Monthly Archives: August 2010

Sunday August 29, 2010

And so, after another tough week, life at Old Friends goes on.  Tours happen with clockwork timing.  Horses are fed, naps are taken and flies are swished.  Little Silver Charm charms the kids, and Pops shows off his movie star looks.  Kiri’s Clown gets a back scratch from a handful of kids, and Commentator gives a little show with some bucks and kicks.   

After a refreshing hint of fall earlier this week, today found us right back in the heat of summer.  We have had little if any rain, leaving everything feeling dusty and dry.   The only things really growing are weeds, specifically burrs.  I stood at the fence today and pulled a tangle of them out of Luke’s (aka DuPars) forelock.   He is in a paddock with four other geldings, and we had to work out the logistics first; it was somewhat like timing a presidential motorcade.  Luke had to chase off Malibu Mix and Sgt Bert, then he had to be bribed with a couple of peppermints, some kisses, and a face rub.  Once that was settled, Tim had to distract Hussonfirst and Thornfield  while I worked out the tangled mess on Luke’s head.  I don’t understand how it is that tails and manes are burr-free but forelocks– between their ears for pete’s sake—end up looking like unicorn horns!  My mission for next weekend is to do the same for a couple of the other horses who also apparently stand on their heads in a patch of burrs. 

We had a large group for this morning’s tour, so I took half and John took the other half.  I kept the kids with my group, and after some hesitation they all enjoyed feeding treats.  Pops and Ring were feeling kind of spunky today, so they actually raced a couple of the kids down the hill.  It took some convincing for them to exert the energy, but eventually they broke into a lukewarm trot.  The kids didn’t seem to mind—at least they all finished up at the bottom of the hill at the same time! 

Someone asked me today if the horses enjoy seeing tours.  Aside from the bribery of treats, the horses generally do enjoy the company.  Tator double-dipped, as usual, meeting people at one side of his paddock, then innocently running over to greet us again as we fed Gulch.  Clever stood under his big tree all morning, taking advantage of the shade as well as the fact that every tour conveniently walks right to him when he hangs in that spot.  Marquetry and The Wicked North compete to see who can make the bigger fuss as we walk into the big barn to see them. 

Part of my plan today was to visit a couple of the horses I haven’t seen much lately.  Seek Gold and Sea Native live in a paddock together.  Sea Native was stretched out in the sun on his side, looking like he was working on his suntan.  Seek Gold came off the track last year showing some wear and tear from a long racing career, but you’d never know it now.  He has turned into a beach bum, too—sun bleached, fat and lazy.  Is he really an almost-millionaire racehorse, or just a dusty little bay horse napping in the sunshine?  It’s hard to tell sometimes. 

The other horse that looks fantastic, and a far cry from how he looked eight months ago, is Early Pioneer.  You might remember me writing about him back in the winter. He had some health issues and his feet were bothering him.  Today, he is a tall, shiny chestnut horse who looks and feels great.  You wouldn’t know he’s the same horse.  It’s amazing what good food and great hoof care (thanks Dr. Fraley!) can do for a horse. 

As I wandered around the annex farm today, I was admiring a couple of horses that could win any beauty award. (Well, besides Wallenda, but as we all know, in his case I am beyond biased!)  First on that list, of course, is Smokey Stover.  He is just about the prettiest horse you’ll ever see—tall and lanky, a true smoky black with a white face.  Don’t think for a minute he doesn’t know he’s pretty, too.  He’s a bit of a show off —he certainly isn’t above striking a pose when people look at him!   The other horse who is really handsome, albeit in a much less flashy way, is Gasconade.  A simple reddish bay, he has a pretty face with an intelligent kind eye, adorable little pricked ears, and a thick black mane.  He is a nice piece of horse eye candy, too! 

Finally, I have an Old Friends shout-out to Get Stormy, grandson of our own Kiri’s Clown.  Get Stormy won for the seventh time in his last eight starts, at Saratoga on Friday in the Grade II Bernard Baruch on the turf.  I told Kiri about it, but at the time those kids were scratching his back.  He was too distracted to care! 

We hope you can visit us soon, on one of the four tours we offer each day.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends! 

-Val

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Tuesday August 24, 2010

Academy Award 1986-2010 

We lost Academy Award today. It was, for many of us at Old Friends, as difficult as any of our recent losses.  I am not even sure where to begin, since Academy Award represented so many things, on so many different levels, to so many people. 

So, I suppose I have to begin with the obvious:  Academy Award was a son of the great Secretariat.  A Sunday tour did not pass without at least one visitor getting a little emotional over that fact.  For many of us who grew up in the 1970s, Secretariat was our first and greatest racing hero.  We pinned up pictures of him, followed his career, and at least in my own case, were lucky enough to have parents who indulged us with a visit to the Big Red Horse.   Meeting Academy Award, the son of Secretariat, became like touching a little piece of history and a reminder that racing provides heroes for a lifetime.  A lock of his mane, for some visitors, became a cherished memento. 

And that is all so unfair to Academy Award, the horse.  A good racehorse in his own right, Academy Award was most definitely not his daddy.  Smaller, perhaps a slightly darker red, Academy Award was a combination of bantam rooster and shy little boy.  Bring people by when he was outside in his paddock and he loved to show off.   On the other hand, if he was taking a nap in his stall he often wouldn’t bother to get up, staying curled up in his straw like a large red puppy.  Since he spent his days in his stall and went outside at night, he got plenty of carrots and lots of attention from tours as they walked through the big barn. 

Academy Award surely didn’t like it when other horses got more of that attention.  If a new stallion took up residence in “his” barn, he huffed and puffed like he was going to blow the place down.  For some time, Wallenda lived in the stall next to him and Academy Award hated it when I fussed over the other stallion.  He sniffed and snorted at the gaps in the wall, making sure I knew he was unhappy with the situation. He could have been the poster child for “small but mighty.”  Yet while he put on a tough facade to the other stallions, for a long time he was totally intimidated by children. For his first few months at Old Friends,  if I had kids on a tour Academy Award hid as far back in his stall as possible.  You could almost see him trying to be invisible. 

Some horses, when they arrive at Old Friends, seem like they were always a part of the farm.  The Wicked North, Marquetry, Commentator, Danthebluegrassman—they are so friendly you feel like you always knew them, like they are friends who came back home after being away for a while.  Academy Award, for me, was different.  Maybe it was the mystique of his sire, or maybe it was just his personality.  Probably it was a little of both, but it took me some time to see him solely for himself—a nice, sometimes shy, affectionate little horse who liked to lean his head against my shoulder while I patted his neck.   I don’t know why it should surprise me, but it does–that sneaky little red horse wormed his way right into my heart.  He did that not because of where he came from, but because of who he was. 

When Academy Award arrived at Old Friends, I was excited to be able to know a son of my childhood hero.  But now I am just happy to say I knew Academy Award—the small but mighty red horse with the pretty face and shy manner, who loved carrots, kind words, and having his face rubbed.  

-Val

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Sunday August 15, 2010

You know how you can tell it’s hot out?  It’s when even the flies are too lazy to move–you wave at them to buzz away and they just stay put!

It isn’t hard to figure how the phrase “dog days of summer” was started.  I imagine it is because dogs are too smart to be very active in the heat, unlike the people who determinedly made the rounds today.   Jake the dog started out on the morning tour with us but after a few minutes he turned around and walked back up to the office, where he hung out in air-conditioned comfort with his pal Duncan, mooching treats from volunteer Bea.

One side effect of the heat is we do more meandering and less hiking.  We probably see fewer horses but spend more time with the ones we do see.  Today began with a nice group of people, this morning when it was maybe a tad less steamy.  The best visitor, of course, was the young girl who started out too afraid to feed the horses, and ended up walking along the fence line chatting with her new pal Sunshine Forever.  I believe she bought out every article in the gift shop with Sunshine’s name on it, and she has already started in on her mom to bring her back (from Wisconsin!) for her birthday.  Just developing the next generation of volunteers…

Speaking of volunteers, new tour guide Jon did his first solo tour this afternoon.  I can’t say I minded handing one off in this heat.  If you visit and happen to have Jon as your tour guide, go easy on the guy!

As we visited with Pops and Ring this morning, we got a laugh out of watching Swannie, Kiri, Awad and Sunshine convene at the four corners of their respective paddocks for their morning gossip. As we walked toward them, Sunshine broke away and made a beeline for the other side of his paddock—the side that isn’t adjacent to any other horses.  Because you know, he is smart enough to figure out that meeting us on the far side ensures he has no competition for carrots!

This afternoon I heard a couple of guys on the tour trying to figure out how to say Ogygian’s name, after seeing his name plate.  I had referred to him as Ogie, so I was no help.  But if you ever see video of his races, you’ll know his name has been pronounced any number of ways, each one funnier than the last. (For the record, it’s Oh-guy-jin.)

Also on a tour today we had a couple of men from a local group home.  A pat on the face–which was really a swat–from anyone else would make Commentator jerk his head back.  Not today.  Tator stood like a rock and never flinched.  It was the same for Norty and Marquetry; the horses demonstrate a total grasp of the situation. I have been involved in therapeutic riding programs in the past. Still, it is very touching to see just how kind the horses are.  In truth, it is far better than most humans.

Academy Award was down for the count on and off all day, stretched out on his side snoring.  And an update on Falcon’s adjustment to farm life—he met us at his stall door for every tour, munching carrots and kindly letting people gently  touch his velvety nose.  He is so pretty and it seems he is going to be a people horse.

That’s about all from the farm for this week.  We continue to offer four tours a day, and we hope you can visit us soon. In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends!

-Val

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Sunday August 8, 2010

At Old Friends, after a rather emotional week it was nice to have a nice, peaceful Sunday.  We barely got past the memorial for Black Tie Affair last Saturday when we lost Bonnie on Thursday.  By the time today rolled around, a quiet weekend was greatly appreciated!

As far as tours went, it was a fairly typical day. We began the morning with visitors from Germany.  They weren’t horse people, just a family visiting the United States with a horse-crazy daughter.  Someone told them the visit Old Friends, so they came.  We had fun—carrots, mints, kisses, slobber, the whole deal!  Academy Award, Marquetry and The Wicked North make a great combo to introduce people to Old Friends, since they are all so friendly.  Actually, I suspect the three of them stand in the barn, their stalls side by side, and talk amongst themselves.  Norty definitely has told the other two which of my pockets holds the mints—each of them tried to wiggle their big nose into my mint pocket today. 

This morning might be the first time I have seen Falcon stand quietly, with all four feet on the ground.  Being just off the racetrack, he is a bit wound up still.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call him calm, but standing quietly is nonetheless an accomplishment.   He is going outside for the entire night now and his stillness is definitely a result of being tired!  He is a handsome horse; as he puts on some retirement weight and fills out, he is going to be a real looker.

Ogygian must have been hungry this morning, as he came over to see the kids at a canter.  (Usually he is more of a meanderer!)  Then again, I’ve thought for a while that Ogie secretly likes little girls. He totally ignored the rest of us—parents, brothers, and tour guide—in order to focus on his new friend.  Fickle horses!  You know, you can bring them carrots each week, say nice things about them, rub their faces, and chase flies.  None of it matters. They will leave you in a flash for the 12 year old girl who speaks softly and carries a big carrot!

This afternoon we had a group of people from Michigan, Illinois, and right here in Lexington.  We walked down to see Pops and Ring, who is still working the crowd with his lip trick.  I swear Pops was rolling his eyes at him!  Awad looked kind of drowsy today.  He wandered over but seemed more laid back than usual.  Awad doesn’t like the heat, and while today was a bit less steamy than it’s been, I think the cumulative effect of the hot summer has been a little hard on him.  He is definitely a cooler weather horse.  But then, I think the summer heat has been wearing on most all of the horses. Even Bull, the king of treat hounds, didn’t bother to come over for treats this morning.  Too far to walk, I guess. 

After the tours today, I wandered over to the annex farm to see some of the boys I don’t spend much time with.  Early Pioneer is looking really good, after a bout with some foot problems last winter.  Sgt. Bert was dozing in the sun, his bottom lip drooping a good two or three inches below his mouth.  There is a lot of sun bleaching happening, in fact I had to think twice about who is who among the bay horses.  For example, normally Luke is nearly black.  But at this point in the summer he is a nice, dusty bay color.  In fact, the only black horse who is still black is Smokey Stover. He goes outside at night—no sun!  Even some of the chestnut horses, like Hussonfirst and Thornfield are showing signs of sun.  Formerly glossy red coats are more of a burnt orange.  The only red horse who still looks red to me, not surprisingly, is Creator.  And that’s just because he is too vain to ever allow his coat to be sun bleached!

As you can see, it was an uneventful day at the farm, which is probably just the way it should be.  We had some fun visitors and some sleepy horses—kind of typical for August, I suppose.  We continue to offer four tours a day for the summer.  We hope you can visit us soon, but in the meantime thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Thursday August 5, 2010

Bonnie’s Poker   

1982-2010 

We lost a great old mare at Old Friends today.  Bonnie’s Poker was 28, a matriarch in every sense of the word when old age finally caught up with her on a hot, summer afternoon. 

Bonnie retired to Old Friends in 2004, making her one of the farm’s earlier citizens.  Late in her breeding career there was some dispute over her worth as a broodmare, and after some legal wrangling it was decided she could retire.  Bonnie never looked back, becoming a fixture on the farm.  Her long-time pal Narrow Escape died last year and while Bonnie carried on, I am not sure she ever stopped missing her best friend.  I have no doubt the reunion of those two friends this afternoon was sweet. 

Bonnie was the dam of ten babies, the most successful being 1997 Kentucky Derbyand Preakness winner Silver Charm.  A good racehorse herself, Bonnie earned a little over $150,000 on the track and finished in the top three in 30 of 63 starts. 

Among the things that always struck me about Bonnie is her close link to some kingly names in the Thoroughbred world.  Man o’ War was a fifth generation ancestor of Bonnie.  Closer up in her family tree are names like War Admiral, Princequillo, Nearco, Nasrullah and Round Table.   Bonnie’s sire, Poker, was Seattle Slew’s broodmare sire.  Bonnie’s family was royalty in the racing world, and she herself was a kind, smart and dignified mare.   Her head wasn’t turned by the regular offer of treats and she only met you at the fence if she conveniently happened to be nearby anyway. She often preferred to graze away from the people who visited her, choosing not to be fawned over.  For most of her stay at Old Friends she ruled her pasture, getting the choicest grass and hay and presiding over the other mares with an iron will.  And yet if you approached her in her field, she was welcoming, gentle and easy to be around.

A couple of summers ago Bonnie moved to the back of the farm, up the hill and away from the stallion paddocks. This new paddock, shared with Narrow Escape, Cozy Miss, Hidden Lake and later on, Personalized, is large, grassy and far enough back that there is no road noise, no people noise and not much activity except for horses, birds, and the cows next door. Bonnie was always fat and content there, her dark bay coat shaggy in the winter but shiny and smooth in the summer.  If she wanted to graze, she grazed.  If it was hot or rainy, she staked out her corner of the big run-in shed.  If she wanted to nap, that was good, too. It is a bucolic, peaceful and breezy spot; life there is very uneventful. Retirement suited her and I could tell Bonnie liked it.  

At Old Friends, where we are essentially a retirement home for the elderly, the personalities of the individual horses are as different as night and day.  And as with any retirement home, there are cranky personalities, loud, demanding ones, and kind and gentle ones.  In the end, Bonnie was exactly what her royal ancestors suggest she would be—as stately and dignified as any queen that ever was. 

-Val

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Monday August 2, 2010

It’s been a mixed bag of a week for the end of July, leaving me a day late in posting.  I took yesterday off from tour guiding, but still spent some time at the farm this weekend.  We introduced some non-horse family members to the horse industry, visited one of the most well-known stud farms in Lexington, and I spent some time hanging out with some of my favorite boys.  Lastly, we said good-bye to perhaps the coolest horse I ever knew.

So in chronological order, here we go!   I got an early start to the weekend by spending some time one afternoon last week on grooming detail.  I started with Glitterman, who as you know has limited turn-out time due to his arthritic knees.   G-man loves to be brushed, leaning against you to the point where you have to push back if you want to get any leverage with the brush!  I told someone last week that he is just the biggest old puppydog when you have a brush in hand!  He isn’t picky either—chest, belly, back and face are good, as long as you get all his itchy spots. His tongue hangs out of his mouth and his lower lip droops, he closes his eyes and his ears flop.  Talk about non-verbal communication; there is no way to interpret his expression as anything other than bliss.  He is so darn cute.

After G-man, I wandered over to see Wallenda.  Perhaps I am biased (no, really?) but moving over to the annex farm has done him a world of good, as he looks absolutely gorgeous. He is able to go outside two times for shorter periods each day, which seems to put less stress on his bad back ankles.  Also, his stall in the annex barn has a full-sized window opening to the outside.  The breeze, aided by his door fan, blows right through his stall, and he gets lots of sunshine and light.  He loves to play; leaning into me and swinging his head around so I can push him back, then acting like he is going to bite me but doing nothing more than tickling me with his lips.  If you brush him to his liking his lip quivers and he drools a big, slobbery mess.  I pulled fairy knots out of his mane, and picked straw out of his tail.  He is a very happy horse.

I also brushed Klassy Briefcase.  After being around the stallions, no matter how fun and kind they are, it’s still rather a shock to be around Klassy.  Like her name, she is a classy, kind, and gentle mare.  No games, no pushing around, no leaning.  She just stands perfectly still while you do your thing.  Klassy is clearly being ridden at night by the fairies as well—she had loopy, twisty knots all up and down her mane.   

We had non-horse family visiting Kentucky for the first time this weekend, and we always try to introduce first-timers to the racing game. With both Keeneland and Churchill Downs dark for the summer, we decided to take them to visit Lane’s End farm. We had a terrific time meeting all the stallions there, including AP Indy (and what a ham he is!), Mineshaft, Rock Hard Ten, Curlin, Smart Strike, and Kingmambo.  Our Lane’s End tour guide, Asa, was fantastic and answered any question we threw at him. It was a great visit.  My mission is to turn the family into racing fans, and since they want to come back to go to the races I think we were successful!

On Saturday afternoon, Old Friends held a memorial service for Black Tie Affair.  There were quite a number of people in attendance, and more than a few of us got a little teary.  It says a great deal about the kind of horse he was that he touched so many people, and so many came out to say good-bye.  He was something else.  

We continue to give daily tours and we hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this weekend with Old Friends.

-Val

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