Old Friends Farm: A Visit with Retired Thoroughbred Race Horses
Horses as Athletes
What happens when great athletes such as Michael Jordan or John Elway retire? They go on to pursue many different careers or enjoy years of rest and relaxation. Retirement does not mean they are useless. It is the same for racehorses. They have spent years making money for their owners, trainers, and jockeys. They are the best of the best. They are born to run, and they are competitive.
Near Georgetown, Kentucky there is a wonderful Thoroughbred retirement farm set in the beautiful rolling hills of the bluegrass state where thoroughbred horses can spend their senior years running when they want, resting when they want, and still have visitors that come by to pay a visit. Called Old Friends Farm, this farm allows visitors and fans to learn about these beautiful creatures, close up and personal.
Friends' Farm and How it Came to Be
This 90 acre farm was established by a former film critic, Michael Blowen, and currently has been the final home for many thoroughbreds. Michael is a great fan of horse racing and took a giant leap into this world by giving these horses a retirement that matches their contribution to the racing world. Blowen's idea of establishing the farm was not accepted quickly.Most people in racing thought he was naive. He had little knowledge of this type of adventure when he first came up with the idea. He just knew how much he loved and admired all the horses. He has said that he was as excited to meet these past stars as he was any human athlete. After ten years, he has proven that people are interested in these magnificent animals and will visit them in their retirement.
The interest in these former greats of racing grew from outrage as the public learned that Thoroughbred horses being sold to stud in overseas markets were in turn sold to slaughter houses when they were no longer useful. Now many of these horse have been brought home to retire after standing stud overseas.
Rescue and Care
- The first time this was accomplished, it was not only extremely expensive, there were cultural barriers that had to be addressed. Fortunately, those with International placement experience accomplished this and Ogygian was the first horse to come home. Criminal Type, another magnificent Thoroughbred, died a few days before his trip home.
- This farm receives no public funding and is dependent on grants and donations. It is an expensive endeavor. Just feeding the horses takes a lion’s share of the budget. Since most of the residents are aging, there is need for veterinary services as well. Some residents need weekly care while others do not require as much medical attention.
- The farm utilizes volunteers that are horse enthusiasts and who work out of the joy of knowing these past legions up close. Former owners visit these great horses from time to time and contribute to their upkeep.
These are the Stars
The Thoroughbreds and other horses still draw interest from movie stars and singers who once own the horses to past trainers, jockeys, and racing fans. Horses here have earned over $6,000,000.00 in winnings during their lifetime.
There is a mascot, Little Silver Charm, that the farm and tourist love to spoil. He is one of the senior stallions here, although lacking their size he definitely has the personality. One of Seabiscuit’s “actors” also calls Old Friends Farm his home. There are great names such as, You and I, and others that head up a impressive Hall of Fame of past and current residents who call or have called Old Friends Farm their home.
Stallions and geldings make up the residents of the Farm with one exception of Little Silver Charm. There are mares on the Farm that were winners or famous dams. All the horses come here and do what they want. They make friends, they exercise when they want and they know where their shelter is, even though some choose to sleep outside their shelter. They love the attention they receive when tourist takes tours and feed them carrots.
Just like us in many ways, these horses often bond with their paddock mates, play by themselves, or challenge their buddies to a race which many of the thoroughbred seem to enjoy even after years of racing professionally.
They are often out just to have some fun. On a particular day after a rain, two friends love to run along the fence and stop short of a puddle sending mud into the air, landing on unsuspecting tourists. You can almost see the gleam in their eye as they see the results of their romp.
Some like to pull the top rail out of the fence. That’s a sure way to get noticed by those working at the farm and any tourist who happen to notice.
The stallions sometimes have a harder time relaxing into retirement life, but once they settle in they enjoy the Farm and sometimes get a little attention by nipping visitors on the shoulders as they pass.
Some of the horses even cry for their friends. When one Thoroughbred went to Keeneland for a promotional day, his paddock mate cried so deeply that the Farm ask for permission for both horses to go to the next meet and greet.
A Fitting End
As these beautiful animals pass from our world, Friends’ Farm has a cemetery where their ashes remain for fans to pause and pay respect and remember each horse's day in the sun. There is an area set aside for the Stallions and one close by for the mares. Again the farm incurs a large expense as it takes $2,000.00 to cremate a horse. Many previous jockeys and trainers often contribute to this effort because of their love for their old friends.
Spend Some Time with World Class Athletes
- Friend’s Farm is definitely worth the stop as you travel through the Bluegrass State. If you have seen the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, you may recognize a resident or two. These horses have personalities and charm you may enjoy sharing as part of your travel plans. Carrots are there waiting to share, and on weekends there are tour guides that will tell you stories you won’t soon forget.
More About Kentucky
- The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Bourbon. How is it different that whiskey? Why does Kentucky have the best bourbon distilleries?