Posts Tagged ‘Little Silver Charm’

L.S. has been a faithful reader of THE VAULT since we started up, five years ago, in 2011. 

So it was that when she contacted me to say that she was planning to make her first visit to OLD FRIENDS in Kentucky, I was quick to send back my enthusiastic response. And I made a request, “If you can, please give ‘my boy’ Tinner’s Way a carrot and tell him that his friend Abigail loves him.” (I had made my first visit to OLD FRIENDS just last September, where Tinner and I established one of those connections that is impossible to forget. He actually called out to me as we were leaving and, honestly, if I could have done it, I would have stayed there with him forever.)

A few weeks back, I heard from L.S. who wanted me to know that she was back and had some photos from her visit that she wanted to share with myself and all of you.

So it is with the greatest pleasure that I ask you to welcome THE VAULT’S first Guest Editor and her beautiful narrative of a first visit to a very, very special place. 

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I’ve had an interest in horse racing dating back probably to 1972, when my aunt suggested we watch the Kentucky Derby and bet on the results with nickels. I saw Riva Ridge win, and I was hooked on horse racing from that point on. I rooted for Sham in 1973, disappointed at his inability to overcome Secretariat’s greatness, and hoped one day I could visit my favourite thoroughbred, wherever he was. I continued to follow horse racing through my teens, less later on as I raised my children and was involved in other family-related activities, but I still tried to at least watch the Triple Crown races each year.

In the spring of 2016 we were blessed with our first grandchild, a girl. I was planning a road trip to Chicago to visit with her, and while doing research for interesting attractions along the way and back I came across the Old Friends website. After reading about Old Friends, I realized that, aside from seeing my sweet baby girl in Chicago, I wanted most to visit this rescue and retirement home for thoroughbred horses in Georgetown, Kentucky. Visitors to Old Friends must register for a tour, so I emailed the organization, and was informed that there were two tours a day, at ten and three. I knew the morning tour was not possible due to our traveling schedule, so on the day of our departure, I pushed to get us on the road out of Chicago by 6:00am, so that we could make it to Georgetown in time for the 3:00pm tour!

We arrived in Georgetown, checked in at the hotel, and off I went to see the horses at Old Friends, especially Silver Charm. I made it to the farm by the time the tour was about to start, loaded down with only two cameras, one bottle of water, and sporting a large-brimmed floppy hat. A small group was gathered to the side of the main office building, waiting for the tour to start. I checked with the desk personnel and yes: my name was still on the tour list! I hurried over to join the group, which consisted of a nice mix of younger and older visitors.

Our tour guide was Tom, a soft-spoken older gentleman toting a bucket of chopped up carrots. Before we started down the slope towards the horses, he outlined some rules, including not getting too close to the horses. One young visitor asked if the horses would bite, and Tom said “all horses will bite”. Tom encouraged questions, even those from the younger children, and spoke fondly of the horses that were residents at Old Friends. I asked Tom about Abigail’s friend, Michael, and was told he was around, we might see him. My follow-up question was about seeing Tinners Way, so I could give him an extra carrot for Abigail. Tom informed me that Tinners Way was not on that day’s tour, he was in a paddock farther than we were going to go. Oh well.

And then, away we started, walking down a graveled driveway toward the barns and paddocks situated on the rolling hills behind Old Friends’ main entrance.

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“…walking down a graveled driveway towards the barns and paddocks…” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Our first stop was next to a paddock that held a beautiful golden chestnut, identified by a sign as Genuine Reward. His name was familiar, and just as I thought, he was the offspring of the incomparable Genuine Risk, the winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, and only the second filly to win in the history of the race. She had difficulties bringing any of her pregnancies to full term, and Tom informed us that this son of hers, Genuine Reward, was one of the only two offspring who survived to adulthood. I did ask who his sire was, and Tom took out his phone to look it up: the well-known Rahy. Genuine Reward never raced, but even at his age, twenty-three, he is a beautiful horse, and looks very similar to his mother. I was enchanted, and one of the first visitors to offer him a carrot, provided from Tom’s bucket.

GENUINE REWARD. Photo and copyright L.S.

GENUINE REWARD “… one of only two offspring who survived to adulthood.” Photo and copyright L.S.

Across the lane from Genuine Reward was Sarava, a Belmont Stakes winner, and spoiler for War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid in 2002. He is a very nice looking dark horse, in more ways than one!


SARAVA “…spoiler for War Emblem’s Triple Crown.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

We continued down the road, visiting with Game on Dude, who would not allow his paddock-mate, Cat launch, to eat any carrots! We had to walk down the path a little further in order to feed Catlaunch, as he kept back from the fence while Game on Dude was monopolizing our attention. Both were also very good-looking thoroughbreds, and I noticed that Game on Dude appeared to have more of an Arabian “dish” look to his face.


GAME ON DUDE “…who would not allow his paddock-mate, CATLAUNCH, to eat any carrots!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Across the pathway we met and fed Amazombie, and his paddock-mate, Rapid Redux. Most of the horses we saw at Old Friends had halters with engraved name plates; some halters also included career highlights of the horse included on the plates.


“Across the pathway we met and fed AMAZOMBIE…” Photo and copyright, L.S.



“…and his paddock-mate RAPID REDUX.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

We were not allowed to get close to another Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem, as he was in a “time out” paddock, with a double fence between the visitors and this retiree. Tom explained that, after years of racing and being used in breeding, War Emblem did not have the best disposition, and was separated for his own good, and the safety of others.

"We were not allowed to get close to WAR EMBLEM

“We were not allowed to get close to WAR EMBLEM… (because he) did not have the best disposition.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

At this point of the tour we were joined by a gentleman who had ridden down to our location using a golf cart. I’d been asked by Abigail to say hi to “Michael” for her, and when I discovered this gentleman was Michael, I passed on her greeting, and he replied favorably of Abigail. I also mentioned that she had asked me to feed Tinners Way an extra carrot “for her”, and I was disappointed that that particular thoroughbred was not on that day’s tour. At this point, Michael offered to take me in the cart up the road to where Tinners Way was housed, and I readily, and eagerly accepted his offer! I did grab a couple carrots from Tom’s bucket before getting in Michael’s cart.


” At this point, Michael offered to take me in the cart up the road to where Tinners Way was housed…” Photo of Michael Blowen and “Tinner” and copyright, L.S.

We rode up the hill, past a barn, and to a paddock in which a chestnut horse was standing, with a mesh covering over his eyes, and so I met Tinners Way, son of the great Secretariat! It was obvious that this horse was special to Michael, and he talked at some length about the horse, and how Old Friends was started. I was able to give Tinners Way two carrots, and I seem to recall being bold enough to touch his velvety nose. After a few minutes spent with the elderly racehorse, we climbed back into Michael’s golf cart, and talked about Forego and Forli and some other famous horses before I was dropped off with the tour group.


I’M CHARISMATIC and ARSON SQUAD. Photo and copyright, L.S.



DANTHEBLUEGRASSMAN “…seemed to be more interested in cribbing the railing than eating carrots!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

I was glad to see I’d not missed much of the tour, as they were just finishing up visiting with I’m Charismatic, Arson Squad, and across from them, Danthebluegrassman, who seemed to be more interested in cribbing the railing than eating carrots! I took a couple quick pictures, then hastened to catch up to the tour, which was making its way around and down the final turn, toward a very special horse.

That special horse was Silver Charm, the champion that I really wanted to see, and even at his advanced age, he still looked great, though much more white than in his racing days. Tom had imparted a little biography with each of the horses we’d visited, but I don’t recall much about this horse, as I was soaking in just seeing this champion in the flesh. I do recall feeding him at least one carrot, and I might have stroked his nose lightly, I can’t recall for sure. I guess I was rather star-struck!


SILVER CHARM: “I guess I was rather star-struck!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Across from Silver Charm’s area was the horse graveyard, with markers for all the horses that had been residents of Old Friends at the time of their death. While many of the horses had names I was not familiar with, I knew by the markers whose progeny they were. I was very sorry to have missed being able to visit Gulch, Fraise, and Kiri’s Clown, the last who was the son of Foolish Pleasure, one of my favorite Derby winners.

The final thoroughbred on the tour was Alphabet Soup. I am not totally sure, but I think this guy is one of Tom’s favorites, just by how he talked about him. For an elderly, sway-backed horse, Alphabet Soup had a lot of charisma. The kids gravitated to him, and he was fed several carrots. One of my pictures shows “the look of eagles” in this old-timer.


ALPHABET SOUP and Tom. Photo and copyright, L.S.



ALPHABET SOUP “…had a lot of charisma.” Shown here with Tom, one of Old Friends’ tour guides. Photo and copyright, L.S.

But Alphabet Soup was not the last of our equine tour, as Little Silver Charm awaited us and our attentions. A tiny pony, he had been saved from slaughter many years ago by Michael, the Old Friends founder, and named after Michael’s favorite race horse, Silver Charm. How could Michael know then that eventually Little Silver Charm would be pastured close to his namesake, the original Silver Charm?

"Two Charms" -- LITTLESILVERCHARM and SILVER CHARM with Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, Liz Read for THE VAULT

“Two Charms” — LITTLE SILVER CHARM and (BIG) SILVER CHARM with Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, Liz Read for THE VAULT

With this last stop, our tour was over, and we headed up the slope toward the main office. However, I noticed a gravestone, all by itself in a small paddock, with the infamous name “Noor” engraved across its front. I caught up with Tom, and asked him about this particular stone. The story of Noor’s stone was then related to those of us remaining from the tour: many of the farms where famous racehorses were buried were being bought for development. Apparently, one of the original employees of the farm where Noor was buried recalled the location of the burial plot, and after getting permission, the remains of Noor were exhumed, and reburied at Old Friends. For those of you not familiar with Noor, he was the son of Nashrulla, and was owned and raced by the same man who raced Seabiscuit, Charles S. Howard.

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It was a very gratifying, satisfying visit, and I plan to visit again as time allows. Since I have a grandbaby in Chicago, it might not be too long before I walk the fields and roads of Old Friends again.

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View of part of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, L.S.


ALPHABET SOUP. Photo and copyright, L.S.

ALPHABET SOUP. Photo and copyright, L.S.


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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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