While some say a cat has nine lives, there's a horse in Half Moon Bay that's got the felines beat by far.
For the past seven years, the horse that greets those driving west on Highway 92 past the entrance to takes on new life several times a year. This month, it's painted as an Easter bunny horse in the holiday's signature pastels. An Easter basket rests on its side, in place of a saddle.
"I've had the horse for at least 15 years now and we originally started painting it just for 3 different themes - Halloween, Christmas and a year-round theme from January to August as a [regular] painted horse," said Bob Lemos, owner of the farm known for its pumpkins, pony rides, and petting zoo.
About seven to eight years ago, Lemos was inspired by the Bing Crosby film Holiday Inn -- centered around a hotel that is redecorated to reflect a different holiday each month -- and decided to follow suit with the horse he originally purchased at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Made out of fiberglass, the horse is hollow inside.
San Mateo educator and artist Phil Davis had already been painting murals at the farm for a few years, so it was a natural choice for Lemos to ask Davis to paint the horse as well. Davis' work has now been featured at Lemos Farm for ten years.
Favorite designs of both include the 2009 Halloween horse, which was painted to show the horse's skeleton. Davis painted the entire horse black, and white skeleton bones on the top layer. "Phil actually got a book on what a horse skeleton looks like," Lemos said, "and painted it based on that."
Other favorites? Lemos names the horse that was painted as a construction worker (toolbelt and all) to coincide with a time when construction was taking place along Highway 92. Davis refers to last Christmas' peppermint candy cane horse as another all-time favorite.
"We've put hats on it many times," Lemos said. "He [the horse] was a tourist horse once and he did have a lei around its neck. He also wore a hat for St. Patrick's Day. When he was Santa one time, we made a cotton beard for him." The horse also wears a baseball hat when it is painted as a player.
Design ideas may come from the public, schoolchildren -- a teacher might have his or her entire class design the horse and send Lemos all 30-40 versions to consider -- or anyone who sketches out a design on a blank horse available for download on the Lemos Farm website.
Davis also presents Lemos with different designs of his own to consider.
"He's really creative," Lemos said.
From all these sources, Lemos selects his favorite, which Davis paints onto the horse.
"I would say half of the designs come from me just being around town where people give me ideas," Lemos said.
Design in hand, Davis purchases acrylic paint from each month and gets to work. The paint is not stripped from the previous month; rather, a new coat of primer is painted on the horse.
"The paint is now half an inch thick," Lemos said.
"I get asked all the time if I have multiple horses in the back that we keep painting and switching," Lemos said. "The answer is no -- there is only one horse."
Coastside resident Emily McCormick, a therapist who is also a freelance photographer, enjoyed watching the rotation of designs so much that she started taking photos to document its many reincarnations.
Since 2009, McCormick has compiled her photos into a desktop calendar. "The calendar really took off last year," she said, when 350 calendars were sold online and at local gift shops.
McCormick also said that the 2009 skeleton horse is one of her favorite designs.
Though he gets many requests to use the horse as a billboard, Lemos has held off on using it to advertise products and services.
"We don't do that yet," he said.
Artist Phil Davis can be contacted at email@example.com.
Calendars of the Lemos Farm horse are available for purchase through Emily McCormick's website, or at these local stores in Half Moon Bay after Nov. 1 : , , and . The calendar costs $11.95.