Michael Blowen starts every morning at Old Friends — a retirement farm for thoroughbreds outside Georgetown, Kentucky — in the same way. He calls for Silver Charm, a stunning gray stallion, who runs across the pasture to give Blowen a sloppy nibble on the cheek.
“Who’s the greatest horse in the history of the universe?” Blowen asks, nuzzling the horse. “Silver Charm! Hey, buddy.”
Silver Charm is the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
During his racing career, he earned nearly $7 million, so it seems fitting he would end up at a place like Old Friends. Here, in his retirement home, Blowen hangs pin-ups of fillies in Silver Charm’s stall and volunteers hand-feed him carrots.
But Silver Charm is one of 175 horses at the farm.
“For every horse we get like a champion, like Silver Charm or War Emblem, for every one of those I try to take one that just needs a home,” Blowen said. “You know, there’s a group called Hope for Horses in the state of Washington and they found a great old thoroughbred called Taylor’s Special wandering around in the woods and somebody just left him there. And we work on rehabbing them.”
Horse racing is a sport with a huge focus on betting and winnings — as such, many thoroughbreds only race for as long as they are making money, several years at the most.
But many horses can live to be over 25 years old. So what do they do when their racing days are over?
This is a question that Rob Harris from Louisville had for Curious Derby after listening to our story on horse safety, injuries and even deaths while racing.
A few horses, like Taylor’s Special, are mistreated or abandoned because care is costly; but according to Blowen, the industry is increasingly interested in after-care.
“There’s a group called the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance,” Blowen said. “They do two things. They raise money and hand out grants, but the most important thing they do is accrediting institutions that are retirement and retraining places for these old horses to go.”
Blowen says this eliminates people who take advantage of retired race horses for personal gain.
“There was one woman in Pennsylvania that was getting horses and money from grants and then they found out there were no horses at her farm; she was selling them to slaughter,” he said. “That was an exception to the rule then, but it really is an exception now.”
Many of these accredited after-care institutions can help prepare horses for what Blowen calls “second careers.”
One of the career options is, obviously, breeding the next generation of winning race horses.
But there are other options, too.
“Well, they become event horses,” Blowen said. “They go over the jumps, you know, they do dressage. I don’t know much about it really, except that it’s exciting to watch.”
And, if that’s not an option, many end up at places like Old Friends, where they can live the rest of their lives at a slower pace.
You can listen to this story in the player above and subscribe to Curious Louisville wherever you get your podcasts. Have a question of your own? Type it in the form below, or at CuriousLouisville.org.