Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sunday February 28, 2010

Winter doesn’t seem to want to let go of its grip on central Kentucky.  Today was yet another kind of gray, late winter day:  kind of damp, kind of chilly, kind of windy.   With no sunshine and any leftover snow melted, the most pervasive thing about today was the mud!

And muddy it is.  All the horses are just covered with it—matted in their coats, with little balls of mud hanging in their manes and tails.  It’s hard to tell black from bay and bay from chestnut, and white socks are hidden.  Benburb is so muddy that his normally white coat has been stained a sort of washed-out palomino color.  He is fat and happy; if you didn’t know better you’d think he is a well-fed quarter horse, not a Thoroughbred racehorse!  Bennie and Smokey Stover are so much fun to watch.  Smokey runs and bounces around like a big kid, grabbing Bennie’s halter, tugging on his mane and rubbing his face against him.  Bennie just puts up with him like a long-suffering big brother.  But they are inseparable.   In the evening when it’s time for them to come inside Smokey herds Bennie away from the gate, trying to keep his pal outside to play for just a little while longer.

All the horses at the annex farm look terrific.  I made my way over to see them today and as I walked around, everyone came over to the fence say hi.  Even Seek Gold wandered over.  I say that because Seek Gold’s sire, Touch Gold, is a favorite of mine and I really want to get to know his son better.  But like his dad, Seek Gold is not an instantly warm, friendly guy.  It’s going to take some more time and effort to get to know him.  

Malibu Mix took my last peppermint.  Lukas came over at a run, sliding to a stop in the mud.  He has finally grown a little bit of winter coat, just in time to shed it out.  He has worn a blanket all winter, and I have to think come spring he’ll be happy to get it off and roll his entire body in the mud. 

Back at the main farm, Cherono has moved into the paddock behind the office that formerly belonged to Proper Reality.  He seems really happy in this new, much larger home.  I drove by the farm twice this past week and both times I caught a glimpse of him running around happily. Today he seemed really content and kind of mellow, eating some hay in between watching everything happening around him.  

On the other hand, as I drove up the driveway, Swannie was just having a grand old time playing in the mud.  He was jumping, prancing, pawing, pirouetting and dancing like he was trying out for Olympic figure skating.   If watching him play didn’t bring a smile to your face, nothing ever would. 

Commentator, as usual, came at a run when I called his name.  He does love his treats!  Tator also loves the sneakers he wears.  Janet told me when they put them on him every morning, Tator picks up each of his front feet, eagerly waiting for his comfy shoes.  Tator is another one who is just a big kid—he loves to play and he thinks we humans are his playmates.  He loves to rub against you while you scratch his chest, or lick your hand and arm like a very large dog.  Of course, he is a large, strong kid and you have to be careful he doesn’t inadvertently pop you one, but he is a lot of fun. 

Gulch came over for a mint or two today, which is actually the first time he has done so with me.  Gulch doesn’t have much patience for his neighbor Commentator, and you could just tell that Tator’s antics were setting Gulch’s teeth on edge.  Sometimes the horses’ thoughts and feelings are so clear, it’s like they speak perfect English!

I walked into the big barn but every single horse in there was lying down asleep.  Blackie, Academy Award, Wallenda, and Norty were all snoozing.  No fun there!  Blackie’s stall was freshly bedded and he was all curled up in a perfect deep nest of straw.  I have to say he looked pretty darn comfy! Clever, Dan and Flick came over to say hi and that about did it for me today.  I just can’t wait for some nicer, warmer, sunnier weather!

We hope you can visit us soon—although if you wanted to wait for that nicer, warmer, sunnier weather, I can’t say as I’d blame you!  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday February 21, 2010

Our recent cold and snowy winter gave way this weekend to a hint of spring.  With sunshine and temperatures reaching the low 60s today, most of the snow is melted and you got the feeling that winter is on its way out.  But over the not too distant past few weeks, we did see some snowy weather.   Rick Capone took some great winter  photos and was willing to share them.  Thanks, Rick!

-Val

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Friday February 19, 2010

Proper Reality  1985-2010 

We lost one of our great old warriors today.  Twenty-five year old Proper Reality was euthanized, after a bad bout of colic this morning.  

 Proper Reality’s sireline ran five generations back to the great Man o’ War, not something you see everyday, and not to be taken lightly.  He was a smallish, dark bay horse and while he didn’t look anything like his famous multiple-great granddad, he nonetheless won 1.7 million dollars in his racing career.   He won big races—10 of them in 19 starts–including wins in the Southwest, Illinois and Arkansas Derbies.  He also ran fourth behind the great filly Winning Colors in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, a race with wonderful horses like Risen Star, Seeking the Gold, and Forty Niner.  At Old Friends, he was our highest-placing Derby runner.  His successful racing career is especially relevant I think, because Proper was a good example of the correlation between great racehorse and just plain smart horse. 

Since his arrival, Proper lived in one of the two paddocks directly behind the small farm office.  He loved this particular space, and it was well-suited to his personality.   He quickly figured out two things.  First, he discovered people plus buckets equal attention.  Second, and more impressive, he learned that a tour group walking along the south side of his fenceline would eventually walk back along the north side of his fence.  And Proper never, ever missed a chance to greet you at both fences.   In fact, I’m more than half convinced he tried to look “different” the second time around, on the chance we wouldn’t realize he’d already gobbled his share of the carrots!  

Proper was one of our kinder, attention-loving stallions.  Kids could pat him, and he somehow seemed to know when a horse novice was in our group.  He never failed to stand especially still for non-horse people to fuss over him, and I know he put a little extra spark into his camera pose for them.  But it also wouldn’t surprise me if he was a bit of a pistol to handle in his day, because he did have that look in his eye that said “I’ll do it my way.”  Nevertheless, he totally understood his job at Old Friends, and he was a fine ambassador for retired racehorses. 

I always felt a little extra connection to Proper, maybe because I was the person who spent a few minutes preparing his stall just before his arrival.  I put in some fresh straw, filled his water bucket and added a few flakes of hay.  He arrived in late in the day, and the next morning when he was turned out, he spent a couple minutes running around, winding up his neighbors.  As soon as Bull and Norty started showing off, Proper just rolled his eyes and settled down to graze.  He had made his point:  “I’m here now, boys.  And I‘ve still got it!”     

Proper had a beautiful way of moving, light on his feet and graceful.  I saw him happily romp around when he felt especially good, and I saw him contentedly take long naps in the sunshine.  Whenever I saw Proper run, I never failed to think, wow, that horse raced with Winning Colors.  The stories he could tell… 

Logically, with our thinking brains, we know that Old Friends is a farm populated with aged horses.  We should, and do, expect these days.  Still, it doesn’t matter that we know it because when we lose one, it hurts.  There is always someone– a farm or track worker, maybe a fan or volunteer or former owner somewhere– who counted that particular horse among their favorites.  For those people, times like today are especially heart-wrenching.  Proper had made more than his share of friends since arriving at Old Friends.  I don’t know how much luckier a horse person, a racing fan could be, than to get to know a horse like him. 

 -Val

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Sunday February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day!  While today was a mostly gray day, it still somehow managed not to be a dreary one.  The sun tried to poke through a couple of times, and with no wind the cold seemed manageable.  The horses were great fun today–with a little sun, cold but not frigid, it was good horse weather and there was plenty of activity around the farm.

I was looking back at some of my older posts, and noticed at this time last month I remarked on how signs of spring in Kentucky start to show up in February.  Well, here we are in February and we are stuck in the midst of the same weather pattern as most of the rest of the country—snow and cold, cold and snow.  But today I did see the first sign of impending spring:  I ran my hand down Commentator’s neck and came away with a handful of winter hair.  After that, I noticed hair beginning to shed on most of the horses I patted.  This is always a good sign.  Although if it doesn’t warm up, we might have some cold horses!

No tours were on the books today, so I filled my pocket with peppermints and took a little walk by myself.   As I always do, I started by heading into the big barn to say hello to Blackie and Wallenda.  Neither one cared, though—Blackie was munching hay and Wallenda was soundly sleeping.  Academy Award was also down for some snooze time.  Only The Wicked North bothered to say hello.  Thank you, Norty.

I wandered over to the small barn to say hi to Cowboy, Gasconade and Early Pioneer.  Cowboy and Gasconade, both recovering from injuries, got themselves all worked up when Marley ran into the barn.  So each of the three got a mint, and then I decided I’d best leave them alone.

At this point, Tim Ford joined me and we decided to take our own mini tour.  Clever ignored us, as he so often does unless large groups of people and full buckets of carrots are involved!  Gulch peered at us from the far side of his paddock but we weren’t interesting enough for him to come over.  Commentator, however, can be counted on to visit.  Tator is wearing the Velcro sneakers that we sometimes use in the summertime on sore feet.  Tator doesn’t like the frozen, rutty ground and wearing the sneakers makes him more comfortable. They also make him lift his feet like a Saddlebred when he clops over.  He is pretty much mud-free and his coat is very soft.  And as I said, he is beginning to shed, so spring can’t be too far off.

Swan’s Way meandered over to say hello to us.  His forelock has grown nearly down to his nostrils and you can barely see his face.  He seemed kind of sleepy today, which is pretty unusual for him.  Normally Swannie is among our most active horses.  But next door to him, Sunshine Forever and Awad were very, very wound up.  As Marley and Jake ran down the lane between the two paddocks, Sunshine and Awad decided they would race the dogs.  Awad ran and pranced with his neck arched and nostrils flared.  Sunshine acted the same way, although he is much the larger of the two.   As Tim and I followed them down the lane, Awad circled back, snorting as us. I waved my arms and whooshed back, making Awad throw his head up and start all over again.  Both horses were having so much fun; their eyes were  sparkling and it was like they were kids yelling “whoo-hoo.”   It was beautiful to watch and it just made me grin.

Will’s Way crunched a couple of mints and then Kiri trotted over to say hi.  Kiri won’t eat mints, but he loves attention.  He slung his head over my shoulder and leaned on me while I scratched his chest.  He is often a very affectionate horse, although 1200 pounds of affection can be very heavy!

By this time, Awad was still huffing and puffing– which always gets Pops and Ring going, too.  Both geldings came over to say hi, and then wheeled around and ran up the hill. I guess they couldn’t decide if they wanted to show off or be patted, because they made a circle and came back for more attention. One of the benefits of walking around without a treat bucket is the horses are mostly happy to be patted and fussed over, without the distraction of carrots.  Pops and Ring made three or four circles, running a little and then coming right back for pats.  A couple of hams, no doubt about it!  Throughout it all, Leave Seattle kept his back to us as he munched his hay.  Not surprising at all, given his self-contained personality.

Creator, a very observant horse, noticed that no treats were being offered.  Therefore, he didn’t come over either.  We stopped to see Dan and Flick, both of who are fat and fuzzy, and Ogygian, who seemed a tad miffed that there were no carrots.  Jade Hunter, among the nicest stallions ever, was happy to be patted and kissed.  No treats required for him; he’ll be your friend regardless.  Bull came over and was more interested in who else we had been patting—he sniffed and snorted and tossed his head.  I’m sure he would have preferred treats, but he was ok with just the attention!

By the way, congratulations are in order for our friend Nick and his new bride Jackie.  Everyone at Old Friends wishes you both much love and happiness.

Despite the nicer weather earlier today, it’s beginning to snow once again this afternoon.  We are all looking forward to spring tour season—or, for the horses, spring TREAT season!  We hope you can visit us soon. Until then, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday February 7, 2010

As in indicator of how cold, wet and snowy this winter has been in central Kentucky, today seemed like a mild, enjoyable day to be outdoors.  And it was only 22 degrees–not that mild!  But apparently we’ve gotten used to the cold.  We have a little bit of snow, maybe an inch.  By this afternoon the ground began to thaw just a little bit, putting a thin top coat of mud over the frozen ruts.  The mess was just enough to stick to boots and add to the muck on dogs, horses and farm equipment.  It was a reminder that mud season isn’t too far off!

The horses are all doing great.  There wasn’t a lot of activity today, with the usual suspects acting up and everyone else just hanging out.  Only Swannie, Pops and Ring made a half-hearted effort to show off.  All of them ran or bucked for at least a few strides.  Gramps took his usual afternoon nap, stretched out in the snow– black on white.

We had four people tour this afternoon—from Toronto and Maryland–and we had a great time. We visited most all the stallions around the main part of the farm, including Jade Hunter, Awad, Kiri and Sunshine.  I especially enjoyed myself, I think because between being sick last weekend and the rain of previous Sundays, it felt like I haven’t seen the boys in forever.  Jade Hunter was in his shed, but trotted over when he saw the bucket.  Bull inthe Heather now resides across from Jade and he was actually pretty clean, for a nearly-white horse in the mud!  One of the women was interested to learn that gray horses are born dark and turn gray with age—a factoid that often fascinates people.  Ogygian was waiting at the fence for us, and Dan came right over as well.  Flick was more interested in his hay and completely ignored us.  Gulch ignored us as well.  He hasn’t been at the farm long enough to learn about the bucket brigade, but once spring rolls around he’ll figure it out. 

Commentator made sure he came over both for the start and end of the tour, being the double-dipper that he is.  He got the last handful of carrots and was looking for more.  I watched him walk along his fence line today, nibbling the icy snow off the top board.  The horses have water in their automatic waterers all the time, so I guess he just likes snow! 

Today was my first chance to meet our newest stallion, Academy Award.  He is a son of the great Secretariat, and looks rather like him, except in miniature!   Even though I knew Academy Award is a little guy, I was surprised to see just how small he is. He can’t be much over 14 hands.  And I can’t tell you much more than that, since I mostly saw him curled up in the straw sleeping today.  I guess he isn’t a big fan of Wallenda, who is in the stall next door.  I heard the two of them huffing and puffing at one another this morning. But by the time I wandered on down to his stall, he was again curled up in his straw -with his back to the door, ignoring everyone.  I’m thinking maybe he is a bit of a curmudgeon!  He did get up once, for the tour and some carrots.  He sure is cute.  And if he is, in fact, a little curmudgeonly then I bet he hates it when people say that!

This morning Black Tie Affair received the latest dose of his anti-cancer medication.  He is such a classy horse—he stood quietly while the vet set up his IV line, and except for trying to rub his head on me, he barely moved while the pint or so of drug went into his system.  To me, perhaps because I see him weekly and not every day, the difference in his tumors is noticeable—in a good way.  The veterinarian told me, and I am paraphrasing here, that the drug attaches itself to rapidly reproducing cancer cells and kills them when those cells split.  With luck, Blackie’s tumors will die and then eventually heal.  Knowing Blackie, seeing how calmly and stoically he takes everything in stride, I cross my fingers and wish a wish every time I see him.  I took off his blanket today and spent some time brushing him.  He is shedding and by the time I finished, my black sweat shirt looked like a white, fuzzy, hairy sweater.  I had to take a clean brush and brush myself.  It didn’t help all that much, though.

This afternoon our little tour group walked along visiting Kiri and Awad, and across the way at the annex farm Smokey Stover stood by his fence watching us intently.  I figured he wanted some attention, so after the tour left I drove over to the annex to see him.  But I think I was wrong, because he didn’t pay any attention to me.   Or maybe, since I was alone and there wasn’t a whole group of admirers, he just couldn’t be bothered!   It was peaceful and quiet at the annex—there was a hawk sitting on Luke’s paddock fence, just surveying the neighborhood.

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

-Val

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