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Caligula's Horse

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"Executive Vice President Rover wants to fire you, but I'm willing to give you one more chance."
"If a horse's ass can be Count, why not the whole horse?"

One of the surest signs that the king, president, or CEO has gone completely off the deep end is when he appoints one of his pets to a senior position within the government or company.

Don't dare to question Incitatus — he outranks you! (What's that, Mr. Incitatus? Why yes, the person who wrote the above paragraph is being disrespectful!) Sir, I regret to inform you that the horse has decided you are to be executed for rudeness.

Doesn't apply if the animal is intelligent and capable of communication, and could reasonably handle the demands of the office. No, in this case you'll be lucky if the animal is housebroken.

This trope can also be Invoked by rather more cunning rulers; either as a symptom of Obfuscating Insanity, a way to install a Sock Puppet in a position of power ("Well, Incitatus agrees with me, so I'm afraid it's two votes to one"), or both. The second of these overlaps with Loophole Abuse: there Ain't No Rule you can't make a horse consul!

Also, it doesn't necessarily have to be an animal — making a statue a vice president would also qualify. If you're lucky with this variant, you'll be dealing with a Companion Cube which will prove surprisingly competent as long as it stays funny.

The new appointee may also be the Puppet in Consulting Mister Puppet. Closely related to Pet Heir, the next branch down the crazy tree. See also Crazy Cat Lady. Not to be confused with the Australian progressive metal band of the same name, though they did naturally name themselves after the Trope Namer.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Non-villainous example: In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, after Professor Daitokuji's death, his cat Pharaoh becomes the de facto headmaster of the Osiris dorm. It's likely they couldn't find a teacher who wanted the position, as the Osiris dorm was traditionally for failing students and those expected to fail, the only ones willingly rooming there were those allied with Judai and those protesting the school's policies for some reason. Not that running the dorm was a big job; by season three, the number of official Osiris students started to dwindle until Judai—who had earlier turned a promotion down—was the only one left.
  • In Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, after trying to remove Hanpen, a stray cat, from the grounds of Nijigasaki High, Setsuna, the school's Student Council President, changes her mind after discovering that Rina had been taking care of the cat and could not bring it home with her. While pets were forbidden at the school, nothing says that a cat cannot be assigned as the student council's official trekking officer, and Setsuna makes such an appointment accordingly to allow Hanpen to remain. Ai even lampshades the strangeness of this.
    Ai: "I call BS, but I'll happily accept this BS."
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War has a justified example near the end of the series. Iino appoints Gomanosuke (a pet cat that lives near the school and is well known for wandering the school grounds) to be her General Affairs Officer when she's elected Student Council President since she's having trouble finding qualified people to fill the positions. Given that Shirogane went his entire second term without having the position filled and Iino's council is also noted to be far more efficient, it probably isn't that big of an issue.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • A Brief History of Equestria: Chancellor Puddinghead, being an Expy of Caligula, naturally did something like this. Specifically, she appointed her pet parrot to her cabinet, and when it died, simply had it stuffed and insisted on it keeping the post.
  • This is revealed to be the reason that names in the Oversaturated World are similar to their Equestrian counterparts. At one point, a king appointed his horse Glitterhoof (see Crusader Kings II below) as his successor, and the nobles agreed that the horse was a better option than the king's sons. Combined with some clever proxy ruling and surprisingly good luck, the horse-led nation conquered most of Europe in a few generations, and people began using horse puns in their language as a result; the kingdom later collapsed, but the naming convention stuck around.
  • In Princess Celestia Hates Tea, Celestia mistakenly bestows "a rather impressive portfolio of executive powers" on an ornamental vase while in a heated argument with an incompetent doctor.
    Inner monologue: I hoped that it would not abuse them.
  • In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, at one point Norlock claims that the Trope Namer incident was his idea. Though he also states that he and Caligula were both blind drunk at the time, and Norlock didn't think he'd actually do it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A rare case of such a character being the main protagonist, the film Bailey's Billions had the titular character, a dog named Bailey, inheriting $1 billion from a deceased relative, causing the woman's nephew and his wife to try to kidnap the dog to gain the inheritance.
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Kazakhstan's Minister of Culture (and top pornstar) is a chimpanzee named Johnny the Monkey.
  • In Gordy the head of a major corporation hands over control to the title character, a small pig, upon his death. The film treats this as a good thing.
  • Invoked in Ghostbusters (2016) when Gilbert has reason to believe she and Yates have traveled to the future.
    Gilbert: What year is it?
    Holtzmann: It's 2040! Our president is a plant!
  • In A Royal Affair, King Christian demands that his dog, Gourmand, is made an honorary member of the privy council.

  • Discworld:
    • A past Patrician of Ankh-Morpork (the aptly named "Mad Lord Snapcase", though most Patricians had names like that) appointed his horse as a city councilor, though it is pointed out that it wasn't a bad councilor compared to some of the others, which included a vase, a heap of sand, and three people who had been beheaded.
    • In Making Money, when Topsy Lavish dies, she leaves 50% of the shares in the bank to her dog, Mr Fusspot (who already owns 1% of the bank, giving him a majority and making him chairman). She then left the dog to Moist von Lipwig, forcing him to take control of the bank, which was her plan all along.
    • The Discworld Companion states that the Sto Plains village of Scrote has elected a dead body as its Mayor for several decades. The first time it was because the candidate died in mid-election (but was still more popular than the alternative); after that, the villagers really liked how the late Mayor hadn't raised taxes or embezzled town funds.
    • There is the (in-universe) historical example of St Ossory's ass (his donkey, not his behind) which was made a bishop in the Omnian church.note 
  • Lord Midnight in the Backstory of the Vorkosigan Saga, a horse who was appointed the official heir by Count Vortala during a feud between the Count and his son. note  The funniest thing about Lord Midnight is that he is an important legal precedent, because when his appointment was challenged it was upheld by a rump majority of the Count's friends and political allies. This established that a Count's designated heir need not necessarily be his own descendant, or even human. This becomes important when cloning and genetic engineering technology starts to blur the traditional definitions of what makes someone a descendant, or a person. Midnight fortunately/sadly predeceased the Count, who then designated his now reconciled son as heir once again.
  • One Andermani Emperor tried to do this for his potted plants in the backstory of the Honor Harrington novels. He was quietly deposed by his own sister, who, by common agreement, was one of the most successful Andermani Emperors of all time.
  • One of the many signs that the Helmacrons from Animorphs are completely insane is that all of their leaders (or ship captains at least) are examples of this trope, being corpses. They believe that the best leaders never make mistakes. Since the living inevitably make mistakes, dead people are the best leaders. Of course being "promoted" this way doesn't really hurt them at all since all Helmacrons have Born-Again Immortality.
  • Discussed in Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. "Henote  is persuaded that when Caligula made his horse a Consul, the people of Rome, at that time, were not greatly surprised at it, having necessarily been in some degree prepared for it, by an insensible gradation of extravagances from the same quarter." (letter 50)
  • Hilariously subverted in The Trials of Apollo, where the heroes encounter the actual, original Caligula and his horse... and it turns out the horse is as intelligent as a human and capable of speech.
  • The encyclopedia parody The Onion Book of Known Knowledge portrays President James Buchanan as The Caligula and claims that after murdering his running mate John C. Breckinridge, Buchanan appointed his dog as Vice President instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Malcolm in the Middle, when the scandals at Hal's company finally come to light one of the many revelations is that the chief financial officer had his dog on the board of directors. Hal himself is disturbed that he had CCd the dog on several memos.
  • On 30 Rock, Don Geiss stacks the board of directors with "the most reliable collection of sycophantic yes-men this side of an Al Franken book signing: His golf cronies, his army buddies, a collection of unemployable family members and his hunting dogs." It's unclear how intelligent the dogs are, but they're apparently capable of staying seated at the table and voting in some fashion.
    • In a more literal example, in numerous episodes Kenneth mentions the mayor of his hometown is a horse. (Though, in one, it's possible he said, "Our mare wears a pantsuit". He is from a one-horse town.)
  • Referenced in The Suite Life on Deck, when Bailey explains her idea of a "big city:" "Any place where the mayor isn't a goose."
  • In one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, there is a rather loopy corporate executive who took investment advice from his dog (There was mention of him once trying to buy-out General Motors because the dog chased a Buick). By the time of the episode, Sparky the dog had been dead for months — but his owner had him stuffed and mounted in his office and still took investment advice from it.
  • In Babylon 5, Emperor Cartagia established "The Shadow Council" to advise him on matters of state. Unfortunately, it was composed entirely of the heads of Centarum representatives who had opposed his alliance with the Shadows.
  • In an episode of The Golden Girls, Rose tells of how her Uncle Gustaf ran for the position of St. Olaf water commissioner against his horse. And lost.
  • In one episode of M*A*S*H, the 4077 treat Corporal Cupcake, a German shepherd.
    Radar: You know what's funny? When Cupcake gets his promotion, I'm gonna be outranked by a dog.
    Hawkeye: I know how you feel. I'm only a captain and Frank is a major.
  • NCIS: In the episode "Ships in the Night", Abby gives CGIS Agent Borin a sympathy card for the recent death of a Coast Guard mascot, and remarks to Gibbs that these mascots have their own service records, commendations and even assigned berths aboard ships. Inverted in that, being an Animal Lover, she finds nothing odd about it:
    Abby: How come NCIS doesn't have a mascot?
    Gibbs: We do, Abbs: you.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Marius Leitdorf, the Mad Count of Averland had this with his warhorse, Daisy Kurt von Hellboring II, on whose advice he relied on as much as any of his advisors.

    Video Games 
  • In Crusader Kings II, if your character has the Lunatic trait, you can get a random event where you decide to appoint your horse as your chancellor. Previously, this just dismissed the current chancellor and left the position vacant, but a later patch made the event generate an actual horse character named Glitterhoof to fill the position. Naturally, someone took it to the logical extreme and used an exploit in order to make a horse the ruler of the restored Roman Empire.
  • In Fossil Fighters: Champions, the player and his friends are tasked at one point with finding a princess who has entered the tournament in secret, being shown a picture of a girl and her dog. The punchline to this sequence is that the princess is the dog (the girl's her retainer). This is lampshaded as absurd, but it apparently works for the country.
  • Love & Pies: In the Rival Season Pass, Betty mentions that Brumhilda the goat was once made mayor of Appleton.
  • In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, Big Al of the Q-Force loses the position of Chief Science Officer, a position he is unquestionably the most qualified for of the team, to Skrunch the Monkey. Skrunch was later Vice President under Qwark, who was appointed president of the Polaris Galaxy prior to Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One.
  • In The Outer Worlds DLC, "Peril on Gorgon" while at a bar called The Sprat Shack, the bartender tells the Player Character that in order to avoid legal trouble, the place is actually legally owned by a sprat (space rat) that's somewhere on another huge ship called The Groundbreaker. The fact that no one can tell sprats apart is the whole point.
    Vicar Max: Most businesses in Halcyon are run by sprats, but this is the first I've heard of it being openly acknowledged.

  • Subverted In The Order of the Stick: The ruler of Azure City has a cat as a trusted adviser, but he doesn't actually take its advice — it's just to make people think he's senile when he isn't.
  • The president of the Henchmen Guild in Nodwick is a hamster. Of course, the hamster only got appointed to membership in the Guild by its owner, the previous president. It was elected president at the next election due to all people present and voting being drunk. The hamster's re-election (for life) was due to the guild steward being bribed. The hamster was eventually revealed to be sentient and actually super-powered, but the event that caused that occurred after her election and she spent most of her time after that still pretending ot be an ordinary hamster.
  • King Steve of 8-Bit Theater has a coffee stain named Rodney as his right hand man. He also briefly lost his kingship to a length of string.
  • Before joining Sturgeon's Law, Pierce was senior vice president under such a CEO.
  • In The Adventures Of Business Cat the titular character appoints his mouse toy to multiple positions in the company.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Deep Space Homer", an inanimate carbon rod from the nuclear reactor was honored as Employee of the Month (much to Homer's chagrin), and after Homer accidentally "used" a different Inanimate Carbon Rod to lock the door on the spacecraft after he broke it, it was given its own ticker-tape parade.
    • In "C.E.D'oh", Burns reveals the nuclear plant is actually owned by a canary, so that if the government ever conducts a proper investigation, the canary is the one that will go to jail. Mr. Burns implies that this is standard practice, saying "Standard Oil was once owned by a half-eaten breakfast." Homer is shown at the very bottom of the nuclear plant's employee hierarchy via a chart (the canary being at top, with Burns directly below him). Directly above Homer is the inanimate carbon rod.
    • In "Homer's Enemy", Burns made a dog a vice president.
    • Mr. Burns loves this trope. In "The Last Temptation of Homer", it was shown that he had, aside from hiring an illegal Iranian immigrant worker, also hired a duck named "Stewart" as a low level employee who tows nuclear waste (he also berates it to "get back to work!" when it briefly stops to catch its breath). This may be less outright insanity and more Mr. Burns' cheapness combined with a callous disregard for life. Later in the episode Burns is scanning the security monitors, trying to find a pair of employees who are not currently fighting with each other to send as his representatives to a convention; not only is the duck seen fighting another employee, he's winning.
    • In "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", Homer briefly quit his job. When he returned to the plant he found he had been replaced with a chicken. Which he later ate.
    • "Sideshow Bob Roberts" had most of the Springfield Republican Party mistakenly assume the mayoral candidate they've chosen to back was a water cooler. They seemed to think it would make a fine representative.
    • In "Homer's Triple Bypass", Homer is in hospital after a heart attack. Lenny and Carl stop by to wish him well, and mention that they had a hell of a time replacing him. Cut to Homer's work station, and we see that he has been replaced by a brick.
  • On Gravity Falls, it is discovered that the real town founder was Quentin Trembley, a Cloud Cuckoolander who was once elected President in a landslide (as in, every other candidate was buried by one). Among his acts during his short term, he appointed babies to the Supreme Court. Those same babies later helped erase him from the history books.
  • The South Park episode "Douche and Turd" had a camp of PETA members who had a goat (one that was a doctor, apparently) as their leader.
  • In American Dad!, the secretary of Steve and Roger's sort of real detective agency is a stuffed bear named Teddy Bonkers, something Steve eventually gets fed up with.
    "Oh, for the love of God, Roger! Bonkers is not real! Bonkers is a stuffed bear, a toy! I didn't want to tell you, but I hate this bit! Here's why, it's stupid! A teddy bear is our receptionist? It doesn't even make sense! Do you know how many calls we've missed?!"
  • Looney Tunes:
  • In Wander over Yonder, Wander finds a creature who he calls Captain Tim, having mistaken a nametag for a man it ate as being for the creature itself. Wander subsequently gives Captain Tim over to Lord Hater as a pet. Hater makes "Captain" the creature's actual military rank and thus outranks most, if not all of his minions.
  • Jellystone!: Non-animal example in "Gorilla in Our Midst." Although Yogi, Boo-Boo, and Cindy are the ones to awake Grape Ape from his food coma, mayor Huckleberry instead presents a medal to the easel on which Touché Turtle and his compatriots used to brainstorm solutions on.
  • The Great North: In Season 2 "Dances With Wolf Adventure", it revealed that Lone Moose has three counselperson where two of them are Roy and his pet eagle, Toby, and together they hold 2/3 majority of the town counsel. It's apparently very common for animals to hold government positions in Alaska; a guinea pig was once lieutenant governor.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "The Klimpaloon Ultimatum'', a warthog was elected mayor of Danville in 1805. The warthog filled his cabinets with his relatives, and the public became so fed up that they not only removed the warthog from power but also wrote a law preventing a warthog from having a position of power ever again.

    Real Life 
  • Trope Namer: Emperor Caligula famously planned to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus to the consulship, the (by this point purely ceremonial) highest political office in Rome. However, it's a little more complicated than it sounds: he may have done this in order to mock the Senate ("My horse could do as good a job as any of you clowns! I'll just teach him to stamp once for 'yes' and twice for 'no comment'"), it may have been a rumor started after his death, he could just have wanted the year to be named after Incitatus (the first consuls of the year were eponymous), or he genuinely might have been completely insane (this was the firm position of most ancient writers...many of whom were the clearly and deliberately insulted Senatorial class).
  • Real Life examples happen all the time (especially in small towns in the United States) with towns electing animals — and in one unconfirmed case, a statue — as mayors for their cities.
    • Although not officially, one of the things that the seventies era feminist movement did was crown a live sheep Miss America on a boardwalk of Atlantic City in 1968.
    • In the same year, the Youth International Party (the Yippies) famously nominated a pig named Pigasus as their presidential candidate, saying the Democratic and Republican Parties had done the same thing already with their candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.
    • The Ohio State University once elected a cow as homecoming queen.
    • A cat named Stubbs in Talkeetna, Alaska was mayor from 1997 until his death in July 2017, though the position was only honorary since the town is only a historic district.
    • John Ashcroft infamously lost an election to an opponent who died during the campaign, with the dead man's widow serving in his place.
  • As part of his Turn of the Millennium news/satire program "The Awful Truth," Michael Moore had a potted ficus plant as a write-in candidate in over 20 U.S. Congressional primaries, because he objected to the incumbents running unopposed. Watch the segment on Youtube. It beat the incumbent in at least one race.
  • It is common practice that the mascots of military units around the world (though mostly in the UK) hold pretty high military ranks. Nils Olav, the mascot of the Royal Norwegian Guard, is a King Penguin from Edinburgh Zoo, but not only does he hold a fricking knighthood, but also the official rank of Colonel-In-Chief. Oh, and just to clarify, he is thus technically closer to the Norwegian King than the actual Guard Commander, a Lieutenant colonel.
    • In August 2016 Sir Nils Olav was promoted to the rank of Brigadier, the fourth highest rank in the Norwegian Army.
  • Pulvapies, a brand of foot powder, once ran for and got successfully elected as the mayor of Picoazá, a small town in Ecuador. This happened thanks to a series of election-themed ads that said "Vote for any candidate, but if you want well-being and hygiene, vote for Pulvapies." People took these ads at face value and actually voted for the product, as it was a write-in election. No word exists of how the problem of having an inanimate object as mayor was resolved.
  • In 1958, 100,000 people voted for a female rhinoceros named Cacareco onto the city council of São Paulo, Brazil to embarrass and ridicule the city's corrupt and inefficient government. While Cacareco was ultimately disqualified from serving by officials (on the grounds that she had been on loan to the Sao Paulo zoo from the Rio de Janeiro zoo and was therefore not a resident of Sao Paulo), the term "Cacareco vote" is used in Brazil to this day as a term for votes of protest to express dissatisfaction with the available candidates in an election.
    • 30 years later, two comedy newspapers from Rio de Janeiro launched a mayoral campaign for a grumpy chimpanzee, who ended up in third place overall (the estimates are 400,000 votes).
  • The satirical Rhinoceros Party of Canada, inspired in part by the Cacareco incident, was nominally led in its first incarnation (1963-1993) by a rhinoceros known as Cornelius the First, who lived at the Granby Zoo in Granby, Quebec. The second incarnation (2006-present) does have an actual human leader, though.
  • Tama the cat was a station master at Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line in Japan from 2007 until her death in 2015. The stations on the Kishigawa Line had all been destaffed as a cost-cutting measure, with station masters being selected from local business owners. Tama was selected from a number of cats being cared for by passengers and Kishi Station's manager, Toshiko Koyama. She had several cat assistants and a deputy, Nitama (literally "Second Tama"), who took up the role of station master after Tama's death. The whole affair became a minor tourist attraction which the management played it with straight-faced seriousness, to the point where Kishi Station's building was demolished and rebuilt in 2010, with the new building resembling a cat's face, and containing cat-themed amenities. The new station master's "office" was a windowed niche in the main terminal equipped with a cat bed and blankets with a private out-of-sight "restroom" complete with litter box. Visitors could look into the "office" while boarding their trains and there was a kiosk close by where they could pay for treats to be fed to the station master as a gratuity. And more somberly, after the original Tama's death, a small shrine in her honor was erected next to the station; the first duty of deputy Nitama upon assuming the post of station master was to be escorted/carried to the shrine to pay homage to her predecessor before taking on her duties. Notably, the primary duty of the station master was to greet passengers - something that a cat could actually be quite good at (allowing for a lack of speech or even awareness of the position), making this particular example surprisingly adept at her job.
  • One year in the mid-seventies, the University of Regina's Anarchist Party ran a frozen turkey as their candidate for president of the student council—and won. And at the end of the year, the Anarchists cooked and ate their president.
  • The University of East Anglia, Norwich once elected a gerbil as its Student Union President. This was meant as a sarcastic backlash against the moribund, party-driven nature of student politics - perceived as irrelevant to the interests of the student body - and the supine nature of the university's politically-minded students. Students alienated by the partisan nature of the game and the way some candidates viewed the position not as one of genuine service, but merely as a tick on their CV's for political careers elsewhere, made a telling point. note 
  • According to legend, Bolivian dictator Mariano Melgarejo was told of Caligula and Incitatus by subordinates concerned of his erratic behavior, and was inspired by it to make his own horse Holofernes the "General of Bolivia".
  • During World War II, Bugs Bunny was made an honorary United States Marine Private in 1943 and was promoted up the ranks to Master Sergeant before his honorable discharge. Similarly, Donald Duck is an Army Buck Sergeant.
  • Only a borderline example, since there is an actual human being under that costume somewhere, but one has to wonder what will happen if Lord Buckethead (an explicitly fictional character from an Eighties SF movie called Gremloids who is being played by an actor in all public appearances) actually gets elected to Parliament.
    • The same applies to a man who ran as Elmo, though he had no chance, as he only got three votes.
  • King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand once had a pet poodle dog named Fufu back when he was still the Crown Prince of his country. Fufu also held the rank of Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force.
  • Dogs in the US Military are officially one rank higher than their handlers. Not so they can issue orders, but so that anyone caught abusing the dog can be charged with assaulting a superior officer.
  • Nicolas Maduro offering some cows on TV to make them representatives in the Constitutional Assembly so they could join him in his efforts to change the Constitution.
  • In 2022, Patrick the Pony, a therapy animal in the tiny Devon village of Cookington, who had achieved some internet fame through drinking Guinness at the local pub, was elected mayor. This is a purely honorary position though, especially since Cookington didn't previously have a mayor.


Video Example(s):


Toby the Eagle

Toby the Eagle is one of three members of the town council (his handler Roy being one of the other two). It's apparently very common for animals to hold government positions in Alaska.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / CaligulasHorse

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