Old Friends Find Humane Retirement
Former movie critic for the Boston Globe Michael Blowen has founded a special place where thoroughbreds can run free...and not be retired to the slaughterhouse after their racing days are over.
Read about Old Friends Farm
(excerpt from a recent feature on Mr. Blowen by the Courier Journal, Louisville, KY)
"...Blowen was so smitten his first day at the track -- he made money -- that he began studying the Daily Racing Form. He became a regular
at Suffolk and every year would take a week off work and travel to Saratoga Racing Course, in New York, for opening week.
Eventually he decided that, if he wanted to improve his handicapping, he needed to learn about the horses themselves, their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses.
So, on a dreary day in February 1997, as snow and hail pelted Boston, Blowen walked into the bowels of Suffolk and asked trainer Carlos Figueroa, about whom Blowen had written a feature story, if he could work for him for free.
Yes, Figueroa said.
For a couple of years, Blowen awoke before dawn and rode the train to Suffolk, walking the horses and grooming them before heading to his job.
The experience, he said, made him a worse handicapper. He became emotionally attached to the horses and began betting from his heart, not his head. 'It was flesh and blood, not just about numbers anymore,' he said.
A career switch
Blowen also learned about the underworld of racing, where thoroughbreds were mistreated and often forced to race when they couldn't or shouldn't.
He saw hundreds of horses, no longer wanted or needed, loaded onto trailers and shipped off for slaughter. The deep guttural screams they made when being loaded -- seeming to know their fate, he believes -- still haunt him. 'It was a horrible sound,' he said.
In 1999, when the Globe announced it planned to reduce its work force, Blowen took a buyout, leaving the paper, as did his wife, Diane White, a columnist.
Blowen landed a job at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a charitable organization based in New Jersey. Founded in 1982, the foundation rescues horses and encourages people to adopt them.
The foundation runs The Secretariat Center adoption program at the Kentucky Horse Park and has a program at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, where inmates care for retired thoroughbreds.
Blowen moved to Kentucky in 2000, figuring the foundation needed to consolidate its efforts in thoroughbred country. He bought a house in Midway, across from Midway College, that overlooks a horse farm.
After 18 months at the foundation, he left, planning to finish a
book he started years earlier.
That never happened. Instead, he decided to rescue thoroughbreds.
Horse friends help
His farm, named for the 'Old Friends' photo book by equine photographer Barbara D. Livingston, is based at Hurstland, a breeding and boarding farm owned by Alfred Nuckols Jr., a fifth-generation horse farmer.
Three weeks after Blowen started Old Friends, news broke that Ferdinand had been slaughtered in Japan, sending ripples through the thoroughbred industry and grabbing headlines worldwide.
Old Friends operates solely on donations..."