Goats And Thoroughbreds

Mike McGough
April 2018

As the racetrack’s stable manager, he oversaw the stable hands, and when needed he recruited and trained new ones. He liked this phase of his job, and he was good at it. His experience served him well, and his affable manner made it easy for him to share what experience had taught him over the years. One of his favorite lessons to share was the relationship between goats and the track’s thoroughbreds.

There is a competitive and stressful air about a racetrack. There are winners and losers with every race. As a result, every one from the owners to the stable hands play into the competitive spirit of the track from time to time. One young stable hand got caught up in it so much, that the stable manager was concerned about her future. He decided it was time to share the lesson of the racehorses and track goats.

If one of the horses for which this young stable hand was responsible did not win, place, or show she took it personal. It was like she had been out on the track running with the other horses and that she finished poorly. Following a loss in the annual Patton Cup Race, she was distraught. On another occasion, what started out as some good-natured teasing ended with her crying inconsolably after two straight weeks of every horse in her care not finishing in the winner’s circle of a single race.

She took her job and the performance of the horses in her care very seriously—too seriously. Doing so made her a better stable hand than those content to hold onto a job they cared little about. Nonetheless, in other ways that same desire was hindering her, and at times it was disabling. Even so, she was the best stable hand at the track. Unfortunately for her, some of the others hands tried to use that against her to frustrate her best efforts. This was particularly true of the lead stable hand that served as the link between the stable manager and the other hands.

Picking up on her desire to do well and being a bit jealous that she was, the lead stable hand would sometimes not deliver messages, or she would purposefully give wrong or very vague time or locations for meetings. The lead hand wanted to make herself and two of the other hands to which she was related look a little better. Other times she would accidentally not tell the younger hand of some of the social events around the track, to which they were invited. When this happened the younger hand was apologetic and all but pleaded for better directions and more accurate information. The younger hand would openly apologize as though the misunderstanding was her fault, while the lead stable hand offered some flimsy excuse to keep her actions and the passive aggressive nature that powered them under wraps. All the while the lead hand stood back enjoying how easily she could frustrate and control the younger hand’s behavior.

In time the stable manager caught on. The lead was a relative of one of the very beloved and respected owners, so there was little he could do to change her actions. He could however help to change how the young hand reacted to them. During one of her down periods after a particularly frustrating race he went to see her.

“Do you know why we keep goats around these stables,” he asked her.

“Sure, to help calm the horses,” she replied.

“Do you know why someone may want to steal someone else’s goat?”

“To frustrate their horses, and dampen their best efforts,” she replied.

“Exactly! Are you aware that everyone at this track knows where you keep your personal goat tied, and there are some who steal it from time to time to frustrate you and dampen your best efforts?” She put her head down as though she was being scolded.

“We all know how much you want to do well, but as long as you allow others, particularly the lead hand, ‘get your goat,’ she can frustrate you and dampen your best efforts almost anytime she wants. It’s time for you to rein in your goat, don’t announce to the world where you keep it, and get back to becoming the kind of stable hand you want to be. In the end that’s gonna’ serve you and all of us much better.”

The moral of this story is short and simple. Be careful how openly and widely you share those things that anger and frustrate you, because there may just be someone who will enjoy getting your goat from time to time. And when they do, they can easily frustrate you and dampen your best efforts.