Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds [classic article]

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Michael Blowen is the angel behind this Georgetown, Kentucky rescue facility for thoroughbreds. Many people are unaware that some of the famous racehorses of the last decades are subject to slaughter if their owners can’t make any more money out of them. Old Friends is the only rescue retirement facility that accepts stallions. They host two to five tours a day, to see these fine horses.

How did you first get interested in horses?
I liked them as a kid; my dad took me riding. But I really got into racing when an editor at the Boston Globe took me to the track. I like to gamble! I really learned about their dignity though, and to respect the animals. Without them, there would just be a bunch of people running around! I fell in love with the animals.

It seems incredible that a horse who’s won millions for an owner should be vulnerable to being destroyed. Do you think there should be a law against that?

Yes, I do! Fortunately, we have some owners who donate their horses and they pay for them. Some even donate more, so it pays for others. Jerry and Ann Moss have been very generous and also, Madeleine Paulsen Pickens. We can’t throw these animals away. We do that with people, too, with the elderly.

Besides cash donations, are there any in-kind donations you need?
Oh, sure! We can always use fly masks, horse treats and apple wafers. We can use just about anything connected to horses. We can use gift certificates to supply houses.


When I’ve seen thoroughbreds in the paddock at Pimlico, they seem a little high strung for people to be petting. Are the horses at your farm more amenable to petting?

Yes. They learn to trust you. Take Ruhlmann; he was called the “nastiest horse” of all time. It took him about a year to trust me!


I’ve read on your site about several horses who died before reaching you. Should owners be making that decision to call you earlier?

They should be coming here as soon as they are done breeding or racing. It’s good for racing!


Did the plight of Barbaro bring attention to this issue?
Absolutely. There’s no doubt that the fans know there’s an alternative. Rags to Riches winning at Belmont has brought attention to racing.


What should jurisdictions be doing to save racing?
There are too many jurisdictions, too many races. Plus, the states all have different drugs that they allow for horses; there should be a national standard. Only the trainers and vets know what “legal” drugs the horses are on. The states that allow more drugs have full fields and bigger purses. We aren’t promoting the horses themselves, the great athletes that they are.

How many visitors do you have at the farm? What are your busiest times?
On weekends, we’ll have 150 visitors and 75 on weekdays. We’ll get everybody from old people – we had a group from the boat. “Delta Queen”, that goes up the Ohio River. Then, we’ll get a bus of kids – we just had a group come up from Corbin.

For more info, check out http://www.oldfriendsequine.com/

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