Backside visitors driving by Barn C8 at Canterbury are often a little taken aback when they see the row of bears, raccoons and dogs hanging by their necks from the top of each stall door.
Thatâ€™s our barn.
Not to worry though, the animals are all stuffed.
Despite what it looks like, itâ€™s not a cotton death row and itâ€™s not a perverse form of barn dÃ©cor. The little furry critters are there for a distinct purpose. What began as just a way to keep a few of the more anxious horses company has turned into a long-standing tradition for all the horses under my momâ€™s care at the track. So much so, her barn is instantly recognizable by regulars at the track, and other trainers have taken to adding â€œbearsâ€ to their own horsesâ€™ stalls.
Horses are herd animals by nature. Theyâ€™re sociable, intelligent creatures who make strong friendships as distinct as each of their personalities. They tend to get lonely if stuck in a singular stall for most of the day. Many race horses have been known to live with a pet goat, cat, or even a donkey.
The tradition of stuffed friends has long been in our barn, but one horse, Streaker (Eye of the Streaker), really epitomized what they can come to mean to each horse.
Streaker had a Christmas bear that she loved. She would bat him back and forth with her nose or hold him on her neck as she watched the grooms work in the morning.
Streaker liked to win, and she knew when she did well. If she didnâ€™t do well, she would come back to her stall, stomp around, kick and bat her bear around. After one race in which she got pinched off and nearly hurt by another horseâ€™s mistakes, Streaker beat up her bear pretty good, tearing his arm off.
Mom, also frustrated by the race and Streakerâ€™s attitude, looked for the arm in the stall but had no luck. Â At this point, the bear already had a few â€œcorrective surgeriesâ€ to fix the wear-and-tear Streaker had caused over the years. Mom grabbed what was left of the bear and took him with her. Before going in for the night, she told Streaker she had to find the bearâ€™s arm or he would have to be thrown away.
The stern warning worked. When Mom arrived for 4 a.m. chores the very next day, she looked into Streakerâ€™s stall. There, in a patch of dirt carved out from the shavings, was the bear arm.
Streaker stood there looking at Mom with the little fuzzy arm between her two front hooves as if to say, â€œHere it is, Mom. Can I have my bear back now?â€