Photo: The Clarke Family
There are many forgotten heroes at the racetrack of the human variety: grooms, hotwalkers, EMTs, veterinarians, and jockey valets among them. But there are also equine heroes outside of the obvious racehorses: the outrider horses and lead ponies. They are kicked, they are bit, they are slammed into, and they are pushed around. They tolerate the immature two-year-old, the testy mare, and the lazy gelding. Their riders often endure the same difficulties. But these horses also provide guidance and comfort for many racehorses, as well as a best friend for many young children and loyal racetrackers that visit the track.
For racing enthusiasts that frequently watch racing on television or visit the track regularly, a pony horse may become familiar in appearance, but it is rather unusual for a pony horse’s name to be known. The name of the racehorse alongside the pony is in the program, on the television monitor, and in pedigree databases, but the pony is largely anonymous. But for hours upon hours – whether it be in the morning or afternoon – the pony works tirelessly, often encountering unruly racehorses and unpredictable weather. It is time to shine a light upon these hard workers.
Please enjoy my fifth installment of a new series featuring these horses, called “Ponies of the Track.”
There are few things in horse racing as disappointing as the early retirement of a star. Just as fans begin to develop an attachment to a racehorse, it is whisked off to the breeding shed, with only about fifteen starts under its belt – if that. But then there are geldings.
American horse racing has enjoyed its fair share of spectacular geldings in recent years and continues to do so, including Funny Cide, Game On Dude, Lava Man, and Wise Dan. But beyond the grade one level, there is an even greater abundance of fantastic geldings – competing at any level of racing – that have captivated fans throughout the many years that their careers last. Among them is Mr. Meso.
Bred in Massachusetts, Mr. Meso’s racing career lasted for an astounding nine years. Throughout his career, he frequently alternated between stakes and claiming races and along the way, found the winner’s circle in six black-type events. In 2010, when Mr. Meso was ten years old, he was claimed and placed in the barn of trainer Matthew Clarke for the purpose of running him in stakes races for Massachusetts-breds.
Mr. Meso went on to win a pair of stakes at Suffolk Downs before competing in five more races without victory. When his career ended in August 2011, the son of Mesopotamia had made sixty-eight starts, winning twenty-four of them, and had earned $467,510.
Clarke’s son, Dylan, had been Mr. Meso’s exercise rider during his racing days and when the gelding’s racing career ended, he still had a place aboard his back, joining the gelding in his new career as a pony horse. For some ex-racehorses, letting down after a racing career is a long process that can take several months. But for Mr. Meso, this was certainly not the case.
“He made the transition real easy,” Dylan said. “He was always a professional. It took him one day to switch jobs. The only thing he needed to learn was to slow down and relax. With just practice and patience, he learned it all very quickly. He still has moments where he still wants to stretch out and go, so sometimes I let him so he can get happy with himself.”
Dylan and Mr. Meso
Photo by Chelsea O'Malley
Mr. Meso has been ponying for two years now, impressing everyone that is around him with his kindness, intelligence, and professionalism. These qualities, which allow the gelding to excel as a pony, are evident to anyone who watches Mr. Meso perform his job.
“(While) watching (Dylan and Meso) work in the afternoons, it looks like Meso was made for this job. He is amazing at it.” Emma Smith, a good friend of Dylan's, said.
Perhaps the key characteristic of Meso when it comes to his ponying career is his impressive intelligence. The gelding has a unique talent of being able to read the horses he ponies, a quality Dylan has noticed.
“Meso can tell a lot about a horse in those minutes ponying them. He knows good horses [from] bad ones,” Dylan said.
Aside from his job as a pony, Meso is “just an all-around good guy.” The loveable gelding is easy to be around and has captured the hearts of all who know him.
“He's so sweet and trusting,” Smith said. “The first time I ever rode him was bareback. . . I just grabbed his bridle and jumped on. I fell in love with him pretty quickly! On his day off, I would graze him near his barn and I would just lie on the ground while he ate. I knew he wouldn't hurt me. (Dylan and I) even rode double on him!”
The gelding has certainly made an impact on all who have been around him. His special qualities make him unlike any other horse. From his days as a warrior on the track as a racehorse to his new career as a pony, Mr. Meso has put his all into every task he has been asked to do, maintaining his kindness and dependability along the way.
“Mr. Meso is special to me because he looks out for me,” Dylan said. “He trusts me and I trust him. He’s just so smart and just so cool to be around.”
Dylan and Mr. Meso ponying
Photo by Chelsea O'Malley