Gilbert walks purposely down the shedrow, surveying a stranger approaching the barn where he resides in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The brown and white goat’s leather collar has a name plate reading “Gilbert Atras,” indicating his association with trainer Rob Atras and his wife and assistant Brittney.
“Gilbert is just…. Gilbert,” said Brittney Atras, wracking her brain for an appropriate comparison between their goat – who is the height of a Great Dane and width of a large wheelbarrow – and a human character.
“He’s such a strange combination of things,” she mused. “He goes from a grumpy uncle, where you can see he’s huffing around the barn because something has peeved him off, to absolutely wanting to play and being like a pet dog. But he’s definitely not a goat.”
Most goats found in racing stables are companion animals, providing a calming effect on anxious horses. Gilbert was purchased by Rob as a 3-month-old kid to be raised as a baby-sitter. But Gilbert – now 5 – had different ideas, preferring the barn’s ponies to excitable Thoroughbreds.
His titles include stable mascot, morale booster, and head of security – chasing people away who he feels do not belong in his barn. He is also self-appointed entertainer for owners, showing off, rubbing up against legs, and mooching for food.
The Atras’ train out of a private barn near the Saratoga harness track, overseeing a string of nearly 30 horses. A spacious grassy area and dirt walking oval line the barn, with the entire area contained by a tall fence. Brittney said Gilbert views Saratoga as his playground, wandering and eating as he pleases.
But Gilbert’s preferred kingdom is the couple’s barn at Belmont Park.
“He spends his entire days there in the office,” Atras said. “He stands in the doorway and monitors everything going on. He also likes climbing the trees there.”
Gilbert walks up to a stack of hay bales and slides back and forth against them, scratching his sides without taking his eyes off the chatting humans nearby.
“He’s showing off,” Atras said.
Gilbert ambles over reaches out a hoof, like a dog being asked to shake.
“Oh yeah, he does goat yoga. I mean, not real goat yoga, but we stretch him so he loves stretching,” Atras added.
“Real” goat yoga generally involves baby goats who bounce over the ground and climb on top of class participants. As a nearly 200-pound boer goat, you would not want Gilbert walking on top of you.
“He never eats healthy snacks, he doesn’t like carrots,” Atras said. “He doesn’t like goat feed, he only eats high performance horse feed… I think that’s why he’s so big. We don’t give him his own, he just bullies horses into giving him their feed.”
Not even the horses mess with Gilbert, simply walking around when he refuses to move from the barn aisle.
“He also eats donuts, and things he thinks he’s not supposed to have. If there’s something healthy on the desk like a carrot or apples, he will eat them because he thinks he’s being bad.”
Gilbert pricks his floppy ear and stares momentarily at people riding bikes down the street. Promptly losing interest, he ambles down the shedrow to Rob, pressing his head into the trainer’s arm to request attention.