Meet The Man Giving Former Racehorses The Ultimate Retirement

At Old Friends, a retirement farm for Thoroughbreds whose careers have ended, Michael Blowen gives racehorses the best kind of Kentucky retirement.

Michael Blowen of Old Friends, a retirement farm for Thoroughbreds
Michael Blowen visits a “retiree.”. Photo:


After the mint juleps are gone, the hats have seen the sun, roses have been awarded, and a horse’s last race is complete, where does he go to retire? He (or she) lives the good life at Old Friends Inc. in Georgetown, Kentucky. Here, at two farms with a combined 237-acres in Kentucky horse country, Michael Blowen gives these former glory horses the best love and care for the rest of their days.

The Evolution of a Racetrack Hobby

As film critic forThe Boston Globe, Blowen wouldn't have originally pictured himself owning a horse farm in his future. In fact, for him, horse racing was a bunch of hooey. “Whenever horses would appear on a cover of my coveted Sports Illustrated, I’d think it was ridiculous,” he says. But after striking up a relationship with his then editor at the Globe, an avid horseman himself who enjoyed trips to Suffolk Downs, Blowen's relationship with the sport evolved quickly.

Even after he fell in love with racing, though, he realized he still didn't know as much about the horses themselves. “Well, besides that I was scared of them,” he jokes. Soon enough, he took his fear by the reigns, choosing to spend the early morning hours working at the track at Suffolk Downs alongside trainer Carlos Figueroa, before hitting his desk.

“The more I worked for Carlos, the more I realized that these horses I'd now fallen in love with weren't really getting the kind of treatment they should when they couldn't make money anymore,” he says. The idea stayed in the back of his mind, especially after connecting with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Eventually, Blowen and his wife, also a retired Globe journalist, picked up and moved to Lexington. One thing led to another, and Blowen figured that if he thought saving horses was a good thing to do, others would as well. So in 2003 Old Friends was born. 

Racehorses Summer Attraction, Fergus Mac Roich, and Distrurbing the Peace at Old Friends
Racehorses Summer Attraction, Fergus Mac Roich, and Distrurbing the Peace at Old Friends.

Old Friends/ Laura Battles

A Thorough Retirement

Today, Blowen oversees three farms that serve as the residence for 260 horses. Dream Chase Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, is the main facility, but there is also Old Friends at Ashton Grove as well as Old Friends at Cabin Creek near the Saratoga Race Course in Greenfield Center, New York. The former two farms are open for tours, so guests can see some of the greats in Blowen’s care while also experiencing a working horse farm. 

Blowen describes his main job as simply keeping the horses happy. In fact, determining what each horse wants and needs is a huge piece of the puzzle. Like the rest of us, these horses have been told to go to work for their entire lives. ”But when they come here, it's exactly the opposite,” he says. “We have to find out what they want and what they want to do, and then we accommodate that.” For some retirees, that means grazing in the pastures with friends, while for others, that means a little more alone time. 

Silver Charm Racehorse
Kentucky Derby Winner Silver Charm with Blowen.

Old Friends / Laura Battles

So what does a day of retirement look like for, say, Silver Charm, the oldest living Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner? “He's so easygoing that you could essentially lead him around with dental floss,” he jokes. There are, however, two things he doesn't like. “He doesn't like to get petted, and he doesn’t like being outside at night. So, we bring him in.” And not to worry, Silver Charm still perks up for photo opportunity. “He'll put his head right on your shoulder and take selfies. Just keep your hands in your pockets,” Blowen says. 

Beyond the horses, Blowen says he’s most proud of the community he has created and is continually blown away by the generosity of his supporters. For example, the farm is provided with as many Mrs. Pastures cookies as the horses can eat, and horse healthcare is top-notch too. Dr. Bryan Waldridge has been the farm veterinarian for close to a decade, and he’s never sent a bill. “The farm is really a magnet for nice people,” says Blowen. “It’s interesting to have this place where people come from all walks of life. Here at the farm, they get along; they see all the horses, and they have fun. If we can continue to provide that, I'll be happy.”

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