Bluegrass Warrior Example of a 'Wanted' Horse

Bluegrass Warrior was the type of horse you just couldn't help but like. His career average winning distance was 13.65 furlongs.

We all got a lot of bang for our buck watching him compete in marathon races in Kentucky and Ohio. He retired in 1998 at the age of 13, and it was a given he would always have a home.

Trainer Joanie Cook adored the old guy, and recently, she relayed the news that "Bluegrass" died last year of an aneurysm while running in a field. She was there when he died at age 23.

The Kentucky-bred gelding by Navajo was born to run--preferably further than a mile and a quarter. He still holds the track record (on dirt or synthetic) for two miles at Turfway Park.

Bluegrass Warrior came to mind with the upcoming American Horse Council "Welfare of the Horse" forum June 16 in Washington, D.C. The event will feature a broader look at horse welfare, in that representatives of other disciplines will be on hand, as will national welfare officials.

The AHC now oversees the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which is designed to educate people on the responsibilities of horse ownership. One aspect is having an exit strategy--for the horse.

There have been estimates (tens of thousands) as to the number of "unwanted horses" in the United States, but it's still a gray area. The coalition will give an update at the forum.

It's a tough, emotional issue, with an obvious tie-in with the debate over horse slaughter. There are legitimate arguments from all sides.

Legislating personal responsibility is dangerous. Advocating it isn't so bad; it just takes a lot more time to get the message across.

The coalition needs more of the thousands of horse owners like Joanie Cook, who figured out the answer a long time ago.

They simply love their horses.



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God bless people like Joanie Cook.  Bluegrass Warrior sounded like an amazing horse (well...aren't they ALL?)  Michael Blowen and his Old Friends surely have earned their wings to Heaven as well.  What an amazing man and staff taking care of these fine old racehorses who gave all on the track, only to be discarded late in life.  May you all have many years of more life-saving ahead of you.

03 Jun 2009 9:31 AM

Perhaps there also is a second lesson that could be learned from Bluegrass Warrior: run them long and they can run until age 13.

Awesome. He was a lucky horse to have  such caring connections, and I hope all owners will take into consideration their charges' lives after the track.

03 Jun 2009 9:48 AM

It's all very well to warm the hearts of the readership with a tale of a much-loved horse and a caring, responsible owner, but I'd sure like a 'splain as to how the AHC's pro-slaughter bias fits in with that.

03 Jun 2009 10:27 AM
Soldier Course

I appreciate the distinction you have made between legislating and advocating personal responsibility. For many issues I think this distinction is valid.

But what if the welfare of a helpless individual is the issue? We have legislation in every state mandating the financial support of minor children by their parents. Clearly this is legislating personal responsibility. But surely you would agree that the issue of child support should not be left to advocacy alone.

Horses, like children, are helpless individuals. Remember the song? "Bless the beasts and the children, ... they have no voice, they have no choice." We can give them a strong voice through advocacy. But the only way to give them the right choice is through legislation.

03 Jun 2009 11:46 AM
sweet terchi

Wow! What a accomplishment! Bluegrass Warrior and the others like him achieve that status, because of people who truly love the horse. Greg J. gave me an update on another oldie Hermisillo, and his owner had his well being at heart also. If only ALL owners of ALL animals would treat them with respect and care, we wouldn't have abuse issues. Unfortunately, for every caring owner, there are 2 or 3 who have absolute disregard for animal welfare. Thank You Joanie Cook, and thanks all the others out there in this world who put themselves in the forefront of these issues.

03 Jun 2009 11:52 AM

Thank you, Tiznowbaby, for stating an obvious flaw in American racing. I could care less about yet ANOTHER 6 furlong sprint, whatever class! Why can't there be a national racing authority that could collect very small percentages from the sales and the purses for retirement homes? In the long run, Americans will respond to an industry that starts taking care of its one and only living product, and their raison d'etre: the Thoroughbred.

03 Jun 2009 12:04 PM

My whole take on the unwanted horse situation is that it is one people in all horse industries have created because they breed because they can adding to the overpopulation. Thoroughbred stallions shouldn't be breeding 150-200+ mares a year because owners have the opportunity to that only adds to the problem. If the industry would be willing to go back to the days when stallions only bred 30-50 mares a year I think it would go a long way to solving many problems  

03 Jun 2009 2:18 PM

I love stories like this one! If I had land, I would have a whole "yard" of retired racehorses. I used to think I wanted to get into the racing business as an owner, but I then realized assisting those whose careers had come to an end is even more rewarding.

03 Jun 2009 2:50 PM
needler in Virginia

As a small addition to what smartysgal just said, PLEASE go to, click on the "horses", then find Swan's Way. He and Bluegrass Warrior would have gotten along famously: both hard knockers, both unsung, both racing for the feedbucket and little else, both retired to loving homes with a stall, a bucket and LOTS of grass. Swanny is one of those thousands who need a good place to hang out; he is very lucky to have met Michael and the Epsteins. Most are NOT. Most need a bit of rehab time, a run-in shed and some love. There are others, though, that need more than that, and most of what they require is expensive. In these tough times, maybe we all could bypass a burger, a take-away coffee, a movie or a few of those music downloads to help one of those with absolutely no way to help themselves. Either we step up to the plate, or they leave the ballpark for good. Even five dollars a month, or every other month, or every three months would help one of the many TB retirement facilities. You don't have to be a millionaire to do this; my granddaughter sells lemonade at the SPCA on the weekends, and splits the take between the horses and the residents at the shelter. Five bucks really isn't much when you consider the cost of taking the kids to Mickey D's for happy meals. The kids don't need all that fat and sugar, but the horses could really stand a bag of "old guy" horse food. So next time you add an order of fries or onion rings, take a pass, put that bit away and send it to Old Friends or ReRun or any of the other TB facilities. Google them and you'd be surprised at how many will show up.  If you can't send money, find one close to you and volunteer to muck a few stalls (WOW! WHAT FUN!!).

We obviously love these creatures of the wind because we talk about 'em all the time, watch them race, and agonize when we hear they are injured or sick. If we love them, why not try to help 'em a bit? For those of you WITH horses, you can cut out the bar code thingie on your bags of Triple Crown Senior and send 'em to Old Friends, who turn them in and get a break on THEIR senior food. If you're feeding your old guys anyway, why not use a stamp to help feed other old guys? I would bet that the other TB facilities have pretty much the same deal going with their local feed outlets, so ASK!

OK, enough. You get the picture. The story of Bluegrass Warrior is one we need to hear; it's one we WANT to hear, so let's fill these pages with success stories instead of downers. After all, there are more than enough of THOSE stories to go around ......... I would love to think, and I'll always hope, that the Bluegrass Warriors will end up being the rule, rather than the exception.

04 Jun 2009 12:03 AM

It strikes me as funny that the American Horse Council is so pro slaughter and preaching all about the "unwanted horse" yet in the same breath they try to claim some credit for this great story about the retired race horse.  I'm very please to hear that some owners/trainers do care enough abou those horses that win them so much money that they actually allow them to retire to a life in no danger of slaughter.  I only wish that ALL owners would be so very responsible and that ALL breeders would take responsibility for those babies that they create.  It seems to me that ALL of the breed associations would promote responsible breeding practices rather than to condone and even promote horse slaughter.  It is a total betrayal to the horses that they claim to promote. Thank the lord for people like Joanie Cook for looking after this horse.  The country needs more like her.

10 Jun 2009 10:34 PM

It's a great story, and the person who cared for him deserves every accolate, but

"Legislating personal responsibility is dangerous. Advocating it isn't so bad; it just takes a lot more time to get the message across.

The coalition needs more of the thousands of horse owners like Joanie Cook, who figured out the answer a long time ago."

reminds me of "if wishes were horses then beggars would ride."  

soldier course and goodwin have the right idea - for all horses, not just thoroughbreds.  Legislate some sort of fee attached to breeding that stays with the horse that is at least enough for humane euthanasia if there is no other option once unwanted.  Any horse competition that includes $$ prizes - not just TB racing, any racing, western competions, jumps, etc., as well as any work for profit-making organizations: public stables, circus, commercials, whatever - should have some fraction of the return attached for a pot for retirees.  As well as some minute % of sale price when the animal is sold & the $$ wagered - all to create a fund for retirement.  

The devil is always in the details, but something could be figured out.

There will never be enough retirement homes and donation $$.  Horses don't come into the world by magic; someone makes a decision to breed them, and often make $$ on them.  It is unconscionalbe that they are allowed to get away with leaving them to a slaughterhouse fate at the end of their profit-making lives.

12 Jun 2009 7:39 PM

So true, so true needler in Virginia.  I read Val's blog every Sunday from Old Friends and find that one of the most amazing places and i'm sure there are many more like it.  

A couple of dollars a week from everyone of us would help out in a big way.

Thanks for saying what so many feel.

17 Jun 2009 7:30 AM
Sam Anderer

"AHC now oversees Unwanted Horse Coalition designed to educate people on the responsibilities of horse ownership"??

Are they going to also education people on their stance concerning NAIS?  National Animal Identification System being pushed by the USDA under the guise of tracing animal disease?

Google search will give you more than enough info to scare every Bloodhorse reader to death.

The proslaughter bias:  several breeds advocate slaughter:Two come to mind, QH and TWH.  QH because the Europeans have stated a preference for quarter horse on their dinner plates.  

As a 18-year, retired feline rescuer, I know how difficult it is to be involved with rescue work. The average grass roots rescue never has enough money.  In addition to supporting high-profile organizations, I would suggest to keep the money local, if at all possible, as you can keep an eye on things.

Very nice story.

27 Jun 2009 8:34 PM

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