(Harley — one of the best in the business)

Editor’s Note:

There are fewer things in life that are more important to a Thoroughbred race horse than to be coupled with a good “lead pony.”

Oh, there’s the groom. The constant care-giver and nanny. They pull the mane and comb the back. They divvy the sweet feed and make sure the water bucket is full. They wrap the bandages and smooth the tail. They wipe the eyes of morning dust, and give the morning baths. They are critical.

There’s the hot walker, too. They are always back at the barn. Waiting with a shank in one hand and a story on the other. The horse listens. The hot walker chatters. The stories pass the time, and helps make the consistent — if not boring — loops around the shed row a little more entertaining if not enlightening. Both person and horse walk until it is time to go back into the stall. They are needed.

And, there’s the trainer. The head man or woman. The big cheese. The decision maker. The person that drops by the stall each and every to make sure all is well with the world and then retreats to the little room in the back of the barn to make a few calls and flip through the condition book. Few words are exchanged. More looks than necessary. They are the boss. You can always tell. They are the ones with the attitude. They are important. Just ask them. LOL.

But there are fewer things in life that are more important to a race horse than to be coupled with a good “lead pony.”

They are the ones waiting at the gap, with a rider aboard, to help usher the race horse — the main attraction — from nervous first step to the time they jog and gallop off on their way to their’s life’s work.

They are the ones chilling out and just standing until it is time to be married up to their companion for the next few-to-5 minutes. Calm. Cool. Collected. Contented. Contained. Controlled.

They are the ones that help steer the racehorse from first hoof on the track; through the emotional post parade; through the first jittery strides in front of a roaring crowd; until it is time to let the child go play on their own.

The lead pony is essential. And, a good one? In high demand.

Perhaps the most famous lead pony of our most recent days and times is Harley. If you have been to the races in Kentucky over the past few years, you have seen him. In fact, you can’t miss him.

He is rather large and round, and when he giggles his belly jingles.

He is personable, and friendly, and the only things that truly match his size is his personality and his gift of love. In-between races, and jobs, you can often find him snuggled up to the rail. His head drooped over into the lap and hands of admiring children and caring adults. He is truly one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors.

And, he is one of the best lead ponies. Ever. He is the escort service to the stars.

Once the Thoroughbred leaves the comfort of its’ handler and meets the track, there is little doubt that Harley is the one in charge. He allows his body to rest comfortably on the side of his companion. He allows the Thoroughbred to rest his head on his withers, and attempt to snack on his mane. He steers and guides until the nerves begin to settle. And, then he backs away upon command and allows the “star” to go on stage.

Harley then retreats — exit stage left — and heads back, both out of sight and out of mind. Only to return for another race. Another nervous nelly. Another youngster that must be guided from dock to sail.

 Harley — the pony — is owned by Monnie Goetz. The horse is a breed known as American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Horse. And, he is as beautiful as much as he is talented. The owner is a special person, too. She rides Harley every day. Work in the morning. Work in the afternoon. And, she is as good on horseback as anyone that gears up in silks. 

They are a dynamic duo. Friends for life.

Back in 2018, Harley became a “Breyer Horse.” A toy was modeled after him. And, it is truly a collector’s item.

After all, there are fewer things in life that are more important to a race horse than to be coupled with a good “lead pony,” and their rider.

Here’s a look at Harley — through the eyes and lens of Holly M. Smith:

(Harley and Monnie are ready for a morning gig at Churchill Downs)

(Harley visits with a few new friends and fans at Churchill Downs)

(Harley and Monnie jog off after a post parade at Keeneland)

(Harley and Monnie stroll back to the gap at Keeneland for another assignment)

(A morning stroll)

(A Derby Day awaits)