Archive for July, 2015

Michael Blowen, the former film critic for The Boston Globe, came to his second career via a fondness for handicapping. At the time, he has said, he “naively” believed what he was told: that injured horses were “…going to a riding academy in Maine.” 

On my first visit to Lexington, Kentucky this June, visiting Old Friends @ Dream Chase Farm and meeting Michael Blowen was high on my list, one of three memorable visits I made over a too-short sojourn. I would have liked to have had enough time to also visit Jeanne Mirabito and the retirees @ Our Mims Retirement Haven, but two days was just too short.

Michael and Jeanne are the people I most want to be.

Together with his wife, former journalist Diane White, and a handful of dedicated employees and volunteers, Michael, like Jeanne before him, is one of those rare people who has realized a dream.

Special thanks to my friend, the photographer, artist and lecturer Liz Read for the photographs included in this article, without which my words would fall far short of the mark.


THE VAULT has started its own horse (pony, donkey + mule) rescue fund. If you appreciate THE VAULT, please make a contribution:


No amount is too small and every donation is appreciated deeply. Thank you!


It was a hot, sticky June day when Liz and I pulled into the parking lot of Old Friends.

We climbed out of the car and headed into the office/gift shop, where Michael was to meet us. I was excited alright, but also feeling very shy, clutching a gift that I had brought him in one hand. The gift was a photograph from my own collection, of Precisionist during his racing days. It belonged to Michael in a way that it could never belong to me. Precisionist was one of those who became special to Michael, as animals do when you form that “connection” to them, a kind of psychic current that just doesn’t happen all the time and is therefore precious when it does.

Michael and I first met in virtual reality. When I began THE VAULT, one of the first pieces I wrote was about Black Tie Affair and Michael; and after it was published, Michael sent me a personal note, saying he was printing it and hanging it up in the barn. I was delighted, since I knew that “Blackie” was another one of those “special” horses in Michael’s life. And so our erratic correspondence began. When I knew I was coming to Lexington, I got in touch and Michael wrote to say that he would be pleased to meet Liz and I.

The office/gift shop wasn’t particularly busy, but the minute I walked through the door I could feel the happy hum of staff and volunteers. There was laughter, people darting between office and gift shop, lots of smiles.


Then Michael appeared, crackling with the kind of “zenergy” that you’d expect. It’s the zone you get into when you create something you love, bringing it from nothingness into being. I didn’t need to ask Michael if all the worries along the way were worth it.

It’s not easy, loving and caring for seniors. They won’t live forever and you know that. But Michael and his team love completely even as they hold lightly. Meaning: they don’t possess the horses, they care for them, and consider it a privilege to have each one in their lives.

Before hopping into one of the farm’s golf carts, I gave Michael the photo of Precisionist and his face lit up. I was still having trouble getting any semblance of order together in my head because I was pinching myself and thinking, “Here I am. In Kentucky. With Michael Blowen.” But I hardly needed to worry because as we chugged up the lane to the horses, Michael engaged us in an easygoing, natural conversation and by the time we reached the first retiree, both Liz and I were feeling as though we’d known Michael for a lot longer than what amounted to about ten minutes.

First stop was the cemetery. Under the trees they lie, the horses Old Friends has laid to rest. Each grave has a plaque and looking over them all is a sculpture of three prancing horses by artist Fred Krakowiak. Precisionist, Black Tie Affair, Ruhlmann, Marquetry, Creator, Sunshine Forever, Polish Navy, Patton, and Jade Hunter, to name but a few, are now visited by the memories of those who pass by this way. One of Old Friends’ cats, who found the shade and quiet a perfect place for a long, languid nap, reminded me that these departed ones lay at the heart of the farm for a reason.

One of OLD FRIENDS' kitties hanging out in the shade of the cemetery. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

One of OLD FRIENDS’ kitties hanging out in the shade of the cemetery, next to the grave of BLACK TIE AFFAIR. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Old Friends HALL OF FAME, where the spirit of greatness mingles with the scents of summer in the Bluegrass. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Old Friends HALL OF FAME, where the spirit of greatness mingles with the scents of summer in Bluegrass Country. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Most people come to Old Friends for the first time to see one special horse and I was no different.

My special horse was Tinner’s Way. I had missed the Secretariat baby I loved most, Terlingua, and I was not going to make the same mistake with Tinner, whose life and times I had followed from his arrival in Bobby Frankel’s barn through his stallion career to his retirement at Old Friends.

But before Tinner, there was a veritable pantheon of great thoroughbreds and, predictably, I was besotted with each one.

Gulch, despite Michael’s efforts, wasn’t in the mood for either carrots or socializing. And, as I told Michael, “Hey, he’s GULCH and if he doesn’t want petting, well, that’s just the way it is,” which made him laugh as he nodded in agreement. And it really didn’t matter that this superstar wasn’t a cuddle bug, since just seeing “Gulchie” as he was on that day did nothing to take the lustre off a moment that I will treasure forever.

GULCH, aka "GULCHIE" by Liz Read. Copyright, Liz Read.

GULCH, aka “GULCHIE” by Liz Read. Copyright, Liz Read.

On we puttered in our little cart, to visit Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, the gentle Eldaafer (and his goats), Danthebluegrassman ( a grandson of my beloved Terlingua), the popular MSW Rail Trip, recent arrival Game On Dude, champion Rapid Redux and the exquisite Affirmed Success with his buddy, Flick. Michael not only had carrots aplenty, but stories about each one. And just the way a parent does when teaching a toddler to speak, Michael told their story looking into their eyes, making it clear to the horse that he was speaking about and for them. I’m almost certain that Michael did this unconsciously, since it’s a natural human response that we all have, but the interaction still spoke loud about who Michael Bowen is and how he feels about the thoroughbreds of Dream Chase Farm.

Of Game On Dude, he recounted how Bob Baffert had given him “the third degree” before agreeing to his brilliant gelding coming to Old Friends. The way Michael saw it: “But it was great, you know. He even came here to check up on us. Bob really cares about his horses and that makes me feel good.”

Lovin' THE DUDE: GAME ON DUDE with Michael and I. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Lovin’ THE DUDE: GAME ON DUDE with Michael and I, as Michael tells me how much trainer Bob Baffert cares about his horses. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

RAIL TRIP with Michael. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

RAIL TRIP with Michael. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

The very handsome DANTHEBLUEGRASSMAN. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

The very handsome DANTHEBLUEGRASSMAN. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Multimillionaire AFFIRMED SUCCESS, a son of Triple Crown winner AFFIRMED and his "masked companion," Flick. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Multimillionaire AFFIRMED SUCCESS, a son of Triple Crown winner AFFIRMED and his “masked companion,” Flick. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

“Eight year-old Affirmed Success still getting it done” in the Carter Handicap:

Of Eldaafer, a son of A.P. Indy out of a Tabasco Cat mare, Michael was quick to point out his championship ways, sounding like a proud Papa, “He won the Breeders’ Cup Marathon and over a million {dollars USD},” as he stroked the gelding’s face. It may be a time when speed trumps at the track, but it was impossible not to admire the heart and stamina of this bay gelding who met my touch with such sweetness.

The great ELDAAFER and one of his companions. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

The great ELDAAFER and one of his companions. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.


Eldaafer “stays all day” to win the 2010 BC Marathon:

Then we were off up the lane to one of the furthest paddocks, to visit with Tinner’s Way. As my heart raced in anticipation, I mentioned to Michael that I thought of the little chestnut as “Mr. Grumpy,” given what I knew about his ways and Michael quipped, “Yup.” As the golf cart pulled up at Tinners’ paddock, Michael — in the kindest possible way — gave us to understand that Tinner might well ignore us, adding that he would offer the first carrot, should the old stallion come over to greet us, “…just in case.”

But, as fate would have it, Tinner was feeling gregarious (by Tinner standards, that is) and trotted over, taking the first carrot he was offered like a gentleman.

Now, as some of you reading this know, horses have a “way of talking” that is different from the way they use their bodies to communicate. Dogs and cats speak this way too. But your heart needs to be open. You need to be listening. (Nor will every horse, dog or cat you meet speak to you because some just don’t. No idea why, other than the obvious: there’s just no interest in relating to you beyond the basic.)


The deepest touch of all: TINNER and I connect. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

But, as I held out my hand to him, Tinner spoke to me. And, like the way my own furry beings speak to me, it was non-verbal and closer to feeling than conscious thought. But I felt affection running through my fingers, up my arm and straight to my heart. I knew we were connecting and it touched me deeply.

I wanted to stay with him forever. Never go home. Just stay there, in this state of total bliss. Eventually, we climbed back into the golf cart to head on back. But Tinner just stood there, whickering softly, wanting me to stay. Tears filled my eyes as we departed, but Michael made me laugh: struggling for composure, I told Liz, “Tinner is Secretariat’s last foal from his final crop and he was a champion, trained in the USA by Bobby Frankel.” To which Michael responded, “Yeah, but we don’t talk to him about that.” (Translation: Tinner is who he is, not his daddy’s son, and we love him for being himself.) I smiled at Michael’s Buddha-like intervention, because it pulled me out of my sadness and told me that he understood.

Where are you going? Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

“Where are you going?” Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

"Ah, c'mon ... Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

“Ah, c’mon …” Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Please don't go. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

“…Pleeeease don’t go.” Photo and copyright, Liz Read.


Last but hardly least, Michael introduced us to Little Silver Charm and (big) Silver Charm. We exchanged “Shetland pony” stories, mine of learning to never turn my back on a Shetland, Michael of rescuing the feisty little guy, who has since mellowed into a cross between a pony and a big, happy, gentle dog. Soon to meet up with a busload of Middle School students (LOL!), Michael generously took time to introduce us to (big) Silver Charm, who turned out to be still another “talker.”

In fact, his voice was stirring and loud, and what I felt was a HUGE urge to grab a saddle and bridle and take him for a canter. He just takes you into an equine embrace. A champion stallion who is as beautiful on the outside as the soul within.

Michael brought out LITTLE SILVER CHARM for us to meet. Photo and copyright,

Michael brought out LITTLE SILVER CHARM for us to meet. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

The beginning of our conversation. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

The beginning of our conversation. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

I'm saying, "SILVER CHARM, do you know how wonderful you are?" Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

I’m saying, “SILVER CHARM, do you know how wonderful you are?” Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Charming CHARM. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Charming CHARM. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Folding into a caress. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Folding into a caress. Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Michael with two of his "favourite people." Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

Michael with two of his “favourite people.” Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

It was clear that Silver Charm has only ever known kindness and understanding, a fact that Michael stressed. The Japanese were fabulous to work with and generous in every way in bringing Silver Charm home. Nor is it Michael’s first experience with Japanese horse farms and he wanted us to know that the way forward is to shelve negative feelings about American thoroughbreds in Japan. In fact, early talks are underway to bring Charismatic home (once his stud career is over) and, once again, the Japanese are proving to be wonderful partners.




The great Brazilian teacher, Paulo Freire, once spoke of visiting a remote village in Central America where he and his team were going to embark on a critical literacy program with the inhabitants, and where he came across one of the women building a clay pot. As he watched her, Freire observed, “The idea that we inherit a culture that is readymade and unchanging is false. We make culture ourselves, each one of us, out of the materials we have and our actions in the world. This pot was never in the world until this woman created it. And now the world and the culture that gives it meaning is changed forever by the coming into being of what she has made with her own hands.”

This is my point of reference when I think about Old Friends, and the pioneering work of Jeanne Mirabito of Our Mims Retirement Haven, which in-spired the former simply by “coming into being.”

Michael, Jeanne and those who support their vision have done something very remarkable. They have not only created sanctuaries for thoroughbreds where they are safe, respected and loved, but they have also brought the horses’  stories into the world — and changed the culture of our sport forever.

So, dear reader, do remember to change the world by taking action in it.

By giving your support any way you can to Old Friends and Our Mims you begin that process in your own life, while honouring the ones — equine and human — who showed you the way.





Old Friends @ Dream Chase Farm:


Our Mims Retirement Haven:


Old Friends @ Cabin Creek:




1) Michael Blowen The Optimist

2) Our Mims: Making A Difference

3) Ruhlmann and Michael (2008)

4) Our Mims: a video by Cane Ridge Elementary School (2010)










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Dedicated to Paul Nicholls, Clifford Baker, Rose Loxton, Ruby Walsh, Clive Smith and all those who loved Kauto Star. 

The thing about losing a legend is that you can’t.

And the other thing is that words fall far short of the mark, because the loss is as organic as the horse himself.

It’s about the scent of him, the feel of him, the wordless way he talks to you.

It’s about the courage that beats in a great heart, the goofiness when he plays with you, the powerful, undulating motion on a morning gallop in Somerset.

It’s about the hope in your heart as he enters the fray still again and the joy that bubbles up in the solar plexus, even as your throat tightens with wonderment and emotion.

And it’s about the interspecies love affair between the people and their great horse.

In the folklore of the British Isles in times so ancient that even the Romans had yet to arrive, the horse was given its own goddess, Epona, or Rhiannon.

As the scarce recounts of Epona tell, she was accompanied by three birds from the Otherworld, who held the power to restore the dead to life and to heal sadness and pain.

Most importantly, Epona held the power to leap from this world into the “Otherworld,” often carrying the souls of the departed, as well as heroes, heroines and mystics on her broad back. The mighty Horse Goddess travelled between the worlds of life and death, reminding all that the gap between was both chasm and veil.

EPONA/RHIANNON  as represented in an image of Celtic origin.

EPONA/RHIANNON as represented in an image of Celtic origin.

So great was her power that she was inducted by the Romans into their pantheon of gods, the only British mythical figure to be so honoured. In Rome, Epona was associated with sovereignty, with that divine essence that separates those chosen to lead from the rest of humanity.

KAUTO STAR turned out in his paddock with his buddies, DENMAN and BIG BUCKS.

A divine essence: KAUTO STAR turned out in his paddock in Somerset.

Together with re-memorying all of Kauto Star’s greatest triumphs, there will always be a lasting image: while galloping in his paddock, Kauto suddenly took a leap between the worlds, carrying us with him.

Our turn, today, to bring him home.




1) Tribute by Alistair Down:

2) Paul Nicholls’ remembers the champion he loved:

3) Ruby Walsh on Kauto Star:

4) Features Danielle Baker, daughter of Clifford, who interviews those closest to Kauto after his retirement:

5) Tribute from British teenager, Aanisah Chaudry, shortly after learning of Kauto’s passing. Just beautiful:


NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.






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