The Old Friends blog returns at a moment of contradictions. On the threshold of what may be our brightest and best year yet, we are plunged into sadness. This week we have lost two of our most loved residents. On Sunday, January 5, Patton had to be euthanized because a combination of conditions were rapidly deteriorating his quality of life. Before dawn on Tuesday, January 7, Sunshine Forever died in his paddock. Autopsy results suggest he was standing on his feet and died instantaneously of a heart attack.
Patton was a graded stakes winner and the sire of millionaire Kelly’s Landing, accomplishments that place him in a select elite, but all who met him in retirement will remember him for his calm, quiet gentleness. When visitors wanted to pet a horse, it was Patton who offered his soft nose. Stallions tend to get prickly when people take liberties, but not Patton. He made it his particular job to show children and adults who weren’t sure what to make of such big animals how nice a horse can be.
Yet, still waters run deep. Like the time Patton broke his fence and trotted up the hill to visit our mares. Or when he was the guest of honor at the governor’s Derby party and displayed his opinion of the police horses. Patton was very much his own horse. But whatever he did he was always the gentleman.
Patton was a fortunate horse. When his value as an earner decreased, Governor Brereton Jones retired him to Old Friends where he enjoyed a secure, happy old age. At the end, thanks to Michael Blowen’s watchfulness Patton’s debilitation was diagnosed in time to prevent the suffering that would otherwise have come. Patton passed from his life as he’d lived it, peacefully. He will never pass from our memories and hearts.
What to say about Sunshine Forever’s unexpected going? It is unimaginable. Though all living beings die, I think that without realizing it, we felt Sunshine really would be with us forever.
He was a phenomenal race horse, winner of three Grade 1 stakes in a single summer, and the 1988 Eclipse Award Turf Champion. His robustness and dauntless courage stood out even from the champions of his day, recalling the sound resilience of the old time champions.
Breeding farms have a foundation stallion on which they build their success. Though our retirees don’t breed, Sunshine Forever was, in several ways, our foundation. In 2004 he was our first stallion Old Friends retired, and the first we returned home from overseas. Human vision and caring created Old Friends, but our equine population has also shaped us. Sunshine set the tone for the tours. He was the first resident to allow visitors to feed him carrots. From his middle age through his old age, Sunshine Forever was at the very center of the farm, welcoming his fans graciously, winning people’s admiration and affection. He was right at the heart of all OF aspired to be and all it has become.
Through it all, he was our founder and president Michael’s best friend. Other favorites came and went, but it was Sunshine who was always there for him, steady as a rock.
Sunshine Forever was the most dignified horse I have ever known, yet to his friends and visitors he gave generously out of his abundant wisdom. To say Old Friends won’t be the same without him doesn’t begin to touch what his passing has taken from us. Sunshine Forever will always be our foundation stallion, a benefactor to all the retirees to follow. May some part of his greatness of spirit always remain with us.
I’d planned to post about some of the good things now happening, our TAA accreditation and grant, the care it will enable us to provide our residents, also the new paddocks and some of the horses who’ll come live in them. There’s much positive news to share, and I promise to post about it before long. Tonight, the losses are too fresh for enthusiasm. But as we move forward remembering Sunshine Forever and Patton, we have good reasons to hope that 2014 will be the best year yet for the horses at Old Friends.