Since I’ve only been a Frankfortian for three weeks now, on my off days I have grown accustomed to exploring the “sites.”
My checklist has included the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Rebecca Ruth’s Candy Factory, Salato Wildlife Center and the horse countryside itself.
Last Thursday, my traveling partner and I explored the surrounding areas of Frankfort, driving into Versailles, Midway and Georgetown and eventually stumbling onto some Old Friends.
Old Friends is a thoroughbred retirement and rescue facility that received a bulk of emails and calls after the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, was found dead in a slaughterhouse in Japan in 2002, because his career at stud turned unsuccessful and unprofitable.
When the late Horse of the Year’s breeding stock declined and a placement with a riding club failed, Ferdinand was passed into the hands of a horse dealer.
Old Friends’ goal is to eliminate tragic fates like Ferdinand’s from happening. Some have passed their primes on the racetrack, while others like Little Silver Charm, a Shetland pony, were saved, well, just because.
The farm, located at 1841 Paynes Depot Road in Georgetown, offers five free daily tours, showing visitors pastures full of old champions, slaughterhouse narrow escapees, asking simply for a donation if you feel so inclined.
It’s a place for horses to live out their days. It is the “after life” of the thoroughbred horse racing industry that isn’t often seen, or maybe ignored.
Old Friends provides a “to care for the rest of your days” kind of promise, one that I know each of us as humans seek from others, whether it is at the altar or before entering a retirement home.
The funny thing about these four-legged friends is they’re so similar to us humans.
We’re both so vulnerable, both so far from perfect. It’s why thousands of people stood on the metal bleachers at Churchill Downs, faces wet with tears (mine included), and silently cried when Zenyatta proved she in fact, could be beaten. We see ourselves in their tragedy and their triumph.
These horses, most of which were at one-time multimillion dollar purchases and so important to somebody at one time, haven’t changed much with age. Sure, their coats have lost some luster and they’ve put on weight in retirement, but the folks at Old Friends still treat them like they’re priceless.
I encourage everyone to visit Old Friends and give something back to the horses, which at one time gave everything to us.