. By the time I arrived on the scene, five officers were present plus two animal protection officers. Yahnke had just been sent to Walgreen's to fetch a thermometer.
"First time I've ever seen a horse's temperature taken rectally," he said. "This is why I love my job."
The owner of the horses, Doc Mischler, said he's on a journey from Montana, by way of California, to Washington, D.C. to call attention to the plight of starving children. He set out June, 2002.
Mischler tells his story in this video:
He seemed mostly unbothered by the attention of the officers, cooperating when they asked him to remove saddles and what appeared to be makeshift saddlebags. And he eagerly engaged with passersby, sharing his "letter of commitment" (PDF) to his mission.
According to a Madison Police incident report, the horses have been confiscated for further investigation and Mischler, 75, was charged with one count of animal neglect.