Monthly Archives: January 2011

Sunday January 30, 2011

Sometimes, in the middle of what is turning out to be a long, cold winter, Mother Nature rewards us for our perseverence with a day like today.  It was beautiful, the bright sunshine and milder temperatures (in the 40s) making for a day where you didn’t need gloves, ear muffs, or even a heavy jacket.  Days like today are my favorite, a brief break from winter’s grasp and a great time to be a tour guide with hardly any tours! Wandering around the farm on a day like today is pretty terrific.

A morning like this is made for horse napping, and at one point I looked over the paddocks to see Fortunate Prospect, Kiri’s Clown, Free Spirits Joy, The Wicked North and Delay of Game all stretched out in the sunshine.  Marquetry was standing in the corner of his paddock next to Sunshine Forever, and while they were standing up, they were snoozing as well. 

This afternoon, when we had a small tour headed out, Spirit was still down for the count, as were Awad and Kiri.  All three got up when the carrot bucket headed their way.   Spirit and Kiri came awake pretty quickly, but Awad took a few moments to fully awaken.  He stretched and kind of yawned and finally, finally meandered over for his carrots.  We thought he obviously needed his morning coffee.

All the horses were kind of lazy and mellow today.  Pops and Ring came over at a trot but it was hardly an energetic effort.  Leave Seattle strolled over and Creator did the same.  Creator is showing some signs of his age. He gets a little stiff if he stands in one spot for too long and it takes him a few steps to limber up.  Not that it makes his attitude any different; he wasn’t getting carrots quickly enough and he threatened a nip at our visitor.  Although I suppose there was a time when Creator wouldn’t have stopped at just threatening, so maybe it is different.

Among our visitors today was Laura Battle, who takes so many of the photos I post on this blog.  She wanted to go to the annex farm to take pictures, so our little group piled into our cars and headed next door.  Now, to an ex-racehorse the only thing nearly as enticing as a carrot bucket is someone with a camera pointed in their direction.  All the geldings in the big field, among them Dupars, Hussonfirst, Sgt Bert, and Thornfield lined up at the fence for photos.  They crunched carrots, begged mints and posed beautifully for Laura.  Across the drive Seek Gold, Sea Native, Judge’s Case, Marshall Rooster, Dinard, Mark of Success and Early Pioneer stood at their respective fences and waited their turn. Even the two mares—Buzzovertomyhouse and Klassy Briefcase—eventually came over to see what the fuss was all about. Of course, we had to walk most of the way to the end of their fence while they walked maybe 5 feet over to us.  You know, the mares are not nearly the easy treat hounds the boys are. They make us work for it.

A couple of times today, mares at the farm across the road were running, neighing and generally making a ruckus. It was funny to see the stallions throw their heads up and prick their ears at the fuss.  Marquetry, and Creator didn’t miss a trick, and even the geldings—Dan, Flick, Pops and Ring—were enthralled.  They were nothing more than frat boys hoping for an invite to the party!

Later this afternoon, Laura and I went back out with one of our regular visitors.  As the day wound down, we spent some time with Falcon Scott, Gulch, Ogygian and Commentator.  As we leaned on Ogie’s fence, we talked about being racing fans, and how much fun it is when we get to spend time with our favorites. We all agreed we are really appreciative whenever we have that opportunity, whether at the track, at a breeding farm, at Old Friends or even in a virtual way online.  This is part of what makes Old Friends so great.  Yes, we provide a good home for so many wonderful horses. But we also offer a wonderful place for fans to come and meet their favorites, up close and nose to nose. You can scratch a neck, give a kiss and get slobbered on by an animal you watched race when you were a kid, or more recently perhaps on TVG or HRN.  When we saw Gulch win his Breeder’s Cup race, or Awad set his record in the Arlington Million, whoever thought one day we could give Gulch a mint from our pocket or watch Awad stretch after a nice nap in the morning sun? 

Today reminded us that spring will be here before you know it, no doubt after a few more snow storms and some more freezing weather!  We continue to offer tours every day. You can make a reservation by calling Old Friends at 502-863-1775. We hope to see you soon, but in the meantime thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.  (And yes, I’m hoping Laura will share some of today’s photos with us at some point!)

-Val

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Monday January 24, 2011

Jade Hunter  1984-2011

 We lost Jade Hunter Sunday afternoon.  A few weeks ago he injured his hip and he had been staying in the big barn. He was recovering nicely, feeling pretty good, and enjoying his barn time. Unfortunately, the decision was made to euthanize Jade Hunter when complications arose after a bout with colic yesterday afternoon.

Jade Hunter was perhaps best known for siring the great race mare Azeri, as well as recent graded stakes winner Global Hunter.  A son of the great Mr. Prospector, Jade Hunter himself was a winner of over $400,000. He was a world traveler too, having begun his racing career in England and standing at stud in Kentucky and New York. He also stood overseas for a number of seasons.

Jade Hunter came to Old Friends in 2009, and from the beginning it was clear he was pretty special.  A medium-sized horse, he was a deep red color with an irregular white stripe on his face.   He always came over to the fence to greet visitors, and I got the feeling he thought he fell into high clover when he arrived at Old Friends.  He was a friendly horse, and Old Friends is a never-ending treat for a friendly horse.

Among my first and most lasting impressions of Jade was that he had the clumsiest lips of any horse I ever met.  I suppose most horses can pick out a single, specific blade of grass with their lips.  Jade’s lips functioned about like trying to pick up that single blade of grass while wearing six pair of winter mittens!  He adored his carrots, but he dropped three for every one he got, especially when he first arrived.  His propensity for dropping carrots made children giggle and adults roll their eyes. But he also loved to be patted, he happily accepted kisses, and he adored a good back scratch.  

I never saw Jade Hunter nip, bite, pin his ears or act grumpy.  He never got upset or agitated, except for one time. Last fall, after a choking incident (probably brought on by those clumsy lips and a tendency to gulp his carrots) Jade was restricted from treats.  As you can imagine, he was not happy about this.  After a year of tours and treats, Jade saw no reason why anything should change.  He pouted pretty hard, and that was the only time I ever saw him even mildly annoyed.  And even then, Jade Hunter was too classy to demand treats.  No, Jade opted to make a play for sympathy, and he more than made up for his lack of treats by graciously accepting extra love and kisses in their place.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating.  Old Friends is in essence a senior home, a care facility for elderly horses.  As such, we all know these days will come, and unfortunately with sad regularity.  I adored Jade Hunter from the beginning, as he personified everything people should know about Thoroughbred horses. He was smart, kind, and classy. He had traits many people generally would not ascribe to horses, including personality, charm and wit.

Jade Hunter’s classy attitude and kind heart make me believe people were kind to him throughout his days.  In a world where so many are unlucky, he was a lucky horse.  And I was, as always, beyond lucky to have known him. 

-Val

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Sunday January 23, 2011

If you had to describe a winter day in central Kentucky, you’d probably talk about a day just like today.  Cold but not frigid, cloudy but not dreary, snowy but not snowing—it was just a plain January winter Sunday.

With no morning tour on the schedule and after catching up with Roberta and Bea, my Sunday co-volunteers, I looked out the window of the office to see Gulch settle down in a pile of hay for a Sunday nap.  He looked pretty comfortable, and it made me smile.  Just behind the office, Fortunate Prospect was also stretched out napping, although he bypassed the bed of hay for a bed of undisturbed snow.   If you think winter coats don’t offer plenty of insulation, just think how cold it would be stretched out flat in six inches of snow without that thick fuzzy coat!

With my pockets stuffed full of mints, my first stop for the morning was the annex farm.  Most of the horses over there were dozing, pasture buddies standing side by side with one foot propped and ears drooping. Wallenda came over and immediately looked for his peppermint.  Wallenda usually doesn’t crunch his mints right away, preferring to let them melt in his mouth.  Combined with his propensity for drooling when you pat him, pretty soon his slobber was a nice, sticky, bright pink.  My jacket is sticky, my hands were sticky and there is a nice pink splotch in the snow where he was standing.  But I rubbed his face while he drooled on me.  Another mint, a kiss on the nose and I wandered off into the barn to see Benburb and W.C Jones.  Bennie, as you know, is just about the nicest, kindest horse ever. It would never enter his mind to be mean, cranky, difficult, rambunctious, jealous, or anything other than just plain nice.  Jonesy, on the other hand, is the most jealous horse on the farm, (well, except maybe for Awad, who has had years of practice at being jealous. Or perhaps Tinner, whose horse ego knows no bounds…) Jonesy is inside during the day.  He could look out his stall window and see me patting Wallenda.  He didn’t like that, so he neighed and neighed at us.  Then he didn’t like me patting Bennie across the hall, so he paced and kicked and neighed some more.  He quieted, briefly, when I stopped to see him but as soon as I moved down the line he started again.  He must exhaust himself.

I left the annex and headed back over to the main farm, visiting with The Wicked North and Marquetry.  I stopped in the big barn, where Bluesthestandard is inside recovering from a twisted ankle.  In the small barn Commentator is on the same kind of stall restriction, for the same reason.  I thought that Blue was a little, shall we say, displeased at being stuck inside.  But Tator?  He is downright mad!  He loves his outside time. I can understand Tator getting wound up and twisting something, because that’s his personality.  But you would think Blue would have more sense. Contrast them with Glitterman, whose lumpy, stiff, arthritic knees make him somewhat unstable when he walks.  But you don’t see G-man twisting an ankle.  Nope, he’s far too smart for that.

This afternoon we had a tour, a 12 year old and her parents from California. They were in town for the USEF awards dinner, as our visitor is a champion rider in her age group.  These were some serious horse people, and yet each stallion that took a carrot elicited a giggle and a grin.  Sunshine told us he was the greatest horse ever, and Spirit gave kisses.  Delay of Game, was (yet again) lying in his same spot, in his same pile of hay.  He has found the perfect spot, I guess—he can be comfortable while watching the road, the driveway, the office and the barn from his vantage point.  I guess he figures why not conserve some energy while he’s surveying his kingdom?

We finished up our tour with the usual suspects—Kiri’s Clown, Swan’s Way, Awad, Leave Seattle, Pops and Ring.   Silver Charm played some soccer with Michael, Dan and Flick jostled for carrots, Ogygian, Bull and Clever visited and munched some treats.  Typical for Old Friends, but still something special each and every time we meet a new visitor.

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 January 16, 2011

Last weekend on a bright, sunny, winter day Laura Battles took some great photos.  She kindly allowed me to use them for this week’s blog.  She added a photo of Polish Navy from last spring as well.  Thanks Laura!  -Val

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Sunday January 9, 2011

So often, it seems, life is full of little balances. Only last Thursday, a sad day to be sure, we lost Polish Navy.  I always feel a little odd heading to the farm for the first time after a loss.  It isn’t dread exactly; more a reluctance to walk by a now empty stall or to see an unneeded halter hanging in the barn.   

Then today arrives and everything comes together to make you feel better somehow.  With bright sunshine,  no wind and warm clothes, 20 degrees seemed quite tolerable.  Add just enough fresh snow to cover the ground, a lot of happy horses, and magically a potentially sad day turns into something emotionally refreshing and physically invigorating.

This morning, I went over to see Wallenda. He was outside in his paddock but came over to say hello.  He chewed on my sleeve, drooled on my hand and let me scratch his withers.  He dropped his head and sniffed Marley’s ear, and I tried to get a picture of them nose to nose.  But by the time I got my phone ready to go, they were walking side by side away from me, like two pals out for a stroll.

Laura Battles often comes to Old Friends to photograph our horses and she stopped by to visit today. With no tours scheduled, we filled our pockets with mints (me) and carrots (Laura) and took a walk with no planned destination in mind.  We started with The Wicked North, who huffed his warm breath into my face and fogged up my sunglasses.  As usual, Laura had her camera going and she remarked that Norty is always among the most photogenic of our horses.  I just think it’s because he’s a ham who poses at every opportunity!  We strolled through the big barn, said hello to Jade Hunter who loves being an inside horse, and Falcon Scott who was waiting his turn to go outside.  From there, we made stops to see Clever Allemont, I’m Charismatic, and Bonfante. Laura wanted to get photos of Glitterman with his tongue hanging out, but he wouldn’t cooperate—either his tongue was out and his ears flopped, or his ears were pricked and his tongue hidden.   I’m sure he does it on purpose!

We kept walking, deciding to head to the back of the farm since it was such a nice day.  Every horse came over to say hi—Ogygian looking all fuzzy with his really long mane, Bull almost the same color as the snow, and Commentator of course looking for mints. The three musketeers—Bluesthestandard, Mightly Mecke and Wallace Station—came over for treats and then ran around while the tractor was in their field.  We visited with The Name’s Jimmy, and headed up to Williamstown and his new neighbor Tinner’s Way.  Boy, talk about two competitive stallions!  We made the mistake, from Tinner’s perspective, of feeding Willie first.  Tinner huffed and puffed the whole time, and by the time I tried to give him a mint he was too miffed to take it. So I turned around and gave Tinner’s mint to Willie.  That was an even bigger mistake!  I am thinking Tinner will never forgive me.  Makes me wonder if the two of them, sons of Seattle Slew and Secretariat, have a “my dad’s better than your dad” conversation going.

Kudos, Bonapaw, Futural, Regal Sanction, Affirmed Success and Siphonizer all said hello.  Kudos is as fat as I have ever seen him.  No ribs on him, even when I tunneled my fingers under his fuzzy winter coat.   Bonapaw was interested in checking us out, and he normally could care less about visitors.  Siphonizer pinned his ears at me, for a couple reasons I suppose.   Issue one, I was out of treats.  Second, and far more importantly Siphonizer has never forgotten, or forgiven, that I helped catch him last year when he was in his “wild horse” phase.

We probably spent the most time with the mares—Cozy looks like a buffalo, as she always does in the winter.  Hidden Lake is an attention sponge, and Miss Hooligan and Personalized both came over for their share of the love.  I tried to take a picture of Cozy’s ears for the blog but she wouldn’t cooperate.  She has these little fat ears and they are covered in three inches of grizzly bear fur.  Very cute!

I left the farm today feeling pretty good—horses can do that for you, and a visit to Old Friends is a great place to experience that feeling.  We are open for tours all winter.  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 January 6, 2011

Polish Navy 1984-2011

Over the years at Old Friends, we have been fortunate to know so many wonderful horses. Today we lost an especially wonderful one.  Polish Navy was euthanized this afternoon, after injuring his hip earlier this winter.  He never bounced back from that injury.  He was clearly uncomfortable, and it was his time.  For me it’s another hard loss, because Navy’s charm and personality made him quietly unforgettable. 

As I wrote this, I went online and refreshed my memory of Navy’s accomplishments.  He was a very good racehorse, the winner of $1.1 million.  He sired Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero, undoubtedly his most famous offspring.  If you look at Polish Navy’s pedigree, you’ll see he is a son of the great stallion Danzig, a grandson of Northern Dancer, and a great-grandson of War Admiral.  One generation more takes him back to Man o’ War. That’s some serious pedigree, and yet if you met Navy, your first impression would probably have been how unassuming he was.  He wasn’t a big, flashy personality, nor was he a show-off. When you met him you felt as though he was just as happy to meet you as he was to get carrots.  His paddock, directly across from Williamstown, was toward the back of the farm where it was peaceful, but still had enough activity to be interesting. 

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote how great he looked–this past spring his bay coat was a gorgeous, rich, cocoa color with dapples highlighted by black and gold.  He wasn’t a large horse, but he was handsome and kind.  He didn’t have tricks to work the crowd, nor was he a ham who pranced and danced.  But he would stand right next to me, his good eye half closed while I patted his neck and kissed his nose.  And if I gently rubbed his missing eye, he was blissfully happy.

I have known for a little while this day was going to arrive sooner rather than later.   Navy has been in the barn for several weeks now, off limits to tours. He mostly stood where he could look outside, quietly watching any activity at the farm.  Last Sunday, after our tours, I stuffed my pockets with carrots and slipped into his stall.  He turned his head toward me, knowing I had treats.  I fed him his carrots and gently stoked his neck.  When the carrots were gone, Navy pushed his face into my arm.  I knew what he wanted and I rubbed his eye for what turned out to be the last time.  

It’s hard to describe the allure of retired Thoroughbred racehorses, especially the stallions, at Old Friends.  I suspect it’s partly the Thoroughbred itself, having been bred for so long to one aim.  I believe the more successful the individual horse was at racing, the smarter he or she is.  I am also sure there is some indefinable “something” the horses at Old Friends just have in spades.  Suffice it to say, Polish Navy was beyond special in all those ways. 

I’ll miss you, Navy.  You were a classy, kind horse and I didn’t know you for nearly long enough. 

-Val

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Sunday January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!  After a 65 degree day on Friday and rain yesterday, our snow is gone.  Today was a fine first Sunday of the new year, 32 degrees and bright sunshine.  That is fantastic weather for a horse, as  the cool temperatures and warm sunshine were only enhanced by the mud! 

That combination of cold, sun and mud made for an active day at the farm—I only horses I saw who weren’t interested in running were Ogygian, Clever and Dan.  Those three were more interested in meandering.  Oh, and Fortunate Prospect.  I walked over intending to take his picture but he was busy napping.  He lifted his head up once, when Norty started to canter. It wasn’t interesting enough for him though, because he laid right back down.  He only got up when his late morning snack of hay arrived.  I never did get a good photo of him.

Swan’s Way has not one, not two, but three spots in his paddock which can only be described as wallows, and he was working on number four this afternoon.  He rolled and rolled, probably because the volumes of mud already embedded in his coat was itchy.  Then he got up, tossed his head, bucked like a rodeo bronc with all four feet off the ground, and ran down his fence line.  The people with me on the tour oohed and aahed, which not surprisingly greatly annoyed Awad.  So he ran too, two bay stallions with their tails flagged and their necks arched, snorting and tossing their heads. 

Leave Seattle munched carrots during this entire ruckus, and when I turned around to watch the other horses he nipped at me, no doubt because I was momentarily distracted from handing him treats.  Pops and Ring watched as well, not as interested in showing off as they were making sure they got their share of the carrots at the earliest opportunity.  They managed a couple of head tosses and trotted over to greet us.  I think Ring has figured out he expends a lot less energy for more attention when he shows off his tattoo, rather than running around!  Both Pops and Ring had hay, mud and sticks stuck in their manes.  I don’t know how they managed the sticks, since there are no trees in their paddock.  A mystery—do you think they open their gate at night and wander the farm looking for sticks?

I stood and visited with Glitterman this morning, too. If I have a tour with treats, he’s right there waiting.  But when I am alone it takes him a little longer. If I just stand still, he’ll wander over and nuzzle me.  But he prefers it on his terms, otherwise he isn’t interested.  Lean on his fence, nose to nose, quietly chatting, and I get gentle G-man kisses on my cheek.  It’s an honor, no doubt.

We had a family with two kids visit today, and the daughter’s name was Marlee.  She was pretty excited to meet Marley the dog, and the two of them hit it off.  Marlee’s little brother, Ryan, started to giggle the first time he felt Norty’s lips take a carrot. He didn’t stop giggling either, at least until he got cold and tired. But until then his giggle was infectious, and all the horses pricked their ears when they heard it. 

Delay of Game, our newest horse, came over for treats twice today. He is a nice horse, dark bay and shaggy in his winter coat.  Not a peppermint fan, though.  Carrots, yes.  But Delay’s loss was Sunshine’s extra treat, so it all worked out.

After a quiet holiday season it was nice to have some visitors today.  We are open throughout the year for tours.  Give us a call and make your reservation, we are always happy to introduce our horses!  We hope to see you soon, but in the meantime thanks for spending this first Sunday of 2011 with Old Friends.

-Val

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