I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
For most children, certain rules are inarguable. Chew with your mouth closed. Go to bed early. No, you can’t have a pony. All of these totally reasonable dictates applied to me, which was fine. Even the pony thing made sense, despite being far from universal. After all, there were kids out there with horses; they were just rich. The parents paid the fees, the kid had to learn to ride, and the horse had to stay outdoors. It was probably lucky for everyone that I was in my 30s when I first learned that Arnold Schwarzenegger not only keeps a mini-pony he absolutely cannot ride, but he allows her into his kitchen, where there’s a donkey, to boot.
As horse-obsessed children, my oldest friend and I once made a bid for Falabellas (we used the technical term for “mini-horse,” obviously) to her stepmother, an equine photographer, who quickly killed our argument for horses the same stature as the family dogs. They’re half the size of a regular horse, not half the work, she pointed out. You can’t ride them, but you still have to muck the stall. And build the stall. And don’t forget the oat deliveries. Hay bales! Until adulthood, I had to wonder, beyond the fulsome cuteness of the equine form stuffed into teddy bear–like proportions, what’s even the point of a mini-horse?
In the spirit in which he introduced many children of my generation to the concepts of time travel and cyborgs, Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t really answer that question but will offer plenty to think about. His menagerie recently shot to internet fame when he tweeted a homemade PSA about the importance of staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps to demonstrate what remaining indoors actually looks like, Arnold filmed himself, his mini-horse, Whiskey, and donkey, Lulu, sitting around his kitchen table. Had this been the only footage of a horse and a donkey gathered together with Arnold inside his home, I would’ve thought it nothing more than a cute ploy to get Americans to pay attention to critical public-health advice and moved on.
But no. It turns out Whiskey made her first appearance at Arnold’s kitchen table back in 2014, and Lulu joined her there a few years later. The two appear to be friends, or at least friendly rivals competing for the same snacks, which sometimes include salad off Arnold’s own plate. Their other indoor pastimes range from the equine-typical (eating carrots) to the Dada-esque (working out in a home gym). Almost no explanation is given for any of this, though Arnold did recently let Jimmy Kimmel know that on only one occasion has one of them ever pooped indoors. Apparently the scent wafted together with that of cooking Wiener schnitzel, so it was “fine.” He’s right: Schnitzel smells great, and herbivore poop is pretty innocuous as far as mammalian excretions go. This is the only detail of this situation I’ve really been able to wrap my mind around.
But I have so many other questions, beginning with how this all started. Does it take a life larger than normal in fundamental ways — muscles, bank account, variety of entries on résumé — to think of a mini-horse as basically a very large dog with hard feet? Does Whiskey ever rassle with son-in-law Chris Pratt, who, having starred on Parks and Recreation with a mini-horse named Li’l Sebastian, is no stranger to the animal? If so, why no Instagram video for us plebes? Speaking of stardom for very small horses, why has Whiskey tended to get more air time than Lulu? She’s been to Arnold’s office twice, whereas Lulu has only been once, in the company of Whiskey. Is it favoritism or just their personalities? Does Arnold prefer mini-ponies to donkeys, and if this is the case, can he please tell us why? Whiskey does seem to know her angles a little better. But her pride of place may not be eternal, anyway — when Lulu recently celebrated her first birthday, Whiskey looked as left out as a horse can muster, her head collapsed on the kitchen table in what appears to be a fit of jealous exhaustion.
Somewhere in trying to grasp the exact liminal state of Arnold’s livestock-cum-housepets, my brain just quits. It’s a horse, but you can’t ride it! It’s a donkey, but it’s wandering around a living room! He was elected to office as a Republican but seems to care about climate change! The only clear takeaway here is that the Schwarzenegger household is rife with contradiction.
However, when that household is headed by the only person in the world to hold both the titles of Mr. Universe and former governor of California, maybe it’s worth giving credence to the idea that Arnold is just way ahead of the rest of us, with our cats and Labradoodles and bearded dragons. Maybe we’re being shown the future of pets. And maybe there’s a Terminator joke to be made here, but my mind is pulsing in tandem with the rhythm of a horse eating a salad off a dining table and can’t figure it out. At any rate, if you’ve ever seen a sad donkey forced to cart tourists up a sunny mountain on a hot day, it’s obvious that Lulu, donkey of leisure, is living a far happier life.
The thing about Arnold adorably melting the barriers between livestock, house pet, and roommate isn’t just that he gets to have a mini-horse in his living room and I don’t, although that’s certainly part of it. Rather, I feel like I’m ten years old all over again, but it turns out my friend’s stepmom got it wrong. As Whiskey and Lulu traipse through not just any house but a really nice one, hunting for oatmeal cookies, the only rules they break are the ones governing which domesticated animals go where. I have a cat who throws up every time she eats too fast. Did you know that horses are physically unable to vomit at all? This is very dangerous if they get colicky, but that aside, which animal, then, is more destructive to a rental apartment? I hesitate to keep chickens on a 50-square-feet balcony, but in Arnold’s world, a donkey comes indoors to play chess. Clearly, I don’t even know what I don’t know. Having been led astray in childhood, who will answer these questions for me now? Not my landlord, that’s for sure.