Famous Racehorse Had His Own Therapy Dog

On Belmont Stakes day, a look back at the role a dog played in helping one of the most famous thoroughbreds of all time.

Racehorses, like Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah, are known as much for their diva-like temperaments as their blistering speed, dynamite on four legs, as those in the horsey set describe them.

A time-honored strategy for easing their jitters is to get them pets. Most of these calming companions have hooves, mostly goats and ponies.

One great champion, the 1930s celebrity stallion Seabiscuit, had more than one, and he was highly selective about who could share his space. When his trainer offered him Whiskers, a nanny goat, Seabiscuit made his displeasure known by grabbing the little creature in his teeth, shaking her senseless, and then tossing her over the half door to his stall. (Whiskers survived.)

Pumpkin, a yellow pony, fared better, and the two became lifelong companions. But, Seabiscuit needed more. 

Here's how author Laura Hillenbrand, author of the bestselling biography that became a hit movie, describes one of the strangest entourages in racing history. At the center was a funny-looking mixed-breed, just like many of the dogs who participate in the AKC Canine Partners program.

"Somewhere along the way, a little spotted stray dog fell in with the Howard barn and began to travel with it. Named Pocatell, the dog had curiously upright ears that were round as platters and roughly three times normal size. Pocatell took a liking to Seabiscuit and began sleeping in his stall at night. Jo Jo, a small spider monkey of undetermined origin, had the same preference for Seabiscuit’s company. Sleeping with Pumpkin a few feet away, Jo Jo in the crook of his neck, and Pocatell on his belly, Seabiscuit began to relax."

- Mara Bovsun 

Want to get your dog involved in therapy work? Consider training him for a Canine Good Citizen title. Learn more here.