Curly and Soup form Roger Moore’s lead team.
But beyond racing – and racing well – together, the horses have forged an intimate relationship, a deep one.
When Curly, a couple of years ago, sustained an injury, Moore whisked him to a nearby veterinarian’s clinic. The stay was long – a month – and Soup took hard his friend’s absence.
“He quit eating,” says Moore. “He kind of went downhill – until I brought the other one back.”
Still on the mend, Curly needed to remain in a box stall for a month. Soup? Never left his side.
“It would be no different than you and your wife. Same thing,” says Moore. “Pretty well everything about horses’ (behaviour) is exactly the same as humans’.”
No surprise, Curly and Soup, while Moore makes his point, are standing side by side in Moore’s allotment of stalls at the Calgary Stampede grounds. Quite the bromance.
No surprise, every chuckwagon driver at the GMC Rangeland Derby tells similar stories.
About their horses’ bonds with each other. About measures taken to maintain harmony among the thoroughbreds, to promote peace in the barn.
Chad Harden says it just makes sense that some horses are tight – no different than players on a hockey team – and it’s worth fostering that alliance.
“When you’re buddies on the road and you’re linemates, you stick together,” says Harden. “You sit beside each other (in the dressing room), you go to lunch together, you have beers, right?”
Drivers, of course, hook their horses nightly in a specific order. There’s nothing random about it.
But it’s no different in the barn. No different on the highway.
“You don’t just throw horses in a liner, and say, ‘OK we’re in Calgary,'” says Danny Ringuette. “Before I go out on the road, I’ll spend two hours deciding how I’m going to put them in the liner for my first show. Just so you get it right. If this horse doesn’t like that horse … it’s all watching and paying attention to what your horses are doing. You don’t put a horse that doesn’t like another one next to each other when you’re hauling down the road.”
After all, these are the sport’s star attractions. For them, there’s comfort in familiarity – no matter where they happen to be. For Harden’s herd, their stall order is their liner order. No variation.
As he explains: “The (Calgary Flames’) trainer probably sets up the dressing room on the road the exact same way it is when they’re at the Saddledome.”
Drivers figure it out quickly, who wants to go where, who needs space, who needs company.
In Ringuette’s barn, two of his veterans – Minor and Thunder – get side-by-side stalls, no matter what.
“If (Minor) doesn’t see him, he’s freaking out and calling,” says Ringuette. “They’re both the same – they need to have each other.”
So making them neighbours is a no-brainer.
“It prevents them from being uncomfortable,” says Ringuette. “If their buddy’s next to him, they sniff him, then they’re good, right?
He’s got another horse, a young left wheeler named Jazzy, who happens to be a bit of a rarity. He doesn’t need a chum.
“He just hangs out by himself,” says Ringuette, grinning. “He’s one of the friendliest horses I own.”
But even that characteristic, believe it or not, can cause concern for drivers.
“Then you have to worry about the other ones picking on him, right?” says Harden. “Just like in school.”
Meaning there’s also a pecking order to monitor in every barn.
Because of that hierarchy, wintertime feedings can be a challenge for Moore. Each horse needs a trough.
“So everyone can eat at the same time,” he says. “Otherwise, the bosses will eat first, and the rest will eat when they’re done.”
Some can be downright hard to get along with. Harden has had horses he needs to rope in the paddock so they don’t bite the others.
“There’s a few that’ll step on your foot every time you’re around them or knock you in the head with their head,” says Troy Dorchester, laughing. “They don’t mean it. That’s just their personality – they’re rammy and jammy. And the next one’s like a kid’s pony, right?”
Harden adds that they are grander configurations, too, to consider.
For instance, at season’s end, he doesn’t just turn out his horses. No, sir. There’s a tried-and-true arrangement in place.
“My outriding horses stay in one group,” says Harden. “It’s like a football team – your defensive group stays together and they get put in one pen. Basically, they hang out. And you put your offensive guys – your wagon horses – in a different pen.”
Worrying about particular production is still a month or two away.
But Harden is always thinking. Right now at the Stampede, he’s mapped out living quarters according to experience. Cagily, he slots his youngest thoroughbreds, seldom-used rookies Kenny and Monkey, near the barn’s door.
“The reason they’re there is because all the people come in here, right?” explains Harden. “So they get all the attention, they get all the noise, they get everything else.
“I want my old veterans rested, so they’re set up further down in the barn … with their buddies across from them, so they can see their friends – always.”