For all of his 13 years, "Chocolate Mousse," despite his rather effeminate moniker, has been a red-blooded guy in the midst of prissy bluebloods.
An equestrian show jumper, Mousse is a Chevy pickup garaged alongside Italian sports cars, a grind-it-out type in an affluent world in which even some of the horses have turned-up snouts.
Mousse, a gelding, is a stalwart. In the next stall? Probably some well-manicured prodigy with bloodlines traceable to the stable of the King of Siam and as many ribbons in its coiffured mane as on the mantle at home.
Even Mousse's coloring gives him away. The appaloosa's black spots stand out like oil stains in a sport filled with starched white shirts.
Mousse has rubbed ankles with international-caliber horses worth between $250,000 and $3 million each. When he recently was reacquired by his former owners, Mousse cost about $1,500.
"He's a hard worker," said Al Schlom, the horse's owner. "It's blue-collar versus the aristocrats. That's what makes it so much more fun when he beats them."
When it comes to character and heart, whoever named the horse didn't know an appaloosa from Appalachia.
"It's considered bad luck to change the name of a horse," said Al's daughter, Candice Schlom of Calabasas, an Olympic hopeful and a leading rider on the international show-jumping circuit. "Or else we might have."
Considering the events of the past few months, "Lucky" would merit serious consideration as an alternate. Had the Schloms not purchased an injured Mousse from an insurance company in mid-1990, he might now be known as Alpo.
Candice, 21, began jumping with Mousse when she was 12. She needed a solid mount for the many junior shows she had entered and Mousse had the perfect temperament. He was boisterous and possessed an innate desire to overachieve.
The pair first encountered each other at a junior event in Arizona, during which Mousse was being ridden by a competitor and the Schloms were looking for a new mount. Horse and rider later butted heads when Schlom went for a test drive.
"The first day I tried him, he was very fresh and full of energy," Candice said. "The first thing he tried to do was buck me off."
The family purchased Mousse, and, over the next few years, the pair emerged as one of the best on the junior show-jumping circuit. They appeared on magazine covers and on television. So many stories were published about them, Mousse's black spots could have been mistaken for newsprint smudges.
A bond instantly developed. At age 15, Schlom left home for three years to attend a private school on the East Coast where she would receive specialized instruction in the sport. Of course, Mousse tagged along. The pair spent countless hours refining the rudiments of the sport.
"I'd never really been away from home before and I didn't know anybody," she said. "He was my best friend."
Yet because of a dispute over tuition, Mousse was sold to a New Jersey-based stable in 1988. Although Candice later progressed into the international spotlight aboard her new mount, "Wula," the Schloms nonetheless kept track of Mousse.
A hard rein began to fall. Mousse had been saddled with misfortune.
"We're not sure what they did with him," Al Schlom said, "but it's obvious that they didn't know how to maintain a jumper."
The family learned in 1990 that Mousse had been crippled. A ligament in one of Mousse's forelegs--which absorb the brunt of the shock as the horse and rider jump hurdles--had been damaged. The owners filed a claim with an insurance company, which settled.
Al Schlom said that Mousse was scheduled for "humane destruction," an oxymoron if ever there was one. "He would have been sent off to a rendering plant and killed, I guess," Al said. "You know, shot and turned into dog food."
From horse to hors d'ouevres for some suburban lap dog, an unconscionable fate for a noble steed. Said Candice: "I don't know what they would have done to him. I don't even like to think about it."
Spared the bullet, Mousse almost expired anyway. Al Schlom purchased Mousse from the insurance company for a $500 salvage fee and paid $1,000 to have Mousse shipped to the family ranch in Sunland.
But when Mousse arrived and stepped off the trailer, he was skeletal. Malnutrition and starvation nearly had killed him.
"I had no idea he'd be in such bad shape," Al Schlom said. "Nobody told me they had stopped feeding him. Another week and he'd have been dead."
Anticipation had turned to legitimate concern.
"Thank goodness, for my own peace of mind, I was in Canada for six weeks when he was shipped back," Candice said. "So I didn't have to see him like that."
After veterinary treatment, Mousse was cut loose at the Schlom (which, fittingly, rhymes with home) ranch, his future seemingly a life of greener pastures and wild oats.
"Ours is more of an emotional attachment than financial," Al said. "We just wanted him back."
Evidently, Mousse liked the homecoming parade. Robert Lewis, a trainer, began working with Mousse, who responded with typical zeal.
"Bob kept working with him and, before long, we were riding him again," Al said.
Mousse's improbable competitive comeback began last spring. Several riders, including the daughter of thoroughbred jockey Chris McCarron, rode Mousse in a handful of junior events.
Candice rode Mousse in upper-level competition last month in the Sandstone Fall Classic at Hidden Valley, a ranch in the hills near Newbury Park. It had been five years since the pair last competed--Candice rode Mousse during a show at Santa Anita in 1986, an event they won.
Although Mousse won a blue ribbon for recording a clear round that Friday at Hidden Valley, Candice said it probably marked their last appearance together. Mousse will spend the remainder of his competitive career being ridden by junior jumpers. In a sport in which horses at the highest level of competition are pampered beyond belief, he will do the grooming.
"He still has all of the heart but not some of the ability for international competition," Candice said.
Not that the pair didn't have their moments: Candice and Mousse won innumerable junior events from 1984-87 in both open and show-jumping events, competing from coast to coast. Having Mousse back is a reward in itself.
"In my mind, I didn't think we'd ever (show-jump) him again," Candice said. "We just wanted him to enjoy the rest of his natural life."
For a show jumper, good times or bad, life is one hurdle after another. Chocolate Mousse, it seems, will live to get his just desserts.