When a caller reported a "unicorn-like" animal galloping down an open Central Valley road, the California Highway Patrol suspected someone was high on hallucinogenic drugs.
But then officers met Juliet -- a snow-white, 600-pound Shetland pony with a prosthetic horn and a fuzzy pink bridle.
The wannabe unicorn twice bolted from a photo shoot in Madera Ranchos on Wednesday, leading CHP officers on a lengthy, if not enchanted, pursuit.
It was around 2:30 p.m. when a dispatcher first alerted the nearest CHP officer to an apparent mythical creature at large.
"Initially he thought it might be somebody out there on drugs, seeing things," said CHP spokesman Josh McConnell. "It was a little unreal to hear calls of a unicorn running around on the roadway."
Juliet's owner, Fresno photographer Sandra Boos, managed to corral the 20-year-old pony in relatively short order. However, the CHP grew concerned when they received another call at 5:30 p.m.: Juliet was loose again and headed toward Avenue 12, a busy traffic corridor between State Route 99 and State Route 41.
This time, "it was a little more difficult to capture the pony-slash-unicorn," McConnell said.
It took officers three and half hours to round up the pony, using a helicopter with thermal imaging to track down Juliet in an orchard. Then, they needed to use one of the pony's friends, a horse, to help bring her out of hiding.
The horse whinnied to Juliet, who whinnied back and then ran to her friend, Boos said.
"The unicorn is in custody," Boos heard on the police radio. As soon as she heard that, she called to tell her 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who rides Juliet. Her daughter, Tatum, had been frantic when Juliet ran away, she said.
Boos said she doesn't frequently hold photo shoots with Juliet, but she does them because "the little girls just love it," she said. She typically dresses up Juliet with a plush satin horn attached to a pink halter. There's usually a wreath or garland around her neck, but it went missing during the chase.
"Never to be seen again, I'm sure," Boos said with a laugh.
The pony was not cited, but Boos received a stern warning. If it happened again, McConnell said, she would be cited. Because of its size, the pony could have done "some serious damage."
"I'll continue taking photos with the pony," Boos said. "But we're going to decide exactly what we need to do to make sure we don't have a repeat performance."
In the past, there have been cases of chickens, sheep, cows, horses and even an ostrich in the roadway.
"First call I've ever heard of a unicorn," McConnell said.
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