Monthly Archives: July 2009

Sunday July 26, 2009

Another month is almost over.  It’s been an odd summer, weather-wise, with a fair amount of rain and cooler overall temperatures.  It may be odd weather to us, but I have no doubt the horses have really liked this summer.  For whatever reason, there seem to be fewer flies and the ground isn’t so hard and dry.  Not to mention how green and lush the grass continues to be.  We are still routinely mowing pastures, unusual for late July, and a hay farmer I know expects there will be good quantities of hay available this winter.

No tour duties for me today, as Greg and I had family in town for the weekend. Greg’s sister, brother-in-law and two nieces were here from Pittsburgh.  We spent yesterday showing them around central Kentucky a little.  Along with Old Friends, we had lunch at Wallace Station (excellent, as always!) and checked out Rupp Arena for my brother-in-law, a big college basketball fan.  We also walked around Keeneland.   No racing in July of course, but it’s still a great place–even empty, it’s full of atmosphere.  Yesterday there was a wedding party having pictures taken in the walking ring.  Talk about a pretty place for wedding photos!   One of the gentlemen working in the Equestrian Room saw the girls and gave them Keeneland coloring books, crayons and stickers.  It was very nice.

Our nieces, Shannon and Kayla, are at a fun age where everything is an adventure.  Shannon, who is nine, is very much an animal person, and she happily spent all weekend hanging out with Marley and Jake.  She had also seen “Seabiscuit” and when I told her we could meet the horse who played him in the movie, she was pretty excited.  

When Saturday morning rolled around, the girls announced they were ready to meet some horses, so off to Old Friends we went.  We grabbed a bag of carrots and went to the big barn.  Black Tie Affair was the very first horse we saw.  It is the first time I’d met him, and he is beautiful.  He is not real big, and quite refined with a pretty, almost delicate head and face.  Unfortunately, like Benburb, he has melanoma and will be undergoing treatment for his tumors.  He came right over to his stall door to meet us, looking very interested in the kids.  Kayla, who is seven, had told me on Friday that she likes gray horses best, so she was totally taken with him.  I think she would have stood outside his stall talking to him all day, and Black Tie Affair would have stood and listened!

We tried to visit with Wallenda, but he was sleeping and couldn’t be bothered to get up.  That horse.  I talk about how he is my favorite and he won’t even flick an ear to acknowledge us.  Makes me look bad!  Ben, who like Black Tie Affair stays indoors and out of the sun during the day, was his usual friendly self.  In fact, I think, given his health issues, that Ben is one of the most dignified horses I have ever met.  He is one very classy guy.   Cross your fingers for both him and Black Tie; hopefully their treatments will help.

Clever came right over to see us.  There are times when he doesn’t bother to come over to the fence to visit, but it seems to me if there are small kids, he comes right over.  He ate his carrots, got his face rubbed, and seemed happy.  Shannon has a naturally calm, animal-friendly personality and Clever took right to her, letting her pat his forehead and neck.

Kayla, the younger niece, is a riot and cheerfully tells us she is a “diva.”  Norty is in the paddock across from Bull and both horses were looking for attention.  While we fed Norty his treats, Bull was banging on the fence and when we fed Bull, Norty stomped his feet, wanting us back with him.  Kayla looked at the horses and annnounced that they are both divas.  Oh, how true!

Klassy Briefcase is still on stall rest, and being a small mare with a calm and gentle way about her, she is perfect for a little girl.  Shannon fed her carrots and then stood and patted Klassy for a good while.  For the rest of the day Shannon talked about how Klassy was her favorite.   Shannon also loved Janet’s dogs.  She kneeled right down in the barn for a nose to nose conversation with Duncan.  Once again, where is my camera when I need it? You think I’d learn…

Fortunate Prospect has moved to the field across from Jade Hunter and you couldn’t ask for two more friendly stallions.  They stood directly across from one another, and we all just took the three or four steps back and forth between them as they munched their carrots.  From there, we saw Dan, Flick and Silver Charm.  Kayla decided, “I like that little one, he’s just my size.  I could probably ride him!”  Perhaps not, as I am pretty sure Charmie would be highly offended at the idea of having to work!

We finished up our mini tour with a walk over to Pops and Ring.  Both horses were at the bottom corner of their paddock, down by Leave Seattle, Kiri, and Awad.   Pops saw us and immediately ran up the hill.  I tried to tell the girls it was because he saw them, but they quickly figured out that Pops saw an opportunity to get carrots without having to compete with four other horses!  That horse is one smart cookie.   After dinner last night, we all watched Pops in his big movie role.  I hadn’t watched “Seabiscuit” in probably a couple years, and we had a lot of fun watching for Pops in the film.  Knowing him, it was easy enough to pick him out.  It’s no wonder he’s such a ham.

Thanks to Tim Ford for taking over my tour guide duties today–I’ll be back at tours next week.  We hope you will visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends. 

P.S. Happy Birthday to my sister Karen, tomorrow…

-Val

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Sunday July 19, 2009

I think this particular weekend arguably has become our busiest each year.  You probably think it’s the summer weather, or at least summer vacation, but neither is the reason.  It’s Breyerfest weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park.  You know Breyer horses:  the collectible, plastic, model horses, usually replications of various breeds or specific famous horses.  Breyerfest attracts a lot of collectors—adults that have collected since childhood, moms collecting with their kids (mostly daughters, I think) and people who just love horses.  And so, since Friday, Old Friends has been a popular stop with the Breyer crowd.  And boy, have we been busy.  I had plenty of bucket carrying volunteers today!

Many of today’s visitors, as you can imagine, were kids.   I think I met at least 25 kids and it was a lot of fun.   They ran, they chattered, they fed carrots, they patted and they asked questions.   The horses seem to understand kids, too.  It still surprizes me, no matter how often I see it happen.  But every single horse, every one, was exceedingly kind and gentle throughout the day.   Clever, Escape and Swannie graciously let lots of little hands reach out and pat them.  Sunshine sniffed, snorted and smelled every hand, which earned him lots of giggles.  Pops and Ring let everyone admire them, and then raced about 10 kids (and one dog) up the hill.  Talk about a thundering herd…

The Wicked North gobbled his share of carrots and posed for photos with his new fans.  You probably think, what is so special about that?  Well, Norty didn’t just pose.  He stood still, ears pricked, so each mom could get a perfect photo of her child kissing Norty.  As soon as each photo was snapped, he waited for the next child and posed again. He must be the star of 15 or 20 smoochy pictures today.  You can’t tell me he didn’t know what he was doing. 

One of the mares, Klassy Briefcase, is in the barn recovering from a little tendon pull.  At first, you could see her thinking about whether she really wanted all these people hanging around her stall, but as is usually the case, the carrots won out.  She gently took her share and then completely turned her back on us.  The mares always let you know when they have had enough.

The far corner of Ogygian’s paddock is his favorite spot. His tree is there, where he hangs out in the shade and waits for his share of the treats.  I suppose in his youth Ogie had his share of aggressive stallion behavior, but you wouldn’t have known it today.  And as so often happens, he could care less about the adults, but the kids could pat and feed him no problem. 

Another horse who had a great time with the kids today was Jade Hunter.   When a new horse arrives you never really know what his or her temperament is like, but Jade Hunter is a very nice horse who comes over to the fence as soon as he sees people walking his way.  He makes me laugh though, because he doesn’t have the most graceful lips.  Kind of clumsy, he knocks more carrots to the ground than he nabs.  Some horses can pick up a bit of carrot as delicately as anything.   Jade Hunter, not so much! 

The other new horse we have on the farm is Canadian champion Benburb.  Ben is suffering from melanoma and is undergoing treatment for his tumors.  But he is a wonderfully nice gray horse who greets visitors with a loud, enthusiastic neigh.  Carrots are high on his list, as well.  We are also awaiting the arrival of another great old stallion:  Black Tie Affair should be here in the next week or so, once transportation arrangements are finalized. 

But I have to say without a doubt, the horse that enjoyed himself the most today was Kiri’s Clown.  This morning he stood parallel to the fence while 10 or 12 pair of hands reached over, under, and through the fence to scratch him.  Some of the littler kids stood on the fence boards and the taller ones reached for his back and neck.  He wouldn’t even eat his carrots because he was enjoying his “grooming” so much!  He had kids scratching his back, neck, chest, belly, butt and ears, with a look of sheer bliss on his face.  

Of course, we had adult visitors as well, but today was mostly all about the kids.   The kids asked some well-thought out questions and made some very intuitive comments.  Really, they are my favorite visitors.  I think they are the horses’ favorite visitors as well.  I told all the kids to pester their parents for a return trip next summer.

And so another Breyerfest, and another summer weekend is past.  We hope you can visit us soon. Until then, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday July 12, 2009

You know, I nearly always start the weekly blog post with a weather update.   I gave some thought to starting with something different for today’s entry, but the weather sure seems to set the tone for the day’s tours.  So I begin yet again—with a weather update!  Today was a warm, cloudy and very humid day.  Thankfully, there was a nice breeze.  As one lady said, without today’s breeze, it would have been a little uncomfortable. 

I started the morning with a small, two-person tour.  I was on a mission to meet our newest stallion and so, up toward the back of the barns we hiked.  Our new resident is a stallion named Jade Hunter.  A good racehorse in his own right, Jade Hunter is perhaps best known as the sire of the outstanding mare Azeri.  Before current star Zenyatta, before Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra and Belmont winner Rags to Riches, there was Azeri.  Azeri had a great career, winning over four million dollars and four Eclipse awards, including 2002 Horse of the Year.  Now a broodmare, Azeri still has tons of fans.  I can’t help but think a lot of them will be visiting her daddy!  Jade Hunter is a really beautiful chestnut stallion, a son of Mr. Prospector.  Most importantly, he is already a carrot pro.  He came over to greet every visitor, and helped himself to as many carrots as he could get.  He sure fit right in—no issues here!   Kind of reminded me of how Norty settled in.  But then, these are some smart horses.

After Jade Hunter, we walked far enough back up the hill to visit with Williamstown, Glitterman and Polish Navy.  I have a special little soft spot for Williamstown, and he came right over for a treat.  He actually nickered at us as we walked up, which might have been a first for him.  Ahh, the power of the carrot.

Williamstown has undergone his usual summer transition—yep, the purple and brown tye-dye pattern is back.  He looks so cool!  I think maybe he has the nicest paddock on the farm, with a line of tall trees to block the afternoon sun and enough of a hill to allow him to hide from us if he chooses.  Across the way from him, Glitterman is an adorable little guy, very friendly, and he loves his carrots, too.  I thought for awhile that he wasn’t sure about settling in at Old Friends, but today the transition was clearly complete—he’s become another professional treat hound.

We are fortunate at Old Friends to have a number of friendly, kind-hearted stallions.  You all have heard me talk about The Wicked North, Fortunate Prospect and Clever Allemont, who are all exceptionally nice.   Another of the kind ones that I don’t mention enough is Polish Navy.   This morning, he just put his head in my arms and wanted to be fussed over.  I mean, really, how can you not adore a horse like this?  A very good racehorse (over a million bucks good), great-grandson of War Admiral,  sire of a Kentucky Derby winner (Sea Hero), and all he wants is a hug!

We had some terrific kids visit today.  Some of them were first time visitors, and a couple of them are among our regular friends.  But the two who stuck in my head today?  One young man, who could have played Ron Weasley (for you Harry Potter fans out there!) was so polite and nice, thanking me for his tour before he left.  The other young man told me he was tagging along with his sisters and mom all weekend while the girls did the horse tours.  Josiah made it clear he isn’t a horse fan, but he was so darn good-natured about being stuck with the girls, you just had to be impressed.  Nice kids, everyone of them, and as always my very favorite visitors. 

Another horse who was really great with all the kids today was Ogygian.  He happily let himself be patted and fed–by the kids only, though.  He wasn’t nearly as obliging with some of the adults.  It’s funny how the horses know that the kids are ok.  Dan, Flick, Pops and Ring also all enjoyed their share of the attention today, and all of them would have stood with us all day if the treats kept coming.  Unfortunately, Dan has that chronic runny nose, a side effect of throat surgery from his racing days, and he chose today to sneeze ALL OVER one lady’s nice khaki skirt and tank top.  There were copious amounts of grass-green Dan slime all over her.   Don’t think she was too happy, but she was a sport about it.  I just didn’t warn her in time.

That pretty much wraps up another weekend at the farm.  We hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday July 5, 2009

If you are a horse, today was probably your idea of great weather.  It was a little cool, a lot rainy and very gray.  There was just enough of a breeze to notice and the grass is deep, juicy-looking, and really lush.   No 10 o’clock tour because of the rain, so it was a great time for me to just enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm.  There is a load of fresh clover hay in the big barn waiting to be stacked, and it smelled wonderful.  The aroma is sweet, kind of minty, and really fresh—better than the best potpourri.

Shortly after I arrived at the farm, I stood under one of the big oak trees and watched Creator run around his paddock.  He was pounding the ground, shaking his head and bucking.  Dan and Flick wandered out of their shed and over to the fence, to watch.  No running for them; I think they thought he was a little nutty.  They kind of rolled their eyes and wandered back into their shed, out of the rain. To give you an idea of how good all the horses felt, even Fortunate Prospect cantered around his paddock today.  While he trots around if he is feeling especially frisky, at age 28 you don’t usually see him canter.  The old guy still has it, too.

While it never did clear up today, by noon or so the rain had pretty much tapered off.  And so, at 1 pm we had nine or ten people show up for a tour, and about the same number for the 3 o’clock tour.  We had a great time, as always, meeting the horses and getting to know them.  While we stuck close to the main part of the farm, in case the rain started again, I never get tired of sharing the personalities of the horses.  Pops and Ring raced the kids, Escape came over for treats, Swannie is covered with mud and Leave Seattle took a nip at someone.   Awad got mad when everyone admired Kiri, and Sunshine had to snort and smell to see who else we had been patting.   By the way, both Escape and Clever continue to thrive.  Both horses bear no resemblance to their former selves.  I wondered today if Escape isn’t actually growing a little. 

Those of you who have been to the farm in the past year or so have probably seen the special shoes that Bull wears. (Ruhlmann wore the same kind as well.)  Unfortunately, nature bestowed upon Bull tender, thin feet.   He often was sore and gimpy.  For awhile now, he has worn special shoes that are affixed to his front hooves with acrylic—I call them his fake fingernails.   I was able, this weekend, to see the blacksmith take care of Bull’s feet.  First, the blacksmith uses a long knife to pare off the old shoe.  He then peels the old acrylic off Bull’s hooves like he is opening a can of sardines.  After trimming and shaping Bull’s hooves so they are even and angled correctly, the new shoes go on. The shoe itself is rubber, with built in padding and attached acrylic webbing that is plastered to Bull’s outer hoof wall with a pasty, acrylic bonding material.  The entire hoof is wrapped in plastic wrap for about 5 minutes while the plaster sets up, then he is unwrapped.  Once both front feet are done and his back feet trimmed, Bull is ready to go back to his paddock.  No nails, no metal.  The entire process took over an hour.  It was fascinating to see.  The blacksmith matches the acrylic to the color of the horse’s feet—Ruhlmann wore black and Bull wears a kind of yellowish color.  I doubt Bull cares that his sneakers match. He just likes how they feel!   

Today’s tours wound down by about 4:30.  Wallenda was already outside for the evening and Clever was in his stall eating dinner.  Kent took Norty out to his paddock, brought Escape inside and then headed off to feed everyone else their dinner.  Even the cats were snoozing somewhere inside the barn.  The day ended up as it began—gray, damp and quiet.  Overall, nothing was out of the ordinary.  It is comforting to know all is well.

 We hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Tuesday June 30, 2009

Today was a pretty special day at Old Friends.  Jockey Calvin Borel visited the farm this afternoon and it was a real treat.  As you know, Calvin won this year’s Kentucky Derby (on Mine That Bird) as well as the 2007 running, on Street Sense.  He is also the regular rider of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra.   But let me back up a little and start earlier today…

It was a gorgeous day in central Kentucky—about 80 degrees with blue skies and big puffy clouds.  Calvin was due at the farm at about 4 pm, so I went a little early to visit “the boys.”   The big barn was emptied of horses in preparation for the event and everything was pretty much ready to go.  I took a short walk, starting with a quick visit to Fortunate Prospect.  Gramps has been spending his afternoons in the barn out of the sun.  I think he really likes that; Janet says he comes right to the gate and heads into the barn. The stalls have box fans set to blow into the stalls, and Gramps apparently enjoys just standing in front of his own personal breeze.  But today he was outside and he positioned himself in a prime spot for attention.  He made sure he got his share of that attention, too! 

Swan’s Way looked very dapper today, with his halter off and his long, black forelock covering his eyes.   If you have ever met Swannie, you know that he has a very pretty, almost Arabian horse head with a dished face.  Of course, the overall elegant picture is somewhat deceptive.  When you get close, you realize he is his usual dirty self.   Pat him on the neck and you raise a cloud of dust. 

EscapedfromNewYork had zero interest in visiting and never lifted his head from the grass.  So I moved on to Sunshine and his next-door neighbor, The Wicked North.  Both horses were happy to say hello and get some attention.  Sunshine Forever and The Wicked North–two fantastic, gorgeous Eclipse award winners, side-by-side, waiting to be patted.  Where else can you see that? 

I am used to seeing Norty in the barn, and I think I kind of forgot how beautiful he is. Norty is a large, muscular, gleaming red horse with a white stripe down his nose.   He is something to see when the sun shines on him.  But despite that beauty, his best quality is still his kind and gentle temperament.   He never nips or bites, and just loves to be patted and fussed over.   And today I caught another tour guide, who shall remain nameless (Mercer!) communicate very nicely with Norty using….baby talk! 

Kiri was able to be without his grazing muzzle today, for the party.  He won’t be happy when it goes back on tomorrow.  But we have had a decent amount of rain this year and the grass is still amazingly green and lush.  Given his age, we have been worried about his weight and afraid he might founder, eating such rich grass for so long this year.  But for today, he was happy to rub his face against me without the encumbrance of the muzzle.  It’s easy, sometimes, to ascribe human expressions to the horses, but I really suspect his vanity is offended by having to wear the muzzle.

As the afternoon marched on, people began arriving for the afternoon’s festivities.  There were several horses that saw crowds of people and immediately went into “show-off” mode.  The usual suspects—Danthebluegrassman, Bull inthe Heather, Pops and Ring—took advantage of the moment to either run around, or strike poses at the fence.  Even Clever Allemont came over and hung out near the fun, taking advantage of the extra attention.   Ogygian stayed in his run-in shed, apparently way too cool to bother with so much nonsense.  

But  of course the main reason everyone came to Old Friends today was the opportunity to meet Calvin Borel. Calvin, his fiancée Lisa, and his jockey agent arrived promptly at 4 pm.   Wearing jeans, a shirt and a Rachel Alexandra hat, Calvin immediately started greeting people and posing for photos.  He did some media interviews, answering questions about the Triple Crown, Mine That Bird, and Rachel Alexandra .   (Calvin told me, by the way, that Rachel “is not normal,” meaning of course, that she is something very special.)  Michael took Calvin and Lisa to see Mark of Success, who Calvin rode, and then he got down to the business of signing his autograph.  What a guy!  He signed hats, shirts, photos, posters, magazines, Derby glasses and who knows what else.  There must have been well over 200 people standing in line to meet him, and he greeted every single person with a huge smile, chatting with them all.  I think the best part was how willing he was to pose for photos with anyone who asked, making a special effort with the kids.  A nice, nice guy–hands down not your typical professional athlete.    He is exactly the man we all saw on TV, celebrating his Derby and Preakness wins so joyfully. 

As I stood and watched the lines of people wait patiently for their autograph, I was struck by how many faces I had never seen at Old Friends.  Usually, when we have events or fundraisers, I see a lot of familiar faces.  Today was a great mix of regular supporters and people who had never been to the farm but who came to meet Calvin.  There were a few familiar faces from my Sunday tours as well.  I think we made a lot of new friends at the farm today, thanks to Calvin’s support.  I know everyone at Old Friends can’t thank him enough.   

As the day wound down, I found myself with a fan of my friend Wallenda.  And wonder of wonders, Wallenda actually posed for pictures—he usually is more interested in checking out the photographer—and stood relatively calmly to be patted and admired.   A woman, whose father owned the horse Wallenda beat in the Super Derby, also stopped by to see him.  For me, I have to admit, having people admire Wallenda was the icing on a pretty good afternoon!

Well, I guess that’s probably about all the excitement for today.  I’m back to my regular tour and blog schedule next week, although I am going to Churchill Downs on Saturday for the races.  I promise we will be rooting for Calvin Borel, on every horse he rides!   Thanks for stopping by OldFriends on a Tuesday, and we hope to see you soon!

-Val

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