Monthly Archives: April 2010

Sunday April 25, 2010

Sometimes there is so much happening; there are so many stories and anecdotes from Old Friends I don’t even know where to begin.  Today is a perfect example.  A little sunshine today, some rain, a ton of visitors, and so many fun things to tell!

We had a beautiful morning today—sunny, cool and breezy.  The horses were all very happy, in large part because we had some much-needed rain yesterday, last night, and again this afternoon.  The result?  Today’s grass was tender, juicy and far more attractive than people with boring old carrots. A lot of the paddocks have been mowed this week, making the grass even better.  Talk about a salad bar!  Gulch came over only if he happened to be within a length or so of the fence.  Further than that, and it took too long to walk over when he could be eating.  Clever mostly ignored us.  He did greet the 3 pm tour, but as soon as the raindrops started to fall, he took off at a canter for his run-in shed.  Clever does not like to get wet.  I think figures if the nutty people want to get wet, that’s our problem.  He is going to stay dry, by golly!

I told a lot of stories today, trying to illustrate just how smart the horses are.  Blackie is a fine example, of course.  The arthritis in his back legs makes limber movement a near impossibility for him, but he also knows he needs and wants to lie down.  Getting back up has been the most difficult for him.  So he has taught himself to get up by lifting his front end up first, sitting like a dog. Then he leverages his back end, and up he pops. Not really graceful–but very, very effective.

I wandered up to the mares’ paddock, my mission being to brush some of the long winter hair off Cozy Miss.  Unfortunately, Personalized took exception to Cozy getting attention and tried to interfere.  Her presence was making Cozy antsy and uncomfortable.  I thought I was out of luck, until Hidden Lake decided to take control of the situation. She put herself between Cozy and Personalized, making sure Cozy wasn’t interrupted.  Eventually, I ended up sandwiched between Hidden Lake and Cozy—two swipes of the brush for Cozy, then two for Hidden Lake.  It went on that way for awhile—two for Cozy, two for Lake.  When I finished with Cozy, Hidden Lake led me over to Bonnie, making sure I brushed her as well.  Eventually all the mares got their share of the brush. But Hidden Lake sure organized the day.  She might have been an event coordinator in a previous life.  If I hadn’t been there, I’m not sure I would believe what I saw. And yes, she organized me as well!

By far, most of the horses are really tolerant of small children.  For some of the horses, like Clever, Danthebluegrassman, The Wicked North and Jade Hunter, kids are their favorite visitors.  But twice now I have seen Academy Award back off from small kids.  I suspect he has never been around them, and the higher tone of their voice seems to confuse him.  This morning we had a terrific little guy named Elliott visit.  Academy Award wanted no part of him.  He wasn’t mean or aggressive at all, but AA backed right into his stall when Elliott came too close.  Ironically, later today we had a retired policeman visit.  He was great fun, but a big, burly guy—the kind of guy the stallions often try to bite.  Academy Award leaned right into him, closed his eyes and about went to sleep.  Go figure.

We had some fun visiting with Mighty Mecke, Wallace Station, and Bluesthestandard this afternoon.  I have to keep a hold of Blues’ halter, otherwise he runs the other two geldings off so he can get all the treats.  One of the women with us had a part in getting Mecke to Old Friends.  She was thrilled to see him.  The whole time we were visiting the three geldings, Jimmy and Bull banged on their fences, posed, begged, and generally tried to look adorable .  Adorable is not all that easy for Bull.  He’s more handsome than cute.

With the rain over the weekend, there was plenty of mud for everyone.  Tator had a clean side and a caked side.  Pops and Ring had mud everywhere.  Dan was muddy.  Jade was muddy.  Kiri was beyond filthy.  But Ogygian, Gramps, and Gulch?  Totally pristine.  They are clearly too classy to roll in the mud like a common ex-racehorse!

We had so many visitors today—in addition to our three regular tours, we had three van tours and overflow from the regular tours.   All of the farm’s tour guides, myself included, are volunteers.  On a busy day like today, it’s a lot of fun to meet people from all over.  Today, we had visitors Florida, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, among other states.  We also had visitors from the Ukraine, Australia, and Canada.  It’s pretty cool to see how knowledge of Old Friends has spread all over the world!

I expect that next week’s blog entry will be a day or so late, since Sunday is our 6th Annual Homecoming celebration.  I always look forward to that.  People return each year for the event, and it’s great to catch up with the farm’s supporters.  You never know who will show up. Maybe we’ll see you there!

I want to say thank you to everyone who left a comment on last week’s blog entry.  I appreciate all the kind words.  And once again, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.  We hope you can visit us sometime soon!

-Val

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Monday April 19, 2010

I have never devoted an entire blog to an individual horse, unless unfortunately, it’s a memorial.  But I’ve been thinking for some time about writing about a specific horse, for reasons you’re about to see.

For a time about four months ago, I watched Black Tie Affair endure an especially long, damp and gray Kentucky winter.  I am far from an expert, but at the time I thought he possibly wouldn’t make it through the winter.  His cancer seemed to be advancing steadily, and every week when I visited him he looked diminished, smaller somehow.  He seemed tired.  And yet, he turned and welcomed me into his stall each week with a slight nicker and a head-butt, as if to say, “hey girl, how are you?” I should have known he was nowhere near ready to go.

 And now, four months later, Blackie is so much better.  As the green grass of spring started to appear, he began to get stronger.   Much of that is due to the visible success of the cancer treatments he receives, but I also suspect it has to do with Black Tie Affair—his will and his desire to live.   Now, he stands outside in the sunshine on nice afternoons, napping, eating hay, and greeting visitors.  He is content and happy.  So I decided not wait for that memorial blog somewhere down the road to tell you who he was.  Instead, I want to tell you about who Black Tie Affair is.

I remember watching Black Tie Affair race, of course, specifically his Breeder’s Cup Classic win.  In the office at Old Friends, we have his races on tape.  He was darker then, a steely, dappled gray horse. He isn’t huge, but he isn’t small either.  He won the Breeder’s Cup Classic wire-to-wire, racing on the front end of the pack and daring the others to catch him. They couldn’t, of course.  Watching it now, his run in that race seems exuberant, even a little wild.  But if I’ve learned anything from being at Old Friends, it’s that the impression we have of racehorses from watching them race has next to nothing to do with who they really are.   Some of what we see on TV or from the grandstand is true, of course—what color they are, how fast they run.  But their real, day-to-day personalities are mostly hidden to us fans, until and unless we are lucky enough to get to know the individual horse. 

I’ve known Black Tie Affair for nearly a year now, give or take a couple months.   To me, words are somehow too bland to describe him. Still, the words I’ll use are probably the ones you’d expect–kind, smart, sensible. Knowing him now, I often tell visitors he embodies the qualities humans have tried to breed into Thoroughbred horses for hundreds of years—courage, heart, and determination.  He is beautiful, in a mythical unicorn kind of way, with his white coat and dark eyes, his pearly-colored tail and arching neck.  He understands things– including, I believe, that he is ill and he is not young and strong.  He is proud and dignified.  Blackie is appreciative; spend time with him and you get the sense he is grateful you made the effort.  He asks for nothing—although a carrot, or three, is a wonderful bonus.  He is brave, not because he could run fast and win races, but because while his body is failing it hasn’t really changed him.  He always was, and still is, all these things.

Last year sometime, I ran into a woman who told me she was somehow connected with Black Tie Affair’s dam.  According to her, there was no great plan to Black Tie Affair’s breeding—they had a mare ready to breed and an available stallion.  If true, that means Black Tie Affair was that most rare of creatures—a marvelous random happenstance that resulted in a great racehorse, a fine sire, and the kind of magical horse little girls dream of.   

And little girls do love him—they stand at his stall door and talk with him like they are best friends.  Blackie drops his head and listens intently, ears pricked.  I think little girls speak Horse, or maybe horses speak Little Girl.  Either way, it’s a language we lose as we age, and some of us spend a lifetime trying to relearn it.  But watching Blackie converse with a small child, you have no doubt the language exists.  

So, with insufficient words, this is who Black Tie Affair is.  And here is what he regularly reminds me:  be appreciative of the little things—someone to scratch your back, a handful of treats, warm sunshine.  Listen to small children and what they have to say, because it’s usually very important.  Don’t dwell on your problems.  Pay attention to others—maybe you can make them happy.  Do your best every day and be content with your life.  And enjoy the time you have on this earth, because you just never know how long it will be.  

Thanks, Blackie. It’s an honor to know you.

-Val

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Sunday April 11, 2010

Summer tour season is here!  We have been very busy—I bet we had over a hundred people came to Old Friends for tours today alone.  We had two groups out at 10 am, a nice-sized 1 pm tour, and then at least two groups out at 3 pm.  I heard that yesterday was even busier. The horses were thrilled with all the treats, that’s for sure. Many carrots and not a few mints were consumed today.

It’s fun to watch the horses react to this much activity.  Fortunate Prospect was sound asleep this morning, so the morning groups never did get to meet him.  At his age he has his priorities, and sleeping was it for him today!  Cherono and Gulch happily came over and visited, but the gold star of tour antics went to, (surprise!) Commentator.   Tator ran. He kicked. He bucked. He reared.  He did it all over again.  And then, for good measure, he changed it up and did it again.  He makes me look good, since I had just finished telling my group how much personality the horses have and how much they enjoy attention.  Anyone who thinks retired horses need a “job” need only come to Old Friends and see how handily the horses work the crowd.  No boring retirements here. 

There was a man on this morning’s tour who is a fan of Polish Navy, so we took the long walk up the hill toward the Back 40. Nearly every horse came over to see us and they were all well-behaved.  (Williamstown was the exception, though. He totally ignored us.)  Of course, Clever, Ogygian, and Jade Hunter are always perfect gentlemen.  Sometimes Bull can be a bit demanding, but he was fine today.  The Name’s Jimmy loves company and he came right over, as did the three geldings—Wallace Station, Mighty Mecke and Bluesthestandard. 

Glitterman looks terrific, but Polish Navy won the Pretty Horse Award this morning.  He has just about completely shed his winter coat.  He is beautifully dappled in a rich cocoa with hints of black and gold. He is absolutely gorgeous.  Added to that, he is a nice horse who enjoys attention.  He stood for pictures, and let people pat him and rub his face. 

This afternoon we walked a different part of the farm, visiting Pops, Ring, Awad, Sunshine, Will, and Swannie. Lots of hair has been shed, so most of the horses are looking nearly summery.  Except for Pops.  He has long, faded winter hairs hanging on amongst his shiny, short, summer coat.  As is normal for him at this time of year he looks, well, moldy is the best word for it.  It is not a good look for a former movie star! 

Leave Seattle came over for carrots, and then we discovered that both Sunshine Forever and Swan’s Way are wearing halters that say “Leave Seattle” on the brass nameplate.  I am pretty sure some folks in the group thought we were having one over on them.  It did get a bit confusing for the people trying to keep track of the photos they were taking!  For the record, both Swannie and Sunshine managed to lose their halters in their paddocks.  We needed to catch them this past week, so they got whatever halter was handy.  Apparently that was two more Leave Seattle halters.

 We had a number of “regulars” visit today—some of our most loyal fans came out.  It was great to see them and another sure sign that summer travel season is underway.  I took a group of them to see horses that had come to the farm since their last visit.  So we went to see Gulch who ignored us, and Tator who didn’t. They also wanted to meet Blackie, Academy Award, Jade Hunter, Glitterman, Blue, and Polish Navy. (Polish Navy had a full day of fans!)  One of the women asked for a lock of Academy Award’s mane.  I kind of thought she might cry.  Sons of Secretariat, for those who remember dad, sometimes have that effect.

We then drove next door to meet Smokey Stover.  He was waiting at the fence for us.  I stopped to see Luke and we wandered over to say hello to Klassy Briefcase.  We finished up the day over at Dr. Byer’s farm with Riva Way, Bingo and Cappucino Kid.  A couple more locks of mane, plenty of mints, a visit with Dr. Byers and we all headed our separate ways.  All in all, I think everyone had a terrific day.  Dogs, small children, and tour guides are all pretty tired tonight!

We are winding up for Triple Crown season—the Kentucky Derby is a mere three weeks off.  Zenyatta is an undefeated 16-for-16.  (And Tator still thinks he could beat them all!)  May 2 is our annual Homecoming, and we always look forward to that event.  We hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Monday April 5, 2010

I’m a day late (and perhaps a dollar short!) posting this week.  I’m blaming a terrific Easter dinner with friends late yesterday.  At least, that’s my excuse!

 We’ve had a terrific stretch of spring weather for the past few days, and it was actually quite warm yesterday.  The horses were mostly lazy, or maybe just more interested in the green grass that is growing so rapidly in their paddocks.  Still, most of them took the time to come over to say hello. Well, except for Creator.  He just didn’t care one way or another. He was grazing and napping and that was that.

Tim wanted to brush some of Fortunate Prospect’s long winter hair off yesterday, so I wandered down to visit while Tim brushed.  Gramps loved the attention, and when Tim found just the perfect itchy spot along his back, Gramps closed his eyes in bliss. His lips quivered, his ears flopped and he was perfectly content, in the sunshine with some gentle currying.  But when Tim moved to the wrong spot, guess who Gramps nipped at in frustration?  You’re right—NOT Tim!  Fortunately, (pun intended!) Gramps is more of “pretend” nipper, and he just wanted me to pass along his wishes to Tim.  Lots of hair came off –there are bird nests out there lined with very soft, plush, high-end upholstery.

Cherono and Commentator were not too happy to see Gramps getting the attention.  Both of them danced, pawed, bucked and generally did their best to draw attention to themselves.  Cherono got down and rolled a couple of times.  I guess he wanted to be brushed as well.  Tator did the same but I don’t imagine he wanted to be brushed.  He can’t possibly stand still long enough.  Nope, Tator just wanted treats!   And throughout this one-ups-man-ship by Tator and Cherono, Gulch looked at them like they were mildly amusing, but maybe not very bright.  Gulch is a laid-back, cool guy.  Like treats, loves attention, but way too cool to act like a circus horse to get it. 

While all this was happening, two people waiting for the 1 pm tour were watching from the office.  They told me later that they were pretty entertained watching the behavior and interaction of the horses as they tried so hard to get our attention.  People who haven’t been around horses much, are always fascinated by the horses’ individual personalities.  And we sure do have some personalities at Old Friends!

Many of the horses yesterday seemed to be looking for a scratching post as we walked around on the 1 pm tour.   Pops and Ring wanted their faces rubbed.  Kiri used me as a head scratching post.  Awad, for the first time in weeks, wasn’t too interested in hamming it up.  Too warm, I guess.  Sunshine and Swannie mostly wanted carrots.  

Black Tie Affair was outside enjoying the sunshine today. He had the right idea.  As I looked across the farm, I saw Benburb and Smokey Stover happily munching green grass.  Mark of Success and Malibu Mix were lying side-by-side, napping.  Jade Hunter, Ogygian, Dan and Flick were all either dozing or grazing quietly.  As the winter hair sheds, signs of shiny summer coats and dapples are peeking out underneath the dust and loose hair.  Spring is well underway at Old Friends.   

We are beginning to get ready for our annual Homecoming, set as usual for the day after the Kentucky Derby. This year, that will be May 2.  We hope you can visit us soon, and maybe make plans to join us at Homecoming.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this weekend with Old Friends.

-Val

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