One recent evening, I was driving south on Thomas H. Delpit Drive in Baton Rouge, just past the venerable Parker and Dunbar barber shop when I had to make a U-turn. There was a horse standing outside the barbershop.
I was on my way to a meeting at the time. But I had to go back. I told the folks arriving for the gathering that I had to go see a man about a horse. Then I had to explain that I literally had to see a man about a horse I had seen nearby.
“Oh, I’ve seen that man and his horse before,” one person said. Wait, a man regularly rides a horse down Thomas H. Delpit? Well, I hadn’t seen it, and I had to talk to the owner.
First, I walked up to the horse to make sure it was actually there. Yep, it sure was a horse. Then I walked in, and it was like old home day. The first barber I saw was “Mr. Parker.” I still call him that — his full name is Robert Parker — because he was the first barber to cut my hair more than 50 years ago. I think it cost about 25 or 50 cents.
The other barber, Robert Dunbar, is the cousin of one of one my high school classmates. He has been at that barbershop since 1967. I even knew the person whose hair was being cut. Wow, I hadn’t been in there in about 15 years.
But there was one other person in the shop I didn’t know. He was sipping cheap vodka from a souvenir bottle and chasing it with a beer. It was Troy Rhines, a 46-year-old man with a mohawk hairstyle and a horse.
“So Mr. Rhines, why do you have a horse tied up here in front of the barber shop?”
Rhines answered, “Because it’s cheaper than driving a car. I don’t have to put gas in him,” he said with a wry smile. Apparently, this was not the first time he had answered that question.
Dunbar smiled, and the client in the chair did, too. “He does this a lot,” Dunbar said. “In fact, if you’re looking for any kind of wildlife out of the ordinary, Troy will have it,” he said.
Rhines has brought everything from a 10-foot-long snake, exotic birds and other animals with him to the barbershop.
But on this day, it was a horse.
The horse stood still as cars passed and passersby looked and shrugged, and Rhines said he was not concerned about the animal being spooked and running into the street.
“I’m not worried about it. This horse is trained. It’s just like horses that are trained to be in parades,” he said. “I love my horses, and I take care of them.”
He explained that the horse was a Tennessee Walker, one of six horses, of various breeds, that he owns and houses in another parish. “They’re like people. They’re all different,” he said.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I will stop with my horse, and kids will run up and want touch him and talk to me. They love that stuff,” he said.
It’s good that he has the horse in the area for the children, he said, “because a lot of black people are not familiar with horses. They can see my horses and get more comfortable around them.”
This conversation hadn’t gone where I thought it would. I thought Rhines would just be a pile of jokes and jibber-jabber. But he was a man with a wonderful spirit — and serious about what he was doing.
When I prepared to leave, I asked Rhines if he would take a picture with his horse. Another sip of cheap vodka and warm beer, and he said, “Let’s go.”
He began talking to the horse about what would be the best pose. “Look straight ahead,” he urged the horse. Rhines smiled broadly. I can’t tell if the horse smiled.
It was a perfect ending to my effort to see a man about a horse. No, really. It was really a man and his horse.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.