Cats get all the credit for rodent control in the barn, but when are goats going to get a little credit?
During a visit to trainer Kelly Rubley's Fair Hill barn this summer, I realized mouse prevention is a team effort. Yes, Pudgy the cat (a friendly fellow with a star-quality gray coat who comes bounding across roads and fields when his name is called) does his part. Much to his human's horror, he enjoys bringing bits of half-eaten mice or mouse innards into Rubley's office in the mornings. Horrifying, yes, but it's certainly evidence of his work ethic. That's part of why Rubley installed speed bumps on the dirt road in front of her barn, where Pudgy likes to wander over to the woods that surround the Fair Hill Training Center – the barn protectors need protecting, too.
But many people don't give the goats their due. In one corner of the barn is a miniature stall, complete with a window and open-front door, for Percy and Poncho. The half-brothers are Nubians, with distinctive Roman noses and floppy, freckled ears.
“He's supposed to be a mini,” Rubley said, scratching Percy's back. “But um, something went wrong.”
Rubley bought the pair a year ago, took them home in her car and raised them on bottles hoping they would be companions for a couple of stall-walking Thoroughbreds she had at the time.
“They don't like to be separated, so I've kind of now got two goat pets,” she said. “I don't think a horse would want two.”
After morning training, Percy and Poncho have the run of the barn. (They used to be allowed out all day, but took to leaving unwelcome gifts next to the grooms' brushes, so now they stay in until all equipment is put away.) One of Rubley's trainees, a mare named Indian Paint, prefers to eat her breakfast on the ground, and the goat brothers are all too happy to make sure not a grain is left behind for a roving mouse.
“They love her,” Rubley laughed. “We have to put in another scoop for her after they're done, but that's ok.”
Rubley's horses enjoy the luxuries of Fair Hill – grass gallops, plenty of space for hand-grazing and paddocks for daily turnout. She tried to give Percy and Poncho the same high-class treatment, but they were not interested.
“I put them in the paddocks and they just let themselves out. Before I get back in the barn they're out again,” she said. “Wouldn't they enjoy turnout? But no, they stand there and scream. I'd put them out with my pony and he'd get so mad because they wouldn't shut up. He runs at them, and they shut up for about five minutes, and they have to do it all over again.”
Instead, Percy and Poncho get their free ranging inside the barn, which they seem to prefer. As goats are wont to do, they will go for sudden, bouncing sprints around the aisles and were delighted to discover the hay Rubley has stored in the back barn. They've developed a game out of climbing the hay stack and leaping down, which has proven a desensitizing exercise for the horses stalled nearby.
Don't worry – they're just checking the stack for mice.
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