While in Lexington, we spent some time at the Old Friends Farm, a home for retired racehorses. Founded in 2003 by Michael Blowen, former Boston Globe film critic, the farm consists of 236 acres and houses a herd of over 200 rescued and retired horses. The farm, called a living history museum of horse racing, attracts visitors from all over the world who are racehorse enthusiasts.
Although, I know nothing of horse racing, the tour we received by Michael Blowen himself was fascinating and full of stories of horses who not only raced, but now thrive under the farm’s care. Michael greets each horse like a long-lost friend. He first introduced us to Silver Charm, a silver thoroughbred who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before losing Belmont Stakes to another farm resident, Touch Gold.
When we arrived, we were handed a bag of carrots to feed the residents. A small bag inside the larger one held thinly sliced carrots set aside for Silver Charm. Michael explained that the horse had to have dental surgery and now lacked some teeth. The smaller pieces were easier for him to chew. Michael encouraged us to take selfies with Silver Charm noting that the horse loved to have his picture taken.
As we visited with the horses, Michael told us about each one’s personalities and quirks. As we watched twenty-five-year-old, Touch Gold race around his paddock, we learned that the beautiful horse is not just unfriendly but mean. We dropped our carrots into his bucket to avoid losing a finger.
Many of the horses share paddocks. Little Mike and Game On Dude are paddock mates. Though Game On Dude won almost twice as many races as Little Mike, Little Mike is the boss of the place. To give Game On Dude carrots, someone else needs to be feeding Little Mike. Michael told us that Game On Dude has the kindest, warmest, friendliest disposition he has ever seen in a Thoroughbred. Maybe that’s why he lets Little Mike be the boss.
Little Mike was bred from two unraced and virtually unknown horses, yet he went on to win numerous races earning millions of dollars. Though Little Mike won many top races, including the Breeder’s Cup, the Superbowl of horse racing, he was never selected for the Eclipse Award (in another football metaphor, the Heisman Trophy, college player of the year).
Another interesting but unlikely pair is Alphabet Soup and Gorgeous George. Soup as Michael calls him, an alabaster thoroughbred, shares his stall and paddock with George, a short and stocky donkey. When George came to the farm after the death of his owner, he and Soup first got to know each other over fence lines. The pair are now inseparable, and George has taken on the role of Soup’s protector.
Michael’s eyes glow when he speaks of the farm’s role in saving a dark bay thoroughbred named Einstein. Shortly after his arrival at the farm, Einstein was diagnosed with a large mass that doctors said was inoperable. Michael and his team worked tirelessly to find a group of doctors willing to take on the risks. Two veterinarians from Park Equine agreed. Michael observed the surgery and watched as the tumor was exposed, and the team stepped back in shock at the sight of a ten-pound tumor in the horse’s undescended testicle. The surgery was a success and Eclipse continues to delight visitors with his outsized personality and handsome face.
Green Mask, another Old Friends resident also came to the farm in need of healing. The thoroughbred suffered a broken sesamoid in his left foreleg. After surgery to hold his leg together, the horse sported a metal plate and more than twenty screws. When he came to the farm, his leg had healed, but he still needed surgery to remove the hardware. Under Old Friends’ care along with the donated services of Park Equine Clinic and many other organizations, Green Mask’s future looks bright. Michael attributes Green Mask’s excellent recovery to his courageous, patience and intelligent disposition that helped him cooperate with the doctors and rehabilitators.
These are just a few of the stories that we heard while visiting Old Friends Farm. Michael’s stories and the work of the farm’s professional team and volunteers helped paint a beautiful picture of the life that they provide for these hardworking athletes. Though they no longer run on the track, they are free to run, play and just “be a horse” for the rest of their lives.