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
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I’ve seen shetland ponies with racehorses before but never pigs nor goats – fascinating 😊
Thanks for the comment Becky and for dropping by the blog. I discovered the idea of stable companions when I read “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand. Apparently they tried a goat as a mate for Seabiscuit, and when the goat got between Seabiscuit and his food, he picked the goat up by the scruff of the neck and dropped him outside the stall. Eventually, the trainer found a horse called “Pumpkin” that worked out well. BTW, if you haven’t read this book, it’s excellent. ~James
Love it!! And thanks for the tip, I’ll look it out.
Years ago, my quarter horse was a stable companion for a racehorse.
Pretty impressive that you had a quarter horse Peggy. Was the racehorse a famous Australian speedster? ~James
The companions sure get to live the good life. I never would have thought the horses would have pet pals.
Laura, I knew that horses, like other animals, each have their own personality. But, I’d never really considered the herd aspect of their nature and how that impacts their demeanor and behavior. ~James
Really hadn’t thought about horses needing companionship — and goats, too, for that matter. But it makes a lot of sense. That bonding should make for a better relationship and thus, some better racing. And don’t you love that name? Runhappy? Makes me think of some travelers I know!
Rusha, when we drive by the horse farms around Lexington, there are really big, fenced pastures devoted to horses. And it seems that always, however many horses are in the field, they’re usually clustered relatively close together. I guess that’s the hard-wired, safety-in-numbers gene working. And that makes a horse and a goat a mini-herd. ~James
You two do come up with the cutest stories. All right Heidi is cuter but the pig in the hay? Now really that just took the prize. Definitely learned something new today, which of course is never unusual on your blog. 🙂
Thanks Sue. This post was a fun one to write. I think it’s interesting and ironic that these multi-million dollar horses chill with goats and pigs. Runhappy seemed pretty relaxed, but then he was alone in his own paddock with one of his grooms in attendance. The thoroughbred business is a world unto itself. ~James
Horses are such beautiful & interesting species. My daughter owns a thoroughbred who has had his share of learning to fit in. He can be a bit bratty with other horses, but thankfully he has found a couple of good pals to hang out with in the field!
Love this post James & Terri!
Thanks Lynn. From what little I’ve seen, thoroughbreds are notoriously temperamental. We were warned about one of the yearlings we saw on our visit (named Jeeves), who wanted to bite anyone he could lay his teeth on. Does your daughter ride for pleasure or in some type of competition, and how involved was she in training her horse? ~James
Poor Jeeves, he is probably just a misunderstood young fellow! Our daughter now just rides for pleasure but she competed for a number of years in Hunter/Jumper competitions.
I wrote a little piece awhile back about her experience with this beautiful relationship between & human & horse. Have a read if you have some time.
It makes sense to me that horses would thrive with companionship.
Leslie, I’d never made the connection between horses, their herd, and their preference for social interaction. But you’re right, it makes total sense. ~James
I have a friend who raises goats. I’m sending him this just for fun, to see if he knows about the avenues for advancement available to his critters. After all, how you gonna keep [the goats] down on the farm, after they’ve seen [Kentucky]?
That’s a great idea Linda. Who knows? It could be another income stream for your friend, and upward mobility for the goats. Hanging around with pampered horses can’t be a bad gig, particularly if you’re a goat. BTW, love the pun 🙂 ~James
Not an angle I’d ever heard about – fascinating and fun! I get the horses’ attraction to goats; they are so cute. But pigs? Well, OK, whatever makes them happy!
It’s all about diversity Lexie, even in the animal kingdom.:) But herds are the key. Animals on the Serengeti don’t seem to worry about who’s in the herd. It takes all types of ears and eyes to stay safe. ~James
Never knew any of this! The stablemates are adorable, but the thing that surprised me most was the peppermints 🙂
Susan, I don’t think that peppermints are a big part of Runhappy’s diet, but he gobbled a few while we were there. The groom that was taking care of Runhappy was telling us a story about one of the horses at the center that would eat anything … even shrimp! He said that so far, they hadn’t found anything that he wouldn’t eat! ~James
Wow, thanks for sharing! I had no idea, but it sure makes sense since we’re all better company when our besties are around! 🙂
Kelly, I was reading about herd behavior and a biologist said the “no horse would ever choose to be alone.” And this must explain why stable companions have a such calming effect. It’s not only a companion, but it makes them a mini-herd. ~James
How wonderful that the owners realize that the horses need companionship, as we all do. The goats are adorable as is the pig. We just got a dog and she just loves it when there is another dog around to play with so I understand the need for a friend. What a great post.
Thanks Darlene. My short time around these thoroughbreds has been a goldmine for new knowledge (and great material for a few posts). As I said to someone else, I think it’s interesting and ironic that these multi-million dollar horses chill with goats and pigs. ~James
All I have to do is crinkle the peppermint wrapper in my pocket and my horses come running. As to different tastes, I had a mare who loved white wine and a gelding who was addicted to beer! I am loving this series, Terri & James. You have found such interesting snippets to write about for horse-lovers and non-horse lovers alike!
Thanks so much Martha. It’s gratifying to know that if I can write a post that pleases someone who actually knows something about horses, then I must be doing something right. And it’s funny about the peppermints. I don’t know about your horses, but Runhappy pretty much crunched the mint once, and then it was gone. It was also great to see a million-dollar horse rooting around in someone’s purse for the next fix. 🙂 ~James
What a pair, Strong Impact and Charlie the Pig!
Nice to see Australia represented as well 😉
The Aussie thoroughbred Black Caviar is a beautiful horse, but his pal Billy is one ugly goat. Opposites attract I guess. ~James
What a great post! I love these kinds of stories. Everybody needs a friend.
Pam, I knew this post would appeal to animal lovers of all kinds. I read an account of a nestling falling into a thoroughbred’s stall, and the horse stood over it for hours and wouldn’t move until a stable hand came in and put the bird back in its nest. The more I learn about horses, the more I realize how much more complex they are than I thought. ~James
You two are always getting me to say “I didn’t know that”, and this post is no exception. Who would have thought that a goat or even better, a plump pig, could calm a high-strung thoroughbred? Very interesting post!
Thanks LuAnn. These posts are fun to put together. I’m probably going out onto a scientific limb here, but I think it’s about the benefits of a herd. Horses are herd animals, and everything about being a thoroughbred race horse (except the racing) takes them out of the herd. As I said to someone else, animals on the Serengeti don’t seem to worry about who’s in the herd. It takes all types of ears and eyes to stay safe from predators. ~James
Loved these posts. I learned so much, as I always do when I come to your blog. 🙂
I love goats. I think they are hilarious creatures … but I would never have thought they would have a calming effect on horses. If anything, I would have suspected them of being little rabble-rousers 🙂
A really cute story. I loved it … and peppermints?! Learn something new everyday 🙂
Joanne, I don’t know if you read Martha’s comment, but she said: “All I have to do is crinkle the peppermint wrapper in my pocket and my horses come running.” I guess the next step is to determine if it’s the sugar or the peppermint flavor. Would they also like cinnamons? That might put more pep in their step, ~James
I had read Martha’s comment and was so surprised.
Well, at least their handlers are faced with minty-fresh breath 😉
A really fun and informative post, James. Such cute photos of the horses with their playmates. 🙂