Jeffrey offers encouragement to the 3-year-old filly Masked Heroine
Given a large enough shedrow, it’s not uncommon to come across a racehorse who’s a little less self-assured than the rest. Sometimes they’re just a nervous personality; sometimes they have a particular trigger that makes them uneasy, like a recent move or a neighbor they can’t stand. Whatever the reason, these types often can be a puzzle for trainers, walking their stalls or weaving incessantly, putting excess wear on their shoes and soft tissues as they go.
When trainer Jane Cibelli acquired a horse who fit this mold, she did what many trainers before her had done – she called a friend to ask if they had a goat she could borrow.
The tradition of goats as companion animals for racehorses goes back decades if not centuries, and is supposedly the origin of the idiom “get your goat.” It’s thought that Thoroughbreds take comfort in the presence of a goat because as fellow grazing herd animals they can substitute for the social interaction they’d normally get from another horse on the farm. No one seems to have made an academic study of whether other livestock species would serve just as well to calm Thoroughbreds, though our anecdotal reporting history of the Barn Buddies series suggests cows and sheep are also suitable, if less practical on the backstretch.
Cibelli and her assistant made a few calls and found someone who had a goat named Jeffrey they promised to put on the horse van from the Miami area to Palm Meadows quickly.
“He got off the van and I said, ‘Oh he’s huge. You could ride him,’” she said. “What he’s taught me is how amazing animals are. We put him outside the horse’s stall and it was an immediate ‘Oh, thank goodness.’ They looked at each other, and the horse had this glassy look in his eyes. Later, the horse was laying down looking at Jeffrey, and Jeffrey was laying down looking at him.”
To Cibelli’s delight, Jeffrey has proven an intuitive companion to Thoroughbreds. It’s the nature of racing barns to have horses who come and go, entering or leaving through claims or retirements. When one horse leaves, Jeffrey always seems to figure out who needs him next.
“He knows if a horse needs him,” she said. “When we first shipped into Palm Meadows, I had this one filly and she gets a little antsy whenever we move places. She wasn’t really walking the stall but she was getting up tight, weaving, washing out. And immediately Jeffrey goes over to her and sat down in front of her stall and all was good. He’s amazing.”
Jeffrey has his favorites, and he has his not-so-favorites among the racehorses. At Delaware Park, where the stalls have webbings he can climb underneath, he’ll crawl into the stall with his favorite horses, while others may get a defiant head toss or knock of his horns on their doorframe as he goes by.
Jeffrey travels with Cibelli’s string between South Florida and Delaware Park. He’s not wild about the trip but knows the routine and gets his own box stall in the commercial horse van. Cibelli suspects he doesn’t enjoy the colder weather up north, since as far as she knows he’s always been a Florida guy.
“I do put a blanket on him, but the problem is finding a blanket that actually fits him,” she said. “You’d think a foal blanket would fit him, but it doesn’t. The neck’s too big. So I try to jimmy something together for him.
“He doesn’t particularly like to be brushed or messed with. I think at some point he had kind of a rough life because he does stand up for himself. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he will turn around and let you know.”
Jeffrey consults with Cibelli assistant Matt Hartman as barn cat Lucy looks on
Jeffrey has developed quite a reputation in the barn area, whether he’s in Delaware or at Gulfstream, where he is based this winter. Cibelli often gets calls first thing in the morning from trainers in neighboring barns who report he has taken advantage of the training hour bustle to wander off visiting. He even recruited an assistant – a fellow goat joined Cibelli’s string in Delaware last summer, to Jeffrey’s apparent delight, but was not able to make the journey south with them.
Jeffrey seems to take seriously the need for collaboration between him and other staff, and often finds his way into Cibelli’s office.
“I get here first thing in the morning and the cat I’ve had forever is like, ‘Feed me, feed me,’” said Cibelli. “And I look around and the other cats who have decided to move in are also saying feed me. And then here comes Jeffrey. So before I do anything I’ve got to feed my menagerie.”
When he’s not serving as sports psychologist to Cibelli’s string, Jeffrey likes to kick back with a snack. Cibelli and her staff have found his palate trends towards the salty. Potato chips, Cheetos, and spicy, crunchy snacks are big favorites.
“He’s got quite a following,” she said. “I was worried he’d be annoying, but everybody knows him. He’s just a cool goat.
“I don’t know how old he is, but he’s got a home for the rest of his life.”
If you want to keep track of Jeffrey’s exploits, you can find him on his very own Twitter account @jeffreybarngoat.