In the 16 years since Wyatt the racehorse pony narrowly escaped the slaughterhouse, the funny, opinionated, master of stall-door locks and connoisseur of junk food has been delighting his owner, no end.
Known as Bridleless Wyatt on the tracks where he works with Texas horseman Donna Keen (sans bridle), the beautiful gray she purchased for a song brings humor and delight wherever he goes.
“Everyone knows Wyatt,” she says. “People I don’t know are always coming up and saying, ‘Hey Wyatt!’ And he pricks his ears at the sound of his name” acknowledging the greeting.
Wyatt has been nearly human over the many years they’ve been together, says Keen, who discusses the horse she bought as a 2-year-old from a meat buyer at the Weatherford Horse and Cattle Sale in Texas.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Keen discusses Wyatt’s fun quirks, strange tastes in food, and how he learned to eat from a spoon!
Q: How did Wyatt come into your life?
I bought him from the (meat buyer) as a 2-year-old. He was a pretty dappled gray with white stockings at the Weatherford Horse and Cattle Sale. The sale isn’t there anymore. Wyatt had already been purchased and was in a corral with other colts. I saw him and found out he’d already been sold for $300, and I asked if I could buy him. The kill buyer wanted to make $200, so we agreed to $500.
He’s been with me ever since. He’s 16 now.
Q: How and why did he transition into working as a bridleless track pony?
I ponied on him for several years before this, and taught lessons on him. My son learned to ride on him when he was young. We did a lot together before he started working bridleless, and working as a pony was second nature to him.
I decided to take his bridle off for two reasons. The first was I really wanted to show people how smart horses are, and how easy they are to retrain. But by the time I decided to work bridleless with him, Wyatt was taking his own bridle off by rubbing his ear until it fell off. I could put the bridle on him, and the second I got off him and turned my back, I’d look again he’d have popped it right off over his ear.
Q: His knack for Houdini work also extends to the barn.
The first time I noticed it, I thought someone had forgotten to lock up the horses. I came home and all my horses were out. The next day, I was home when I looked out my window and saw Wyatt opening gates with his nose.
He used his nose to lift the latch, slide it, and then grab the gate and pull it open. He used to go into the barn and let all the horses out of the barn. This is a funny story. One time, he walked down the aisle and let five horses in a row out, before stopping outside of the stall of this one mean mare I had. The day before, the mare had whooped everybody’s asses in the field, so Wyatt stopped in front of her stall and decided not to let her out.
Q: There’s a wonderful photo of Wyatt eating from a spoon. How did he learn to use utensils?
That picture was taken at Del Mar in 2013. We were having a birthday cake for our horse Matto Mondo and Wyatt started nickering at me to give him a taste. So I gave him a piece of cake off my spoon, and that was it. He eats off a spoon, off a fork. And he’s very particular about his snacks.
Q: How so?
Well first of all, he’ll eat anything but tomatoes. He hates them. If you give him one, he’ll spit it out. For regular food, we give him alfalfa but no grain because he’s too fat. For junk food, his favorites are Nacho cheese Doritos, any kind of doughnut, and muffins. He loves muffins! There was a great agent who worked at Houston Park who used to bring him a bran muffin every morning. As soon as Wyatt heard the trainer’s golf cart, he’d start hollering because he knew he was getting his muffin.
The other day we were having a tortilla and we tried to give him a whole one. But he knows it gets all gummed up, so he handed it back so it could be torn up into bite-sized pieces for him. (Please see video below).
He communicates so well. He nickers with different pitches to let me know if he’s hungry, wants out, or there’s a loose horse on the track. We’ve all learned to pay attention to him at the track, because he’ll notice something sometimes before we do. He’s always watching and he’s great at spotting loose horses.
Q: I have to ask, does he talk?
With the different pitches of nickers and sounds, it’s almost like he talks. I know what he wants at all times.
—Those interested in watching this very special horse work may catch a glimpse of Bridleless Wyatt at the Retama Park, in San Antonia, Texas. And in January he will be working at Sam Houston. * Wyatt’s photos are courtesy Terri Cage Photography, who captured his glamorous side in a photo clinic at Remember Me Rescue in a new, annual clinic and fundraiser for the horse charity.