Old friends truly are the best, and in Kentucky’s horse country, “old friends” takes on a whole new meaning.
Located in Georgetown, just up the interstate from Lexington, Old Friends is a Thoroughbred aftercare farm, a.k.a. a retirement home for equines.
The employees are passionate about the cause, which is providing a place for race horses to live out their days when their racing careers are over and they are no longer being used for breeding purposes.
With 236 acres ripe for roaming, Old Friends is currently home to more than 200 horses, including both retirees and rescues.
Horsing Around History
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Michael Blowen noticed a great need for taking care of aging Thoroughbreds. A former film critic for the Boston Globe, Blowen had a big circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom knew and loved the horse industry.
In 2003, his dream became a reality when he opened Old Friends. While this adventure started out with a leased a paddock, the facility has now added a satellite facility in New York, added significantly more land, and taken in more than 200 horses.
Old Friends has become a living-history museum of horse racing. More than 20,000 visitors tour the farm annually, lining up to see champions like Alphabet Soup, Silver Charm, and War Emblem. Once they begin their tour, however, they often fall in love with all of the horses, especially after the tour guides are through working their magic and telling the very personal story of each horse on the property.
Trot Along On a Tour
My tour guide, Jane McClaren, knew every horse by name and seemed to have a special relationship with each one. I asked her how she answered people when they wanted to know which was her favorite horse, and she replied, “The one that’s in front of me.”
It’s the perfect answer since this farm is home to some beautiful, enthusiastic, and rather charming inhabitants. In addition to the Thoroughbreds, a donkey named Gorgeous George and a miniature horse-mix named Little Silver Charm also live at the farm.
Jane and the other tour guides provide a wealth of knowledge. They know all the races in which each horse ran, who they beat out to win which race, and the size of the purses won during their careers, in addition to other fun facts.
War Emblem, Silver Charm, and Popcorn Deelites, one of the film stars that portrayed Seabiscuit in the movie of the same name, are a few of the farm’s most well-known residents. When we arrived at each of their gates with a bucket full of carrots, some came trotting up, nodding their heads in eagerness for their crunchy treats, while others galloped across the field with unbridled enthusiasm.
Jane was nice enough to let me feed several of the horses their carrot snacks, and I think I made a few new friends that day. Although, I think I’ll just refer to them as Old Friends.
Lend a Helping Hand (or Hoof)
There are a multitude of ways that you can help the horses. From monetary one-time donations to sponsoring a retiree, horse lovers can pitch in from near and far to help provide feed, shelter, and medical assistance to these beloved animals.
When You Go
? The gift shop and visitors center is open daily from 10am to 4pm.
? Reservations are required for tours, so be sure to call ahead (502.863.1775) or book your tour online.
? Walking Tours are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 4 to 12, or free for kids 3 and under.
? Tours are at 10am, 1pm and 3pm from mid-March through early November. During the slower winter months (November through mid-March), tours run at 11am only.
? All tours last about an hour and a half.
? Private tours are available by appointment only. They cost $35 per person and allow for 2 to 5 people per tour.
? Private tours with Michael Blowen are also available by appointment only for $75 per person.
? Private tours are not available during Derby Week.
? Dress the part! You’re touring a working farm, so wear sturdy shoes and be prepared to walk on dirt, grass, and gravel.
Nicky Reynolds is a freelance writer who currently lives in East Tennessee but hails from Kentucky. Her dreams are to explore Italy, move to Hawaii and keep adding new stamps to her passport.