“You don’t mess with hillbillies.”
That’s the message Robert D. Sherman has for anyone looking to hassle him over his horse.
Sherman, of Soldotna, regularly rides his 9-year-old registered Morgan mare, Jazzy, three miles into Soldotna from his 80 acres in the Sport Lake area.
After losing his driver’s license this winter on a driving while license suspended or revoked charge stemming from legal wrangling over a lack of insurance and payment for a fender bender, Sherman’s horse has become more than just a pet.
“That’s my mode of transportation,” he said on Aug. 27.
When the 62-year-old hits the road, he does it as Dr. Shoals or the Old West intended – on foot, or on horseback.
“I walk 10 miles every day just to keep my heart pumping,” he said.
In cowboy boots, no less, complete with cowboy hat, plaid shirt, metal belt buckle that looks big enough to throw him off balance, and a cigarette in hand.
The boots he’s worn “all my life,” he said. He grew up in Kentucky, and left his family’s homestead there to come to Alaska in 1991 looking for better financial opportunities.
“I met a gal in Florida. She talked me into a visit and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I stayed and she left. I’ll never leave.”
Sherman retired in February, he said, and keeps busy growing produce for the Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Soldotna Creek Park, taking care of his animals (along with Jazzy, he has three dogs), and regularly eats breakfast at Central Peninsula Hospital, where he’s gotten to know the staff through his bouts of heart problems.
He says he’s had two stents, four bypasses, three angioplasties and in 2005 had open heart surgery after doctors discovered he’d had a heart attack in 2004.
“But I do real well. God’s been good to me,” he said.
Law enforcement, on the other hand, not so much, he said.
Sherman draws attention — honks, waves, double-takes — when he comes into town, riding or walking Jazzy on city sidewalks or waiting for traffic to clear enough to lead her across the highway. The attention he’s gotten from law enforcement has not been as friendly, he said.
Around noon on Aug. 22, Sherman was arrested at City Hall in Soldotna. He says he stopped by to see the mayor or city manager, but neither was available so he went back outside to leave. While collecting Jazzy from out front, police arrived and arrested him.Sherman says the officer arrested him for disturbing the peace because he had his horse in town.
“It’s pretty sad when you can’t ride a horse in a country that’s free,” he said.
Soldotna police tell a different story, that Sherman walked in a back door at City Hall into an employee area with two of his dogs in tow, demanding to see the mayor.
According to a police report, Sherman had been contacted by police about a half hour earlier on Aspen Drive for his horse and two dogs walking in traffic. During that interaction, police report Sherman was cursing, yelling loudly and poked an officer in the chest with his finger. He was given a disorderly conduct warning and released.
After the police were called to City Hall, Sherman was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility.
“That’s bull,” Sherman said. His animals are always in control, he said.
“They all mind me this well,” he said, indicating his dog, Babe a skin-and-bones yellow lump flopped on the ground at his feet. Sherman says he gave her away a year ago but recently took her back when he saw the shape she was in. He says he’s put five to 10 pounds on her since he’s had her back.
“If I holler at them if they’re heading into somebody’s yard, they come right back,” he said. “I don’t believe in beating animals, either. I don’t hurt animals.”
He’s had 12 dogs, Sherman said, but has lost all but three.
“The bears or other animals get them,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of trouble with bears out there.”
Sherman’s horse has also been picked up in Kenai for wandering loose. Animal control officers picked up Jazzy on Aug. 10 after finding her wandering in a neighborhood. Sherman was in town visiting a friend and had tied Jazzy up outside, but she got loose, he said.
Animal control officers notified Sherman that they had his horse, and he came to the shelter to get her.
“It was never any problem for us. He was very cordial. He did everything he was supposed to do,” said Patricia Stringer, chief animal control officer in Kenai.
Stringer said there are only certain areas of the city where raising livestock is allowed, but there’s no law against riding a horse.
“Somebody riding it through town or walking it through town, that’s not an issue,” she said.
Soldotna Police Sgt. Duane Kant said the same is true in Soldotna.
“I think you can ride a horse in town, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.
The issue with Sherman wasn’t the horse, Kant said, it was Sherman’s behavior.
At Wildwood, Sherman says he was assaulted by six guards, and one was 500 pounds.
“I’m an old man. I’m 120 pounds soaking wet. That 500-pound guy sat on my back, took the back of my feet and pulled them over my head,” he said.
By the time he was released Aug. 23, he said he was bruised and went to the hospital, but nothing was broken.
Sherman said the guards wouldn’t book him or let his friend bail him out Aug. 22, and he was angry about it.
“I did everything they told me, except shut up. I screamed and hollered all night. That’s why I’m so hoarse still.
“I said, ‘It’s a good thing you’ve got me handcuffed, or I’d kick your a–,’” he said.
Richard Schmitz, a communications assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections, said it’s not uncommon to use multiple officers to restrain someone who is being uncooperative. He didn’t have specific details about Sherman’s situation.
Sherman said he plans to consult a lawyer about the incident.
“I’m a pretty peacefully person, but when somebody rolls on me, I don’t take it. So I’m not very happy, and I’m not done screaming and hollering. I’m an old hillbilly from Kentucky. You don’t mess with hillbillies.”
In the meantime, he’ll keep riding Jazzy wherever he pleases.
“I’ve waved at the cops every time they drove by today,” he said on Aug. 27. “I don’t have a problem with them. I just want them to leave me alone.”