Monthly Archives: July 2010

Sunday July 25, 2010

We are experiencing a full-on, hard core, blazing hot summer in Kentucky.  Unlike other parts of the country where there have been tropical storms, tornados, rain, and flooding of late, we are experiencing wonderful weather.  Wonderful, that is, if you like to sweat!  The horses generally found their own patches of shade today and there was a great deal of fly swishing and lazy napping.  It was just too hot to get worked up about much of anything.  To give you an idea of how lazy everyone was today, Kent was trying to mow Kiri’s paddock and no way was Kiri going to move out of the way.  After Kent was forced to stop and wait, Kiri finally heaved a sigh and moved just enough for the tractor to pass by him. 

This weekend was the annual Breyerfest at the Kentucky Horse Park.  For the uninitiated, Breyer horses are plastic horse models that are highly collectible. They often are modeled after specific breeds and frequently after famous individual horses.  If you are a regular blog reader you know from last year that this is our busiest weekend of the year.  Today was a typical Breyerfest weekend—lots and lots of kids, families, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, you name it!  And despite the heat, it was a fun day.

This morning we had a large group—perhaps 40 people.  We had two tour guides on duty today, so Nick and I split the group and headed off with full buckets of carrots. I never forget to warn the men in the group that they will be the first to be bitten. I know the dads never believe me, and a couple of guys received personal reminders with a good tug on their t-shirt from Pops.  No skin involved though, so no harm done.  Of course, I neglected my own advice and carelessly allowed Danthebluegrassman to get a good nip at me.  I have a nice bruise on my hand, reminding me to pay better attention.  I don’t think Dan felt one little bit bad about it either!

We welcomed a new horse this week, a young horse named Falcon Scott.  (Check him out here.)  Falcon is just off the racetrack and he is not sure about this whole farm-retirement-tour concept.  He goes outside for a few hours each day as he acclimates, and the Old Friends activity is kind of beyond his comprehension at this point.  Still, he had no problem taking a little break from constantly scanning his new world to gobble some carrots!  A handsome dark bay with a white face, Falcon is a half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago.  He was originally owned, and was now retired, by Zenyatta’s owners Ann and Jerry Moss.  Some connections, huh? 

With all the kids visiting today, we spent most of our time with the friendliest horses. That meant The Wicked North, Glitterman, Ogygian, Dan and Flick, despite Dan’s moment of crankiness with me!  Awad, Sunshine, Swannie, Pops and Ring all enjoyed a bonanza of carrots and mints today.  Ring is like the Energizer Bunny with his lip tattoo trick.  He keeps going, and going, and going with it! 

The newly svelte Kiri’s Clown has shed his grazing muzzle, much to his immense joy.   Marquetry is a fantastic people horse; he has been added to the kid-friendly list.  Gulch did his part to greet folks this afternoon, and Commentator hit up every tour for treats at least twice.  Clever Allemont sidled up next to the fence and had about six kids all reaching through to scratch his back, neck and chest.  He was in Clever heaven.

Silver Charm ventured out of his paddock twice for some extra attention. With eight or ten kids gathered around him, someone commented on how well-behaved he was.    With all those hands fussing over him, trying to rearrange his abundant forelock and mane and generally reaching to pat him wherever they could reach, Charmie took it all in like the professional greeter he is.  No horse understands his job better than Silver Charm. 

Overall, it was a great day for visitors, tour guides, dogs, and horses alike.  The kids seemed to really have fun—even with the slobber, sweat and horse hair!  And after all, perhaps the best part of Old Friends is that people can come and interact with the horses–learn a little about racing, retirement and horses in general–and leave saying they had a great time.  We hope you can visit us soon. In the meantime, thanks for spending another Sunday with Old Friends!

-Val

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Sunday July 18, 2010

Hot, humid and sticky were the best words to describe central Kentucky today.   The horses mostly tried to find a bit of shade, not having the enthusiasm for much playing or showing off.  Thankfully there was a fairly active breeze today, because otherwise it would almost have been too hot to walk around.  In fact, of couple of our visitors gave up after a bit. They ended up looking for the same bits of shade as the horses.  The only horse who maybe liked the heat was Pops.  You are probably wondering, why Pops?  It’s because Ring was too lazy to walk over to us for carrots, leaving Pops in the rare position of having all the attention, and treats, for himself!

Being Sunday, one of our volunteers, Tom, was at the farm as he is every Sunday.  In addition to his weekday stint as a tour guide, Tom takes care of our cemetery.  It’s totally because of him that the headstones and plaques look as fine as they do.  Tom mows, pulls weeds, cleans the fountain and waters flowers.  He generally makes our cemetery, and its shady benches, as inviting a place to sit and contemplate as anywhere on the farm. 

Old Friends is fortunate to have many volunteers–giving tours, helping in the office/gift shop and otherwise taking care of the odds and ends every farm needs to have done.  We all volunteer because we love the horses.  But that isn’t to say our paid employees don’t love the horses as well.  This afternoon one of our farm workers took time out of his hot and busy afternoon of chores to walk Fortunate Prospect to a patch of shade and brush him.  It just doesn’t matter what your role is at Old Friends.  There is something about the old guys (and girls) that makes everyone want to spend time just enjoying their company.

In that regard it was rather nice today, because with the heat the horses are more than happy to stand close to you while you chase flies for them!   It also allows for some quieter moments, when it’s somehow less about the treats and showing off, and more about the company.   After the tours ended this afternoon I found myself at the annex farm visiting the horses that live there.   Wallenda loves having his back and withers scratched, maybe even more than he likes being brushed.  His lip quivers and he starts to drool.  If you move from his prime itchy spot, he swings his head over and looks at you like he is saying, “not there you dummy, the other spot!”

 At one point, Tim and I stood next to the fence, with Sgt. Bert, Dupars, Hussonfirst, and Seek Gold all face to face with us, giving kisses and receiving pats.  We didn’t even have treats, so at least for today it was all about the attention.

Even Glitterman, who is usually an affectionate little guy anyway, wanted nothing more than to hang out with the people.  It was the same for nearly all the horses, including the more active ones like Commentator and Dan.  Even Creator wandered over and was kind of affectionate.  OK, so maybe that is a complete and total lie.  Creator just wanted treats, and maybe a personal fly swatter.  Kiri is still none too happy about wearing his grazing muzzle, but he has definitely lost a few pounds.  Since that was the intent I guess we can say it’s working, despite his annoyance with the contraption.

 When we opened Marquetry’s stall door, he stood like the most perfect gentleman with his head right up against my arm, enjoying the company.   He is a nice horse.  Norty did the same, although he tries awfully hard to get his head right into the carrot bucket and his big nose into the pocket of my jeans that holds the mints.   Gulch couldn’t be bothered to come over at all, and Jade Hunter got a little insistent when we fed Bull first.  There might be a little competition happening there. But regardless of the heat, both horses and visitors seemed to have a good time today.

Michael is in Saratoga, preparing for the grand opening of Old Friends at Cabin Creek, the Bobby Frankel division later this week. Some of our Kentucky volunteers are headed to New York for that party. The rest of us will be right here at the main farm, waiting to show off our horses to visitors.  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 11, 2010

As I was driving home from Old Friends today contemplating what I would write in this week’s blog, my first thought was that we had a quiet, non-eventful day at the farm.  It was warm, but it’s been warm for some time now. We had some rain on Friday, so Pops and Ring have their mud puddle back.  Both were covered in mud; nothing unusual about that.  Much to his dismay, Kiri is wearing his grazing muzzle as he did last summer.  Tator and Awad predictably followed each tour around, hoping for more carrots.  

We didn’t have a morning tour, so I went over to the annex farm to see the boys.  Wallenda wanted to play, and when he went outside for his daily grazing time, he broke into a canter. Given his ankle issues, he isn’t the most graceful horse anymore and I cringe when I see him canter, holding my breath that he stops before he hurts himself.   But he looks and feels good, and he still wants to show off just a little.  Benburb and Smokey Stover are nighttime grazers, spending their days indoors out of the sun. Both horses planted their faces in front of their fans, closed their eyes and napped.  Bennie is fat and happy; Smokey is just plain gorgeous.

Klassy Briefcase also resides over at the annex. She was laying down for a nap with her tongue, as usual, hanging out of her mouth.  Klassy’s last foal ran third in his first race this week, so I told her about that.  She didn’t blink. But then again, she was asleep… Luke came over for a mint and a face rub, but no one else bothered.  Too hot, too much sun, too much effort.

This afternoon’s tours were fun, including a very small “horse whisperer in training” named Gracie.  Gracie was maybe three, and the dogs and horses adored her.  She was a very calm little girl and the horses took carrots from her as gently and delicately as they could.  She stretched right up to feed Tator, Academy Award let her pat his forehead, and she reached through the fence to pat Glitterman’s shoulder. She picked a bouquet of clover flowers as we walked along, talking to the dogs and ignoring the people. By the time we got to Sunshine, she had her horse mojo working just fine–so fine, in fact, that Sunshine completely ignored the carrot bucket to follow Gracie along the fence!  She gave him a carrot, patted his nose, and he was in love.   I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.

 Apparently the theme of the day was “introduce your significant other to a racehorse.”  One guy was a huge racing fan, and he brought his girlfriend as part of his effort to make her a fan as well.  (As someone who has turned her own husband into a racing fan, I can totally appreciate the effort!)  The guy was excited to meet Norty, Gulch, Dan, and especially Commentator.  And he was kind of a sentimental guy, clearly appreciating the horses for their beauty and heart as much or more than for his efforts at handicapping.  Now, I just hope we helped convince his girlfriend!  Another couple this afternoon was much the same.  The wife was pretty surprised that her non-horse-person husband liked Tator enough to want to go back and give him more carrots.  I do know that Tator can be a bit rambunctious, enough to put off some people.   But, really.  How can you not adore a horse who loves to show off for the crowd, but is smart enough to be calm for small children and the 6’4” grown man who is just a little nervous around him? 

So as I was making that drive home,  I thought about some of the questions I was asked today—about what kind of second careers racehorses can have, how horses come to Old Friends, and what the racing industry is doing to facilitate new homes after racing careers are over.  I was reminded of the genuine passion racing fans have for the sport and for the horses that make that sport possible.  And I thought, maybe the fact that Old Friends exists, that people remember not only recent retirees like Commentator and Danthebluegrassman, but older horses like Gulch, Glitterman, and The Wicked North is the true noteworthy part of the day.   Maybe, because of Old Friends, horseracing found some new fans today and a little girl showed a connection to animals that could take her anywhere.

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

-Val

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Sunday July 4, 2010

Ahh, Independence Day—a sure sign that we are mid-way through the summer!  What a day it was. On the one hand, it was a fun, albeit hot, day and we had a lot of especially enjoyable visitors.  But on the other hand–walking past Black Tie Affair’s empty stall for the first time, seeing the deep pile of clean bedding just waiting for him, his fly mask hanging outside the stall and a vase of white roses outside his door, well, it was difficult.  I told everyone a little about him today, so I guess he was still part of the tours.  I know it made me feel a little better.  You know, after nearly two years, I still expect to see Flying Pidgeon’s white-rimmed eye peering at me from his paddock.   I am going to be looking for Black Tie Affair in that stall for a long time.

And of course, there are many horses still looking for their share of the carrots.  Wallenda has moved to the annex farm next door, where it’s much quieter.  He will be better off –there are fewer visitors and he’ll be less likely to get excited and further injure his fragile ankles.  When Will’s Way left for New York, Swannie moved into the paddock on the other side of Awad, next to Leave Seattle.  Awad spent all day huffing and puffing at Swannie, even though all Swannie did was move from one side of Awad’s paddock to another.  Still, Awad was letting us know that he is large and in charge.

 Marquetry arrived last week, and moved into Swannie’s old digs.  Talk about a people horse!  Marq met every tour at the fence, munching carrots (one bite at a time—he has some dental issues, as in missing teeth) and letting everyone fuss over him.  He is a big, very handsome chestnut horse with really cool and unusual white markings on his legs.  They run up his legs in an irregular pattern, kind of like they would on a paint horse. Everyone commented on them.  And you know some horses just figure out the Old Friends drill immediately—The Wicked North, Commentator and now Marquetry.   Nothing slow about those boys!  Marq was ready and waiting every time he saw us headed his way.  And of course, once again there was Awad, all worked up because we were admiring the new guy instead of him.  

One of the things I most like to impress upon visitors is how smart a good racehorse can be.  Case in point: today, I think we taught Special Ring a new trick, demonstrating just how quickly they learn things.  This morning, he curled his upper lip and everyone was able to get a good look at his tattoo, which is clearly legible. The group was large enough and everyone’s response was vocal enough—some oohing and ahhing—that he figured out it was a good thing to do.  This afternoon he tried it again and the group applauded.  By the time the 3 pm tour came along, all I had to do was ask him to show us his tattoo and up went the lip!  He’ll remember this from now on, and he’ll be showing his tattoo on a regular basis.  Poor Pops, he’s going to have to ratchet up his star power to compete!

We always have great visitors, but maybe because I was a little bit sad today, everyone just seemed especially nice.  There was a nice mix –some people associated with the racing industry, non-racing horse people, really terrific kids, and complete horse novices.  There were great questions, many, many carrots, and a lot of sweating in the humid heat!  There wasn’t a lot of horse activity—Tator ran some this morning and Pops trotted about three steps. Everyone else pretty much meandered. 

And the funniest comment today?  This afternoon one of the non-horse guys told me he thought Sunshine wasn’t a very manly name for a stallion.  I suggested he say that to Sunshine’s face when we got over to him—all 16-plus hands and 1200 or so pounds of him!  Since no one would call Sunshine girly, ever, the two of them worked it out and bonded over some carrots.  It was pretty entertaining.   

The same group asked me if it’s true that horses like beer, so I was forced to come clean with a little secret. One of our volunteers, whose name I shouldn’t reveal, admitted that sometimes after work he stops by the convenience store, picks up a can of beer, and shares it with his buddy Bull inthe Heather!  Apparently Bull isn’t a fan of light beer, preferring the full-bodied Clydesdale brand.   I guess it’s a guy thing.

That wraps up another Sunday for me.  It’s been an emotional week at the farm, but at the end of the day I can say that you feel better just for being around the horses—letting Kiri rub sweaty his face on your arm, having Sunshine sniff and snort your hand to see who else you’ve been patting, or feeling Glitterman lean his face against you while you chase flies for him.  Life does go on.  Thank you to everyone who sent a comment on the blog, a note, or an email over the past week.  We love reading them.

Thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.  We hope you can visit us soon!

-Val

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Friday July 2, 2010

Black Tie Affair

1986-2010

 When I wrote about Black Tie Affair earlier this year, I knew this day would arrive.  Knowing it does not, in any way, make it easier to bear.  Back then it was not my intent to write about him again. But as I spent some final time with him on his last morning, as he picked at his hay and let me rub his face, he reminded me of some things I still wanted to say.  

When I first moved to Kentucky three-plus years ago, I found it difficult to drive anywhere in the bluegrass without being distracted by the horses. This has not really changed for me—I never tire of seeing horses in pastures, horses in barns, horses everywhere. The first time I went to Keeneland for the races I was more than a little overwhelmed by the experience of standing right next to the track, watching thousand-pound Thoroughbreds strive with every bit of themselves to reach the finish line in front of the rest. My first visit to Churchill Downs was similarly emotional, and I still get a lump in my throat when I see the names of every Kentucky Derby winner inscribed along the grandstand and paddock eaves.

 I think this is because as a child, I read all the books—Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion and Man o’ War, Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind. If you read those books it was impossible not to fall just a little bit in love with Thoroughbred horses, or at least with the fictional, romantic idea of a racehorse.  The books emphasized the Thoroughbred’s intelligence, courage, and will to win.  They opened up the possibility that a mere person, a boy or a girl, could have an actual friendship with such a fabulous creature.  As I grew older I had my own horses, and I learned that horses are, in fact, totally fabulous.  Still, in the back of your mind–in the grown-up part, the rational, non-child part—a Thoroughbred stallion can’t really be like they are in the books, can they? 

Well, here is the grown-up truth.  Yes, they can. They can be exactly, perfectly, wonderfully like in the books.   They can be black and shiny or red and muscular.  They can also be nearly white, with deep dark eyes and a tail the color of pearls.  They can be cantankerous, exuberant, or playful. They can be kind, gentle and affectionate.  And they can be courageous and dignified, imbued with a will to win–a will to live–despite overwhelming physical ailments that would fell a lesser being.   Black Tie Affair was all these things.  He was the stallion from the books, the one every child hopes really exists. 

 Race on, Black Tie Affair. 

-Val

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