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Lead Ponies at the Races

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  • Lead Ponies at the Races

    Having grown up on Walter Farley's books about horse racing, I've always thought that each barn sent out its own stable ponies to walk the race horses to the starting gate. Watching races on TV I've noticed that the lead ponies' riders seem to wear a uniform shirt or jacket, and this weekend, watching the Breedes' Cup races, I noticed one particular lead pony working at least 3 of the races.

    So here's my question: Do the different barns use their own lead ponies? Or are all the ponies, and riders, owned by the track/association and assigned to the different runners? I know Napoleon and Henry Dailey are "just" fictional characters, but I always loved the idea of the familiar stablemate pony and rider being comforting companions to the young racehorses.

  • #2
    The answer is both. A lot of barns, especially the bigger ones, have their own ponies. However, there are also freelance pony people that pick up horses. Some are contracted with certain trainers, others work for whomever needs a pony. The track usually supplies shirts or jackets for them or at least has a dress code of sorts

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    • #3
      Barn stable ponies normally accompany the horses in the morning, usually but not always the afternoon ponies are different ponies owned by the rider and are paid a fee to pony each race. Pony people will have a number of outfits or barns that they work for in the afternoon and are hired specifically by the trainer and are paid for by the trainer. The ponies themselves are normally owned outright by these people and are responsible for their care, often owning more then one to lessen the load of a pony overworking, or one specifically for mornings and afternoons. I believe at Santa Anita the going fee is $30 per race. Course there are exceptions! Donna Brothers that did the interviewing for the Breeders Cup atop horseback on the gorgeous palomino was riding Sunny, Bafferts new stable pony! Aptly named by his son Bodie, per Bob
      Forward is good

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      • #4
        Walter Farley's books are from an earlier era. I think it did used to be the norm for a barn to have their own stable pony to lead the entry to the gate, but that's probably fallen by the way side in favor of the track associated pony horses in the afternoon. I also think that the pony riders have their own horses that they own and care for, although I might be wrong on that.

        Barns still do have their own stable ponies for the mornings though. I absolutely adore Wyatt, he's the greatest doing it all in the neck rope and no bridle. Bob Baffert has a really stunning palomino that belongs to Bode, but lives at the barn. I think, but I can't be sure, that Donna Brothers was riding him during the ponyback interviews at the Breeders Cup this weekend. Doug O'Neill's barn has a great little guy named Satire who went to the Derby this year with Goldencents.

        And then there's the famous ex-racehorses who've become pony horses. Kona Gold did it for awhile, and Funny Cide and they both went to the KY Horse Park after. Awesome Gem retired last year and is in Craig Dollase's barn learning the ropes of ponydom. And who can forget the Coach, the Lava Man himself. He loves his job as a pony horse as much as he loved racing.

        If it helps, Lava Man started ponying I'll Have Another last year before the run up to the Kentucky Derby (although he was so bouncey when they allowed him to pony IHA during the Santa Anita Derby I think the regular pony horse was there for him) and then he went to Kentucky, Maryland and New York with IHA. So that's almost like having a familiar stablemate pony. I think it helped I'll Have Another a lot.
        "My time here is ended. Take what I have taught you and use it well." -- Revan

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        • #5
          If I recall correctly, Asmussen had their morning stable pony Pancho, specifically pony Rachel Alexandra to the post on race days. Pancho also flew everywhere with her on her travels if my memory serves me correctly. One of the coolest dependable, well known, well traveled, photographed ponies I know of! A well loved staple in the Asmussen barn for many many years
          Forward is good

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          • #6
            As I watched the Breeders Cup races and all the crap those ponies have to put up with, I wondered how much a good, reliable, experienced pony would be worth? I would guess a lot....a few thousand dollars at least?

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            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thank you all very much!

              Hmm ... ravenclaw ... could that lead to a whole new breeding program, breeding and training lead-specific ponies?

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              • #8
                deamswept, I don't think Bruce ever had Kona work as a racetime pony (as in, leading horses up to the starting gate and the like). As far as I recall, Kona--as well as another of Bruce's really good sprinters Son of a Pistol--was used in the mornings to bring the babies out for training. Whereas Pistol (who I got to sit on once, whoo hoo!) was pretty easy going, Kona was too competitive and didn't much like going out to the track and not getting to whip some baby TB butt. He was a mischievous, competitive boy, not the easy-going, put-up-with-crap type the job demanded. As a result, his career as stable pony was short lived. Bruce was very attached to Kona and wanted to keep him around the barn, and that's understandable. It broke Bruce's heart after Kona's accident at KHP.

                What I do find hysterical is when Kona was retired from racing and sent out for retraining, they actually had him working with cattle. That still makes me grin ear-to-ear. I can imagine him pinning those ears and telling those cattle just where they had better get going to, or ELSE.
                SA Ferrana Moniet 1988-2011
                CP Trilogy 2002-2015
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by ravenclaw View Post
                  As I watched the Breeders Cup races and all the crap those ponies have to put up with, I wondered how much a good, reliable, experienced pony would be worth? I would guess a lot....a few thousand dollars at least?
                  Anywhere from $5-8k generally, for a legit,good, ready to go pony. Preferably a stocky QH with some cow sense. However many pony riders "make" their own horses out of young QH's and ex racers. Most of them pay their way easily if your are willing to work mornings and as many races as you can (most work 3-8 races per race day).

                  "Pat the horse; kick yourself" - Carl Hester

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                  • #10
                    I was reading Derby Magic by Jim Bolus, and according to it, Clyde Van Dusen had his former lead pony, Bill--or Pony Bill--as his companion in his retirement. After Pony Bill died, Clyde Van Dusen himself returned to the track as a lead pony, ridden by his former trainer, Clyde Van Dusen.
                    Founder of the People Who Prefer COTH Over FB Clique
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                    • #11
                      Correct me if I'm wrong - most of the pony people you see at the races are independent contractors, or exercise riders who have a pony. They keep them at the track, usually free of charge. They charge a fee to pony the race horses in the morning.

                      I think that most tracks contract with one individual to provide ponies for the afternoon races. That person then solicits the services of the independent contractor pony people to have enough ponies for each race. The fee is deducted from the race horse owner's account and paid to the person who has the contract for the track, who then pays the pony people for each race. Fun job to have in nice weather, no so fun in the cold and the rain.
                      Man plans. God laughs.

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                      • #12
                        A friend and riding buddy of mine who worked at the Maryland tracks as an exercise rider kept a pony. She let the trainer she was riding for use the pony in the morning when she was riding work in exchange for his stall, and she freelance ponied in the afternoons. Pretty good way to make extra money. A good pony is definitely worth some money.
                        The plural of anecdote is not data.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Flash44 View Post
                          Correct me if I'm wrong - most of the pony people you see at the races are independent contractors, or exercise riders who have a pony. They keep them at the track, usually free of charge. They charge a fee to pony the race horses in the morning.

                          I think that most tracks contract with one individual to provide ponies for the afternoon races. That person then solicits the services of the independent contractor pony people to have enough ponies for each race. The fee is deducted from the race horse owner's account and paid to the person who has the contract for the track, who then pays the pony people for each race. Fun job to have in nice weather, no so fun in the cold and the rain.
                          No no. It is not up to the owner to pay the pony, it is up to the trainer. Most pony people make a receipt and bill each barn at the end of the month. The track itself has NOTHING to do with the pony business, and frankly most tracks don't care of they go with or without a pony.

                          "Pat the horse; kick yourself" - Carl Hester

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                          • #14
                            Why do they have them ? Can jockeys not ride ?
                            ... _. ._ .._. .._

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Equibrit View Post
                              Why do they have them ? Can jockeys not ride ?
                              Safety and peace of mind is worth the $25.00 to many of us.
                              Last edited by Angelico; Dec. 28, 2013, 11:03 PM.

                              "Pat the horse; kick yourself" - Carl Hester

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                              • #16
                                European racetracks manage without them; is this the only country that uses them ? It's illogical that the jockey is in charge for the race, but they have a pony horse to get there. Surely what you pay the jockey would suffice for both the race and the trip to the gate.
                                ... _. ._ .._. .._

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                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Equibrit View Post
                                  European racetracks manage without them; is this the only country that uses them ? It's illogical that the jockey is in charge for the race, but they have a pony horse to get there. Surely what you pay the jockey would suffice for both the race and the trip to the gate.
                                  Our warm up system is different here, and I don't know about Europe, but here we choose jockeys based off of their ability to ride a race.

                                  Plenty of jockeys prefer to break off from the pony for their actual warm up after the post parade, then hook back on to go behind the gates. In America it is quite chaotic behind the gates, there is the gate itself, the truck that pulls it, the tractor that goes with it, the ambulance, and the vet and gate crew follow the ambulance in a truck. That is a LOT of equipment to ride a young horse around, then factor in the ten other racehorses.

                                  If the vet deems a horse unfit to race, the rider hops off, unsaddles, and the horse stays with its pony until the race is over. The pony rider will then deliver the horse back to its connections.

                                  I've worked as a pony girl, still do pony the races whenever we run one that is a handful, or someone has double entries.
                                  Last edited by Angelico; Dec. 24, 2013, 03:02 PM. Reason: Spelling

                                  "Pat the horse; kick yourself" - Carl Hester

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                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Flash44 View Post
                                    Correct me if I'm wrong - most of the pony people you see at the races are independent contractors, or exercise riders who have a pony. They keep them at the track, usually free of charge. They charge a fee to pony the race horses in the morning.

                                    I think that most tracks contract with one individual to provide ponies for the afternoon races. That person then solicits the services of the independent contractor pony people to have enough ponies for each race. The fee is deducted from the race horse owner's account and paid to the person who has the contract for the track, who then pays the pony people for each race. Fun job to have in nice weather, no so fun in the cold and the rain.
                                    Not all tracks follow this . At Penn National, there are those pony people who work in the morning, then those who work only at night ... a few do both. In either, they obtain a Pony License from the track, carry their own insurance (required), have their own ponies, either ship in or have a stall as the track will *give* (or not) 2 stalls to each person. As independent contractors, they solicit their own work and are paid by the trainers.
                                    Ponies are invaluable -- Id offer mine for sale after 2yrs, by then they'd be *perfect*, and the next one about ready to step up. Its hard work on them, both physically and mentally so I found it best to just keep *fresh* ponies.
                                    IN GOD WE TRUST
                                    OTTB's ready to show/event/jumpers. Track ponies for perfect trail partners.
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                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by ravenclaw View Post
                                      As I watched the Breeders Cup races and all the crap those ponies have to put up with, I wondered how much a good, reliable, experienced pony would be worth? I would guess a lot....a few thousand dollars at least?
                                      My best lead pony Orbit-- I turned down 15,000 for him when he was 19, he was irreplaceable-- my newest pony, Happy is also priceless, and no amount of money can buy him from me... really, really good lead ponies and pretty much priceless... a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into making one a good pony, and sometimes you have to kiss a bunch of frogs to find your Prince... I've been lucky enough to be good at making a great pony, and some of my lesser favorites I have sold to others, but the really good ones are keepers.
                                      The only difference between a runaway and a fast gallop is nothing but a SMILE
                                      Most horses cross the Rainbow Bridge, but TEDDY JUMPED IT!!!
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                                      • #20
                                        I've got a racetrack pony story I'd like to share. My husband worked with a man who got into racehorses in an investment sort of way but really took to the horse world and amazingly, as an adult- learned to ride. When I'd see him he would tell me how I had to come to the track someday and go riding with him. I thought this was pretty odd- for one- I didn't think that was possible, and two- it's not like we were close buddies. If there had been any chance that he was making a move on me- It might have made a little sense- but that really wasn't the case- so I just didn't know what to make of the constant string of invites. maybe he just wanted someone from his off-track world to see and appreciate his accomplishment as a new adult rider.

                                        So one winter day I took him up on it and arrived at the track early. Immediately there was a lot of confusion about my ride and he brushed me off and connected me up with an excercise rider I didn't know and put me on a big red quarterhorse type pony horse and vanished. I was briefed on the track rules for the morning workouts and off we went. When we got out on the huge track we let the horses run and it was simply amazing! I was blinded by tears from the cold air and I couldn't believe it was really happening. When I was a kid I had dreamed of being a jockey- but I was 5 foot ten by the time I was about twelve... topping off at six feet. I couldn't believe that I actually got to ride a lap on that track- even if I had no idea WHY I got to ride a lap on that track.

                                        I still didn't know as I drove home- buzzing from the exhilaration. About a week later I found out what the deal was- the "date" wasn't between me and the man- it was between me and that pony horse! Preparing to move to Florida for the next meet, apparently there was a trainer didn't need the pony horse down there and was hoping to find a person who would keep him for the off season and I was pegged as the perfect softie. I guess plans changed before I was put on the spot about taking him- but the whole confusing deal did provide me with one of my most memorable times of my life.

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