If you’re Runhappy, a four-year old colt who has added $1.5 million dollars to his owner’s bank account, you pretty much get what you want.
Whether it’s a fancy, spotlessly clean horse trailer, a private pasture for grazing, or peppermint candy on demand. It’s all about keeping this winning thoroughbred happy and healthy.
Horses, by nature, are highly social herd animals, and most trainers realize that in order to be happy, horses want a social life. But for racehorses, the constraints of training, racing, and moving around the country usually mean there’s no herd to be had; so trainers have to do a bit of matchmaking. In the case of Runhappy, this means an adorable, miniature baby goat named Heidi.
On our visit to the Thoroughbred Center, we did a bit of paddock socializing with Runhappy and his stable companion Heidi, and he was the perfect gent. He posed for photos, and snacked on peppermints, and the entire time, the quietly bleating, too-cute Heidi never strayed far from his side.
Stable companions and their amazing calming effect on excitable thoroughbreds has been a part of the business from the beginning. Horses can’t talk (well except for Mr. Ed), so trainers have to be perceptive. They know that a nervous horse is a poorly performing horse, and when the starting bell clangs, it’s all about peak performance
An article about the Arlington Racetrack in the Chicago Tribune said:
“In addition to the approximately 1,200 horses stabled there, by some estimates there are more than 60 goats that call the barns home as well … They serve as ‘pets’ for the racehorses and exert a strange, calming influence on many of the skittish, high-strung thoroughbreds.”
Have you heard the phrase “get your goat?” A popular story around the stables is that the phrase has its origins in the early days of horse racing. When a nefarious character wanted to upset a horse so he would run poorly, the goat would be snatched from the stable.
Stable companions aren’t always goats. Frequently, they’re other horses, or in the case of a Belmont racer called Strong Impact, it’s a pig named Charlie. A New York Times piece described their relationship:
“On Thursday, the two could be found together in Strong Impact’s stall: one tall, shiny and alert, the other obese, muddy and asleep, a massive heap of porcine flesh spread out in the straw. Despite his resemblance to an overinflated pink zeppelin, Charlie seemed like a soothing presence, a giant snoring security blanket for a high-strung horse.”
I’m sure that the philosophy of most thoroughbred owners is whatever works: horse, pig, or goat. But with Runhappy’s $1.5 million dollars in winnings, I’d say that Runhappy and Heidi are earning their keep and then some.
James & Terri