Most Castro Valley residents are familiar with the horse that welcomes passersby and customers in front of on Castro Valley Boulevard.
But they may not know that this horse has a name and an active social life.
Charley the horse’s story begins back in 1962 when he was purchased by Cecil Jones, the owner of Rowell Saddlery at the time, from the Cow Palace in Daly City. Charley stood on top of the store in its original location on Redwood Road. There is no long story behind his name; Charley was affectionately named after the common phrase for leg cramps.
When the Saddlery relocated to its current spot in the 1970s, Charley was not left behind. He was moved from the roof and fastened to a rolling platform that made him mobile. He was also given a makeover since he had braved the elements for so many years. Going from blonde to brunette (palomino to bay coloring), he was ready for action.
Standing proudly at the entrance of the Saddlery, Charley quickly became a favorite with customers. Children petted him and wanted to sit on his back. Many wanted their photos taken with him.
Janet Lemmons, the current owner of Rowell’s Saddlery, says people organizing local events haved called looking for Western props like bales of hay, ropes or saddles. When she offers Charley, they are thrilled.
Charley accompanied Santa Claus on the Capwell’s Department Store float during the Christmas parade in the 1980s. One year, he was a little late coming back from the parade. Lemmons said she got a call from the folks at Capwell’s reporting the bad news that Charley had fallen off the float and cracked his head. A bit of fiberglass work got him back in shape.
Risk of injury didn’t stop this horse from making appearances. Charley's was the pièce de résistance in Wells Fargo displays when the Castro Valley branch celebrated special events. He has participated in church functions, fundraisers, video shoots, and even a commercial.
Lemmons says he’s become a beloved icon and even has devoted fans. She told the story of a homeless woman who would visit Charley every day. This woman would pet him and talk to him, doing no harm and then going about her business. One day Lemmons found the woman by the store’s back door sitting on the ground sobbing. The woman kept repeating, “He’s gone! He’s gone!”
Thinking that this woman had lost a friend or relative, Lemmons offered condolences. She soon realized the woman was referring to Charley, who was out at a community event. When told that Charley would return, the homeless woman smiled and said, “Thank goodness!”
Charley also has his caretakers. Lemmons says that sometimes in the hubbub of business, staff members forget to bring Charley in when the store closes for the day. At those times, the owners of the Sun Flower Restaurant and Krayon’s Gallery pub next to the Saddlery bring the horse to the back patio and lock him up.
Though his calendar is pretty open of late, Charley the horse is ever-ready to hit the dusty trail to support local events—with his head held high.