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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fun Times With Old Friends


I have finally arrived at the phase of my KY trip that I've been looking forward to writing about the most. I probably should have just skipped ahead, but I feel driven to record things in chronological order. Maybe that's goofy but I have so much disorder in the rest of my life, the least I can do is try and keep this blog shipshape!

On Monday morning, the day after the Maclay and the National Horse Show ended, I had made a reservation to tour a facility very near and dear to my heart: Old Friends Equine Retirement. Before I went there for the first time two years ago, I had spent much time perusing their website and acquainting myself with some of their fabulous Thoroughbred residents. If you have never heard of Old Friends, that's okay: here is an article that pretty much sums up how it got started and some information on the wonderful person who is the founder, Michael Blowen. I had a fantastic time on my first visit and the place more than lived up to my expectations. All the residents, both human and equine, and all the volunteers could not have been more welcoming, friendly and HAPPY. I was very excited to go back on this visit!

I love old animals. The wisdom and acceptance in their eyes, their joy in the simplest of pleasures, their (usually) calm and patient demeanor, everything. It makes me feel murderous when I read about geriatric equines or canines who have been dumped at shelters or abandoned because they were simply too much trouble, or someone wanted a "newer model." That just blows my mind (it should not surprise me, however; Lord knows enough old humans get parked in a care facility and are never visited by their families).

Old Friends came about because Michael (Blowen) realized that old or simply retired Thoroughbred stallions in particular were meeting with a bad end, often because they truly had nowhere else to go. Rescues do not like stallions, which need to be housed separately and are viewed with suspicion by many. TB stallions in particular are often thought to be nasty, vicious, wild and crazy beasts. Yep, they can be real man-eaters, alright. Take this one, for example:
Watch out, you might be nuzzled to death and mugged for treats! Allow me to introduce you to the late, great Black Tie Affair. I had the honor of meeting this splendid Breeder's Cup Classic champion and winner of +$3,000,000 the last time I was at Old Friends in 2009. "Blackie" was the dearest, sweetest fellow imaginable and still handsome, once you got past his shockingly huge melanomas. When Michael got him he was severely underweight and practically immobilized with arthritis (he'd been at a farm in WV, where they were still trying to breed him in that condition at age 22 - nice, eh?). The TLC he got at Old Friends resulted in him being able to get up and down to roll, gain hundreds of needed pounds and generally enjoy life for the little time he had left before they lost him to laminitis.

On this visit I joined a group of about 10 other people in front of their headquarters building, a tiny converted house (a somewhat larger home on the main property is Michael's residence, which is also operated as a B & B). One thing about this nonprofit that I can vouch for - they do NOT waste money on unnecessary luxuries. There is hardly any paid staff and most everything, including tours, is carried out by an army of dedicated volunteers. As soon as my group headed down the path towards the first paddock, I noticed a lady wearing stirrup earrings and equestrian attire. The rest of the crowd looked like "horse-likers" but not serious horse folk. The lady also noticed me and we started to talk. She turned out to be named Melissa, and she was down in KY for the Breeder's Cup, the National Horse Show, and other attractions. About the first thing she told me was, "I live in New York but come down here to visit Mecca whenever possible." I laughed because that is exactly what I tell people when I'm off to the Bluegrass, too!

We proceeded along the farm path to the first paddock, where we were greeted by the beautiful Kiri's Clown:
Doesn't this boy have a really Arab-looking head? My friend Wendy's horse Ollie does, too. I think it's neat when TBs harken back to their founding fathers! 
At least I think that's who this is. I was going to take down the names of all the horses we saw, but there was too much going on to be tapping away on my phone. Carrots and cookies to hand out, noses and cheeks to be stroked, etc. Plus, I was busy talking to Melissa and her friend about racing, bloodlines and other horse topics.

I didn't get too many other good pictures, so I'll just share the ones that did turn out. Here's one of my favorite horses, Bull In The Heather:
From the OF website:
Bull In the Heather is the greatest son of Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner whose death in a slaughterhouse in 2001 helped drive the formation of Old Friends. (One of my better photographic efforts!) 
I remembered from my first tour that "Bull" simply adores having his back scratched, so I climbed up on the bottom fence rail and went at it. He leaned into my fingers, groaning in pleasure and flapping his lip. I tell you, these nasty 'ole TB stallions... I wound up with filthy hands but he was very happy. The filthy part actually didn't bother me; one of the cool things about OF is that the horses are allowed to be, well, horses. They live in roomy paddocks with run-in sheds, are unblanketed, and are free to get as shaggy and dirty as they like. They are groomed occasionally and feet/teeth are done, of course, but basically it's back-to-nature livin' for these guys.
Post back-scratch. We were definitely buddies.
This fellow was brand-new to the farm and I thought he was just gorgeous! This is You and I:
I can't tell you much about him, other than that he was sweet and handsome. He was too new for our tour guide to know any fun facts.

The famous and now sire of very famous racehorses Gulch declined to leave his grazing to come greet us, but we did get to pet and hang out with Clever Allemont, Ogygian (rescued from a slaughter pen), Popcorn Deelites (he played Seabiscuit in the movie) and many others, along with catching a glimpse of Marquetry, who was recovering from colic surgery. I was disappointed because I wanted to see his nifty splash white markings. However, all of these great horses were merely a preamble to the one horse I was really there to see. And he wasn't even on the tour...


1 comment:

  1. Hey! Just thought I could give you a few facts about You and I. I recently sold a daughter of his...

    He's a locally famous stallion in the Pacific Northwest. He was stood last at Woodstead Farm - they are excellent people who helped me track down said mare's papers.

    He has many successful offspring and had a successful career. I've never heard anything but wonderful things about this stallion and his offspring :)


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