Look. We all know that The Melbourne Cup is a dividing subject. Some of us worry about the horses, some of us think it’s cruel, others love the sport – it’s enough for a bar brawl any day of the year.
But wait. Here’s the thing we all have to agree on.
Racehorses have friends called ‘companion ponies’ and it’s the CUTEST THING THAT HAS EVER THINGED.
What is a ‘companion pony’? I’m glad you asked, friendly stranger. Because I am suddenly obsessed with the idea, now that I’ve known about it for a full 12 hours.
Companion ponies, also known as stablemates, track ponies, lead horses, and about a million other names (but ‘companion pony’ is the cutest) help to calm the racehorses during training and on race day. They provide support, friendship, and a shoulder to cry on. As the racehorses are lead to the starting gate, they might be tethered to their little pony friend to keep them calm and focussed.
The companion pony will whisper such things as “you can do this, buddy!” and “ignore all the cameras, I’m right here next to you” and “you’re going to be amaaa-neighhhhh-zing!” and then will give a little horsey kiss and a wink.
That’s probably true. We just don’t speak horse.
Also true: after a race, the thoroughbred horses are pumping with adrenaline. Companion pony to the rescue! Their little mate will trot over and walk a few laps next to their big hero, essentially massaging their shoulders like a trainer does to a boxer. “You did it! You horsed that race good! You ran like the wind with a tiny human on your back! I’m so proud of you!”
My heart. My heart is melting.
The companions range from old, retired racehorses, to farm horses, to ponies that just have a nice, calm nature. The most important thing about them is their temperament – they’re like the yoga instructors of the equine world.
And they don’t even have to be horses. Whaaaat? Yep. Horses will bond with any animal, because they crave companionship. Donkeys are good. As are goats and dogs. Seabiscuit, the racehorse so famous in history that Tobey Maguire starred in a movie about him (to be clear, Tobey did not play Seasbiscuit… ahem…) not only had a horse-friend called Pumpkin, but he also had a dog friend named Pocatell, and a monkey friend named Jo-Jo.
A MONKEY FRIEND NAMED JO-JO.
That’s it, I’m becoming a racehorse.
The companion ponies might also be involved in training. They can be tethered to the thoroughbred as it goes around the track, keeping it focussed, and when the thoroughbred kicks in to high gear, the pony's rider will undo the strap and let the big horse race ahead. Also, if a racehorse should get happen to get injured, the companion pony is one of the first ones on the scene, giving reassuring nose kisses and helping them stay calm.
The best little buddy going around at this year's Spring Racing Carnival is a little tiny pony called Henry. His bestie is English champion horse Jardines Lookout, and they travel everywhere together, because without his pony soul mate, Jardines Lookout gets all agitated and throws tantrums.
Henry is a shetland pony, he's eight years older than Jardines Lookout (though he looks like a cute widdle baaaby pony) and he's making headlines for being so cheeky and adorable - stealing Jardines' food, racing around the track by himself for fun... Oh, Henry! Stahhhhp!
We all know who the real heroes of The Melbourne cup are. The four-legged friends with the soothing tones.
It just goes to show: you can do anything when you've got your best friend at your side.