The Churchill Downs backstretch on Kentucky Derby week is a bustling place, fairly bursting at the seams by Wednesday or Thursday. Exercise riders and security guards navigate seas of visitors who never seem to quite realize they're on horse paths. Grooms steer bikes through the chaos, sometimes stopping to gape at the scrum outside Bob Baffert's barn. Everyone struggles to find someplace to leave their car. If you don't have a horse in the Run for the Roses, it's either a time of excitement or frustration, depending on your degree of extroversion.
If you're a barn buddy though, it's a great time to be alive.
At Brad Cox's barn, conveniently tucked away from the busy track gaps, it's an especially great time if you're a pygmy goat. The barn recently welcomed new additions in Oliver and Max, who are overseen by Kristina Taylor, exercise rider for Cox. The pair of bouncy, fuzzy little instigators were posing for cameras and following visitors around with joyful abandon all week. The only downside for them? Taylor decided they needed to be a little more presentable.
“They got a bath yesterday, so they're Derby-ready,” she told me Tuesday. “They hate it. It's a fight.”
At least they're small. That should make it easier to convince them to tough it out, right?
“You'd think so,” she chuckles. “But I don't always win.”
Earlier this year, Taylor noticed that all of Cox's strings had goats except for the one she travels with, which was at Churchill for Derby week but spends summers in Indiana. It didn't seem right, somehow. The permanent Churchill string has Mr. Man and the Keeneland string has Micah. Taylor begged one of the Cox assistants to let her get a goat. Sure, he said, as long as you take care of it.
It didn't take Taylor long to find a pair of pygmy goats for sale on Craigslist. She bottle-fed Oliver and his brother Nelson in the first weeks after bringing them home, but unfortunately Nelson was sickly and didn't make it. She picked up Max, who is a pygmy cross, to be a companion to Oliver and she says the two are partners in crime. Taylor said she picked her moment to bring up the goats to Cox, mentioning them casually in the office one morning. Once he saw a picture of baby Oliver, he couldn't refuse to have them in the barn.
good afternoon from oliver.. i love to pick on my brother 😈 pic.twitter.com/PRdwoCAaO9
— Oliver (@oliver_the_goat) March 30, 2019
“If you could have seen Oliver when we first got him, the Derby horses wouldn't have been important. He was just that cute. Cute, pudgy, fluffy,” she said.
“Max likes to be the trouble-starter. He goes to Bret Calhoun's barn and terrorizes Trevor, or he'll go to Wayne Catalano's barn and he'll harass that barn. Yesterday we made it to Richard Mandella's barn. Oliver just follows him around.”
Oliver and Max are now three and five months old, respectively, and Taylor said they're still figuring out their place in the barn hierarchy. Until recently, they seemed to think shed rows were their own personal runways and were fans of popping in and out of stalls and sprinting down the aisle, often bouncing like tennis balls along the way.
“They're still really young and too little to realize the horses are bigger than them,” she said. “But I think they're going to get used to it soon, because we ran out of stalls. Our whole barn is full now. Originally they had their own stall, and now they're relaxing with one of our horses. They don't seem to mind it too bad; they just have a lot of energy.”
my brother Max and i tried to escape.. it didn't work out too well. the EMT caught us! pic.twitter.com/h5VQiiR0tm
— Oliver (@oliver_the_goat) March 29, 2019
Now, Taylor keeps the pair in a dog crate or a patient filly's stall during morning training, letting them out once there are no longer sets going out. On one morning Kentucky Derby week, the miscreants were supervising horses' baths and tearing into a box of supplies left sitting on a sawhorse, more interested in pushing the box around than identifying its contents.
The whole thing has been a learning process for Taylor, who is new to goats. She's cautious about what she lets the pair eat, though fortunately they don't seem interested in many foods other than their own. Oliver likes peppermints, while Max enjoys biting them in half and making her retrieve the dusty, rejected piece before sniffing at it and sauntering off.
i love hugs! especially hugs from my momma. i mean she did bottle feed me! 🥰 pic.twitter.com/4xKUmVDmYp
— Oliver (@oliver_the_goat) April 27, 2019
“People ask me what kind of animals I have, and I say 'I have a dog and a goat.' I kind of get a weird look,” she said. “I've never had goats. I never thought I'd be a goat mom. It's an experience, that's for sure.”
Follow Oliver and Max's adventures via Oliver's Twitter account.
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