Goats and Horses as Companion Animals
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Companionship in life is as essential as the air we breathe. Companion animals have a calming effect on other stressed or nervous animals.
Companionship in life is as essential as the air we breathe. It’s a feeling of closeness and rapport with another living being, whether it’s youngsters walking to class together, two friends chatting over coffee, or sharing the happenings of the day with one’s spouse or partner. It’s a connection that draws people together — fellowship, camaraderie, and comfort.
Animals also seek out companionship, usually with their species, but sometimes with other critters with no resemblance or behavioral traits. A bond draws different animals together like Bubbles, the African elephant, and Bella, a lively Labrador retriever that met at the Myrtle Beach Safari, a wildlife preserve in South Carolina. Bubbles arrived as an orphan from Africa after poachers killed her parents; Bella stayed on at the park when her owner, one of the contractors, moved on to another assignment. They formed a deep friendship that baffles everyone, especially when the pooch uses the pachyderm as a diving platform on the lake. They are inseparable and true compadres!
Animal friendships usually occur independently, but sometimes humans help the process along, especially when it comes to stabling horses. Many barnyards have a cat or two as mousers, along with chickens, ducks, donkeys, and goats. They’re simply part of the operation, so alliances are bound to happen on any given day.
It’s not unusual to see a snoozing feline stretched out on the back of a horse or a hen roosting close-by on the fence or stall door. It’s a peaceful co-existence that brings harmony to those in residence.
Providing a Purpose
Often, companion animals are sought out to help anxious horses, especially some Thoroughbreds in the racing circuit. They exhibit excessive pacing, teeth grinding, cribbing (repetitive grabbing onto solid objects while sucking in air), kicking, biting, and other destructive behaviors that can cause injury and added stress.
For centuries, grooms and managers of these valuable equines have done their best to soothe and bring a feeling of calmness to the stable. Who knows when goats came into the picture, but their presence has helped many horses relax when traveling to the next event. Besides providing a sense of calm, goats help ward off boredom with their happy-go-lucky attitudes and antics.
Size and breed aren’t deciding factors when introducing goats as companion animals to horses. Some are small and compact, like the Nigerian Dwarf and American Pygmy, while others like Nubian and Alpine varieties fit the bill. Some are crossbred. It simply depends on the individual goat; are they friendly and patient, and do they adapt well to traveling and new environments?
Many racetracks, such as Churchill Downs, Del Mar, and Santa Anita, welcome goats to the back lot. It’s a common sight to see the easy-going animals follow their steeds from the horse trailer to an assigned stable, moving in with ease and acclimation. Some goats find a spot to get comfortable outside the stall door, while others stay close to their charge inside. It all depends on the boundaries set by the horse.
Instead of being stressed and agitated, the horses experience a sense of calmness that definitely contributes to their performance in upcoming races. No one wants a jittery Thoroughbred entering the gate.
This situation gives reference to the familiar idiom, “get your goat.” The saying originated in Great Britain, finding its way across the Atlantic to North America long ago. If someone wanted to wreak havoc with a particular entry, they’d sneak into the back lot and steal their goat, hoping the incident would upset the horse, causing him/her to drop out of the competition. The practice became such a problem with actual abductions that many grooms stood guard outside the stall to protect their prized horses and goats. No one was going to get their goat! The expression found its way into everyday language, meaning to upset or irritate someone.
A Package Deal
Surrounding the city of Lexington, Kentucky, are magnificent farms with familiar white fences that let folks know they’re in horse country. Nestled among the gently rolling hills in the nearby community of Georgetown is Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home, a 236-acre property with a herd of 200 magnificent equines living out their lives after a career in racing and breeding.
When Old Friends founder and director, Michael Blowen, a former Boston Globe journalist and movie critic, received a call in 2014 about new arrival Eldaafer, winner of the 2010 Breeders Cup Marathon and other illustrious competitions, he was in for a surprise. Joining Eldaafer were his two companion goats, Google and Yahoo.
A descendant of Seattle Slew, Eldaafer was a champion in his own right, living up to his name, which translates as the victorious. Sadly, his racing career was cut short in 2012 due to a severe suspensory ligament injury to one of his legs. His owners wanted to be sure his future was serene with lush green pastures and lots of attention. They were thrilled when learning about Old Friends.
Michael didn’t hesitate for a second when he heard about Eldaafer’s package deal that included two additional animals. Horses are herd animals, and if that includes a family of goats, he was more than happy rolling out the red carpet for all three of them. He also knew the importance of the calming effect companion animals have on nervous or stressed horses. Having the horses housed with Eldaafer in the stable made perfect sense. Besides, the farm also had plenty of pasture land to explore.
Eldaafer and his two buddies fit in beautifully, sticking together like glue. They’ve enjoyed meeting and mingling with some of the other horses, happy to have found such a peaceful paradise. Retirement has been a delight for all of them. Sadly, Google died in 2018, but Yahoo has carried on, faithfully tending to his beloved friend with great attentiveness.
For more information, contact Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home in Georgetown, Kentucky, and their satellite facility, Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center, New York:
Facebook page: Old Friends — Retired Thoroughbred Racehorses We Love.
The versatility of goats is commendable. Not only do they produce an array of outstanding dairy and meat products, but they also provide luxurious cashmere and mohair fiber and work hard at eradicating invasive weeds and vines. That’s something to applaud! How comforting to know they also take heart at being calming companion animals for high-strung horses.
Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.