Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sunday March 27, 2011

Time for a photo blog…

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Thursday March 24, 2011

The Wicked North

1989-2011

We lost The Wicked North today, after an early morning bout of colic.  On Sunday, just four short days ago, I watched him tear across his paddock and rear up on his hind legs.  I can barely fathom how that healthy, vital horse can be gone.

The Wicked North won over 1.1 million dollars in his racing career, and was the Eclipse award winning Champion Older Male in 1994.  He stood at stud in California, New York and Kentucky, before retiring to Old Friends in 2008.  Even though he was extremely accomplished as a racehorse, it was his personality that invariably drew people to him.

Visitors to Old Friends were always impressed with Norty.  He was a tall, big-chested, coppery horse with a pretty white stripe down his face. People often commented on his large size, and yet I can’t think of anyone who ever was afraid of him. It was Norty’s gift, being able to make anyone, even if they had never been near a horse, feel comfortable enough to pat him.  Everyone–adult, child, man, or woman–saw patience and intelligence in his big brown eyes.  He was good and kind. Being near him sort of made you feel good and kind, too. 

More than any other horse, I think of Norty in a series of mental snapshots.  I remember the Sunday he arrived at the farm, a cool October day in 2008.  Norty saw our tour group, walked over to the fence and stuck his nose in the carrot bucket like he’d been at Old Friends forever. I always thought he understood his job at Old Friends better than perhaps any horse on the farm.  He didn’t need to show off, learn tricks or beg for treats.  It was more than enough that he just be himself.

I remember how Norty would stand with his ears pricked while little girls kissed his nose and their moms took photos.  He never broke the pose until the picture was taken.  Norty got lots and lots of kisses from little girls, and there are lots and lots of photos stuck in scrap books out there.

Then there was the time Norty took a quick swipe with his tongue across the top of a visitor’s open can of Coke.  The lady asked me what she should do and I shrugged.  She shrugged back and took a swig herself.  I think she enjoyed sharing her soda with the big red horse.

Or how, during one of our fundraising events at the farm, we heard Norty in the big barn demanding attention by incessantly banging on his stall door.  It was loud, persistent and got everyone’s attention.

One of the Old Friends volunteers, Tim, pretty much learned how to brush a horse with Norty.  In my mind, I can see Tim and Norty in the big barn, quietly conversing and never knowing I was there. I know Tim is more than upset today.

Perhaps Norty’s biggest fan was Kent Desormeaux, who rode him in a number of his races.  I think of Kent, giving Norty a bath and then hopping on bareback for a ride.  And I remember how Norty remembered his jockey, arching his neck, prancing and acting like he was ready to head back to the racetrack.

As I write this, all those moments and all those pictures are running through my mind.  Anyone who knew The Wicked North loved him, and I was no exception.  His death leaves a large hole at Old Friends, because no horse will be able to quite fill the space he so completely occupied in our hearts.

I’m really glad that my final memory of The Wicked North is that mental snapshot of him in the green spring grass of Kentucky–rearing up, pawing the air and shaking his head like the prince that he was. 

-Val

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Sunday March 20, 2011

Happy First Day of Spring!  And what a beautiful day it was, because despite having showers and thunderstorms in the forecast, it was a warm and sunny 70 degrees.  No rain, no thunder, no cold.  Even the mud is drying up, some!  You know it’s a great day when you see The Wicked North race across his paddock, sliding to a stop straight up on his hind legs, pawing the air.  Norty never expends that much energy!   The mood just took him, I guess.

The other reason I know spring is here is that for the first time in a while, we had a full slate of tours.  We had visitors from Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota as well as Kentucky.  Not knowing my morning people were here from Cleveland and Minnesota, I suggested they may want to grab a jacket.  I was wrong—this morning’s 60 degrees seemed quite balmy to them. 

There were some morning naps among the horses, but not as many as the past couple weeks.  Today there was plenty of green grass to tempt a horse.  Leave Seattle and Gulch ignored us in favor of the grass.  Free Spirit’s Joy, Patton and Delay of Game napped for a bit, but we also saw plenty of action.  Swannie, Pops, Ring and Creator came over for treats with a head of steam. Even Little Silver Charm came over at a trot.  You know, generally Charmie is more of an ambler.  Charmie always has that thick full head of blonde mane, but for some reason his hairdo seems even more thick and luxurious than usual.  Someone told him this afternoon he had better hair than Pamela Anderson—and he does it all without fancy shampoo and conditioner.

With all the dead, dry winter hair clinging to the horses, many of them really love a good back scratching.  They each have different ways of letting us know they want something—Kiri rubs his face against me and Glitterman turns the part of his body he wants scratched.  This afternoon, Bull actually gave up on carrots to turn sideways to the fence, which is his “please scratch me” pose.   We did, and his hair came off in big handfuls along his back.  Underneath the old winter hair you could see Bull’s short, soft summer coat.

Bull wears special shoes that are kind of the horse equivalent of acrylic fingernails.  Usually Dr. Fraley tries to match the acrylic to the horse’s natural hoof color.  I don’t know what happened this week, but Bull is sporting lime green front feet.  A celebration of spring or St. Patrick’s Day, either way he is looking quite festive.  You can’t miss them either.  It was interesting to see people react when they saw his bright green feet and tried to figure out what to ask!

Actually, the local farrier school was here this week to trim feet, and everyone is sporting nicely trimmed hooves.  This is another fun thing to watch—the horses really want to make the people catching them work for it, running and staying just out of reach.  But once they are caught, the horses are perfectly behaved while they get their pedicures.  Kiri’s Clown fell asleep, and the guy “holding” Clever sat down on the ground while the trimming went on.  Yep, these are some mean, cranky stallions, no doubt about it.

I think racehorses are among the equine world’s largest characters.  Sometimes, I watch them and I can just see the mental wheels turning.  As you know, Special Ring will “flip his lip” and show the racing tattoo on the inside of his upper lip for anyone who asks.  When he first learned this trick, you had to be quick to get a photo of him.  Not anymore.  If there is a camera in his face, he will hold that lip up until the camera gets the shot.  You might think this is just me, but I actually wasn’t the person who noticed it.  One of the ladies on the tour realized it and after that it was clear as a bell to see him hold the pose until the camera is lowered.  This is a smart horse, and a major, major ham.

The other horse whose wheels are always turning is Commentator.  This afternoon he was on the far side of his paddock eating hay. We called and called for him, but he just lifted his head and stared.  Then he picked up an entire flake of hay and shook it at us, like he was saying “eating here people, can’t you see?”  But I could see those wheels turning, and when he dropped down for a quick roll in the mud I just knew he was plotting something.  I told the tour group to get their cameras ready.  Sure enough, Tator got up and blew toward us like he was shot out of the starting gate, bucking and kicking the entire way.  He slid to a stop right in front of us.  Show off!   Really, does anyone think horses aren’t smart?  He set us up perfectly.

It’s those little things that make being at Old Friends so much fun.  I think everyone had a great time on the tours today, learning a little about horses, racing and the individual personalities that make these ex-racehorses so terrific.   We are open daily for tours, and we hope you will visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending another Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday March 13, 2011

It’s hard to describe how wonderful a nice spring day feels after a long cold winter.  But today was a great day all around, for horses, people, dogs and cats.  While the temperature stayed in the 50s, the sun is getting warmer and the Kentucky spring wind is drying out some of the mud.

This morning I was visiting Glitterman as he soaked up the sun in his round pen.  I started scratching his back and quickly found out that winter hair is coming off by the handful.  G-man loves to have his back scratched, not to mention his neck, his chest, his forehead and his butt!   And when I had sufficiently scratched his right side, he turned around and presented his left side for my consideration.  I had to shake out my sweatshirt and rub horsehair out of my eyes when I was finished, but Glitterman seemed very pleased.

All that shedding hair is definitely itchy, too. Lots of rolling, fence scratching, rubbing and general “get this hair off me” behavior today.  Creator was on his back, all four legs in the air, as his twisted back and forth, side to side trying to get all the itchy spots taken care of.  Patton must have been leaning against his fence to rub, because there is a cracked fence board exactly at butt height that wasn’t there last week.  Patton is not that tall, but he is no lightweight.  He is a solid hunk of horse, and he must have really leaned into the fence to crack that board.

Along with the shedding, there was plenty of napping in the sunshine today.  When I first get to the farm in the morning, I tend to take a look across the fields to see what is happening.  Today, Patton and Sunshine were lying down next to one another, or as close as two stallions can get with a double fence between them.  I think they have kind of bonded, leaving Awad as the odd man out and forcing him to hang with Swan’s Way.  It’s not really a good match for Awad as he prefers to hang out with the cool kids.  From Awad’s perspective, Swannie doesn’t really make the cut!

The other horse who kind of surprised me with a long nap today was Danthebluegrassman.  I’ve seen him nap before, but he was down in the same spot for at least a couple hours.  He only moved enough to follow the path of the sun along the slight slope in his paddock. Eventually, he was flat on his side with his head and neck stretched right out for maximum sun exposure.  I think Flick loved it.  He literally tiptoed around, quietly following us for as many treats as he could get without competition from Dan.  You might think I am exaggerating about the tiptoeing, but I am not. He barely rustled so much as a single blade of grass, and was especially happy when I met him behind the run-in shed, out of sight of Dan.  Oh, he definitely knew what he was doing.

We had some very nice visitors today from Iowa and Ohio, as well as a van tour group led by Bull’s friend Nick.  While I always love to introduce people to the Old Friends horses, among my very favorite things is introducing horse people of other breeds to Thoroughbreds.  The comments are always the same.  “I thought Thoroughbreds were meaner/bigger/crazier, but they are really nice/sweet/friendly.”   Not that the stallions are always nice, sweet, and friendly, of course, but for the most part they are fine ambassadors.  It doesn’t matter whether its Glitterman with his tongue hanging out,   Marquetry with his big bright eyes, Dan and Flick jostling for the best carrot position, Awad huffing and puffing, or Special Ring showing his lip tattoo.  It’s hard not to smile, laugh and be sucked in by the charm and personality of the Old Friends horses!

We’ll be having more great spring days going forward.  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 March 6, 2011

I know spring is around the corner, but today’s gray clouds, 38 degrees and north wind were not exactly harbingers of better weather.  Still, the grass is green so it can only be a matter of time.  There were bursts of activity at the farm today followed by periods of extreme quiet, as some of the stallions seemed to be in show-off mode and others just wanted to nap.  This morning I watched Patton run around his paddock, bucking, kicking and rearing all by himself.  He looked like he was having so much fun.  The Wicked North stood across the way and barely turned his head to watch, just enough to send the message that he thought Patton was acting a little nutty.  Free Spirit’s Joy was down for a nap and the shenanigans were not his concern.

I had a couple visiting from Aiken, South Carolina this afternoon and we had a terrific time. The lady was recovering from a broken ankle so we were forced to walk slowly and take time to enjoy each horse.  Or, more accurately, we enjoyed the horses who wanted to be enjoyed!  After his morning exercise, Patton hung out in his run-in shed and only reluctantly came over when he couldn’t stand seeing Sunshine get all the love.  Delay of Game—surprise!—was lying down in his usual spot watching road traffic go by.  Kiri ate a couple handfuls of carrots but quickly lost interest and wandered back to his pile of hay.

But Swannie, oh boy was he having fun today. He ran circles, showing off his flying lead changes. He raced Marley. He bucked. He pirouetted, reared, kicked and hip-hopped.  He was so beautiful to watch and he was having so much fun it made us grin.  Awad, who cannot stand it when another horse shows off, came at a hard run across his paddock, sliding into a full rearing stop with his front legs pawing the air.  Not to be outdone, Swannie reared up on the other side of the fence.  For a second, we were stuck in between the two stallions, both up on their hind legs, tossing their heads and looking fierce.  To tell you the truth, it was breathtaking.  Someone remarked today they thought the stallions would mellow as they got older.  I guess they do mellow some, but sometimes they just can’t help reminding us of how powerful they really are. 

But then, there are the the sensible horses. Leave Seattle wouldn’t leave his run-in shed.  He is obviously not a fan of cold wind, because no way was he coming out for a meager mouthful of carrot.   Pops and Ring, not known for meandering but unable to compete with the two wild stallions, came over at a sedate walk, ate some carrots and ambled back into their shed. Creator trotted over, gobbled his mouthful of carrots and moved on.  Glitterman, Ogie, Bull and Commentator met us at the fence, as did Clever.  Gulch?   Well, there’s green grass so he isn’t very interested in carrots.  I suspect he won’t bother with us much until later in the summer, unless he is conveniently close to the fence and we walk over to him.  He pulls that royal attitude when there is green grass involved. He has a way of making us feel like the insignificant humans he knows we are!

I stopped over to visit Wallenda and the horses at the annex but everyone was eating dinner and ignored me.  In fact, Klassy Briefcase didn’t even pick her head up from her hay to say hello.  Except for a few bursts of activity, not too much else was happening at the farm today, to tell you the truth.    I guess it was a typical March day—some fun, some naps, some mud, some cold.   Next week will likely bring more of the same, although a few more degrees and some sunshine would be a nice addition!

We are gearing up for spring tours, and will continue to be open for tours three times daily.  Please call the office for a reservation at 502-863-1775.   We hope you can visit us soon. In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends.

-Val

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Sunday March 6, 2011

I know spring is around the corner, but today’s gray clouds, 38 degrees and north wind were not exactly harbingers of better weather.  Still, the grass is green so it can only be a matter of time.  There were bursts of activity at the farm today, as some of the stallions seemed to be in show-off mode.  This morning I watched Patton run around his paddock, bucking, kicking and rearing all by himself.  He looked like he was having so much fun.  The Wicked North stood across the way and barely turned his head to watch, just enough to send the message that he thought Patton was acting a little nutty.  Free Spirit’s Joy was down for a nap and the shenanigans were not his concern.

I had a couple visiting from Aiken, South Carolina this afternoon and we had a terrific time. The lady was recovering from a broken ankle so we were forced to walk slowly and take time to enjoy each horse.  Or, more accurately, we enjoyed the horses who wanted to be enjoyed!  After his morning exercise, Patton hung out in his run-in shed and only reluctantly came over when he couldn’t stand seeing Sunshine get all the love.  Delay of Game—surprise!—was lying down in his usual spot watching road traffic go by.  Kiri ate a couple handfuls of carrots but quickly lost interest and wandered back to his pile of hay.

But Swannie, oh boy was he having fun today. He ran circles, showing off his flying lead changes. He raced Marley. He bucked. He pirouetted, reared, kicked and hip-hopped.  He was so beautiful to watch and he was having so much fun it made us grin.  Awad, who cannot stand it when another horse shows off, came at a hard run across his paddock, sliding into a full rearing stop with his front legs pawing the air.  Not to be outdone, Swannie reared up on the other side of the fence.  For a second, we were stuck in between the two stallions, both up on their hind legs, tossing their heads and looking fierce.  To tell you the truth, it was breathtaking.  Someone remarked today they thought the stallions would mellow as they got older.  I guess they do mellow some, but sometimes they just can’t help reminding us of how powerful they really are. 

But then, there are the the sensible horses. Leave Seattle wouldn’t leave his run-in shed.  He is obviously not a fan of cold wind, because no way was he coming out for a meager mouthful of carrot.   Pops and Ring, not known for meandering but unable to compete with the two wild stallions, came over at a sedate walk, ate some carrots and ambled back into their shed. Creator trotted over, gobbled his mouthful of carrots and moved on.  Glitterman, Ogie, Bull and Commentator met us at the fence, as did Clever.  Gulch?   Well, there’s green grass so he isn’t very interested in carrots.  I suspect he won’t bother with us much until later in the summer, unless he is conveniently close to the fence and we walk over to him.  He pulls that royal attitude when there is green grass involved. He has a way of making us feel like the insignificant humans he knows we are!

I stopped over to visit Wallenda and the horses at the annex but everyone was eating dinner and ignored me.  In fact, Klassy Briefcase didn’t even pick her head up from her hay to say hello.  Except for a few bursts of activity, not too much else was happening at the farm today, to tell you the truth.    I guess it was a typical March day—some fun, some mud, some cold.   Next week will likely bring more of the same, although a few more degrees and some sunshine would be a nice addition!

We are getting ready to gear up for spring tours, and will continue to be open for tours three times daily.  Please call the office for a reservation at 502-863-1775.   We hope you can visit us soon. In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends!

-Val

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