Pony horses are the hardest working horses at the track and the least recognized.
Itâ€™s a little known fact to those outside the industry but I thought Iâ€™d take the time to tip my hat to them.
Pony horses are the horses you see in the post parade. They are the saddle horses that accompany the racehorse and jockey onto the track at race time, and help warm up the racehorse.
The pony horses are there for a number of reasons. They can help calm the race horse. The pony horse and pony rider also help the jockey control the racehorse who can get a little jumpy.
A good pony horse is very well trained. They deal with a roaring crowd on one side and a jumpy racehorse on the other who may be trying to push, shove, bite or even jump on them. The pony horse pretty much has to take it and keep going mile after mile, race after race. They help exercise the racehorses during morning training as well. So, while a race horse only has to go out on the track once a day, a pony horse is out there dozens of times.
A good pony and a good rider are equally important. For as long as my Mom has been going to the track, she has been ponying our own horses. Some trainers contract pony riders and for some pony riders that is their only job at the track.
Speaking of pony horses: I have to mention Jesse.
Jesse is well known to regulars at Canterbury and Prairie Meadows. For nearly 20 years he was my Momâ€™s main pony horse. Heâ€™s a striking buckskin (tan body with a black mane and tail.) Heâ€™s a good looking horse and he knows it. He used to have this perfect â€œpranceâ€ he would do only when in front of the grandstand for the crowd. He loves, loves carrots and candy and had ample fans that would bring handfuls to him every race day. He has immense personality with an expressive face. I love the â€œfurrowed browâ€ face he made when it was time to work, even though he loved his job.
Jesse could always be counted on to stand his ground against any racehorse who tried to push him around. He never shied away from other horses or crowds and he never got tired. He was all the things a pony horse should be.
Heâ€™s now about 27 years old and retired from the track. He has a new job: he goes to pasture with the mares and colts every summer. In the spring, when the babies are born, Jesse knows it. He plants his nose on the fence and waits patiently to see the newborns parade by on their way to the barn. Once they go to the pasture, Jesse stays close to the babies; he keeps an eye on them and on us. Heâ€™s been known to step between the humans and the babies if he thinks they are getting too close, too fast. Â
Still, Jesse doesnâ€™t forget his first real love of being a pony. About once a year, usually around Easter we saddle him up and bring him into the arena with the young horses. Even at his age, Jesse doesnâ€™t cease to remind me of who he is. Just last year, he thought about bucking when I first got on.
When weâ€™re starting the young horses, Jesse already knows how to push them over: he lets them know who is boss and how to mind their manners. He leans into them on the turns without prodding from me. In fact, ponying with Jesse helps me learn by just feeling what he is doing.
Jesse is really special to our family. Out of the all the horses who have called the ranch their home, and weâ€™ve called family, he is the only one each one of us have ridden and used for a specific purpose. He ponied for Mom, worked cattle for Dad and ran barrels and poles for me (which he hated, but I wasnâ€™t a big fan eitherâ€¦). Heâ€™s earned his home at the ranch.