Hoofing It Up at Old Friends

I have a special treat for you all this week. Kelsey Riley, former intern at The Blood-Horse and current Darley Flying Start student, agreed to write about her experiences trimming the hooves of some of the equine stars at Michael Blowen’s Old Friends retirement farm near Midway, Ky.

I happened to be out at Old Friends the same day as Kelsey working on an Old Friends feature for the Feb. 19 issue of the magazine. I had the best time hanging out with Michael and all his retired horses—albeit it was one of the coldest days of the year, and I had to borrow a pair of his wife’s heavy work boots and gloves to endure the frigid temperatures.

Because Michael is a great tour guide, however, I didn’t notice the cold as much, but rather marvelled at all the legendary runners and their incredible stories as Michael related them to me.

Without further ado, read on about Kelsey’s Old Friends encounters. Also, check out her blog when you get a chance at www.turfbeat.blogspot.com and follow her on twitter (http://twitter.com/kelseynriley) to receive inside information about her future Darley Flying Start adventures.


In times of need, we can always count on an old friend to lend a helping hand. For myself and the 11 other Darley Flying Start trainees, it was the retired Thoroughbreds at Michael Blowen’s Old Friends  who lent their hooves on Jan. 24- 28 to help us complete our farrier course from the Kentucky Horseshoeing School.

Let’s start with a little background to put the whole experience into perspective: Darley Flying Start is a management training program for potential Thoroughbred industry leaders that is funded by prominent owner/breeder Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai.

Each year, Darley Flying Start selects 12 people from around the world who will spend two years travelling to Ireland, England, America, Australia, and Dubai to learn about all facets of the global Thoroughbred industry. The 2010-2012 class consists of bright minds from Ireland, England, Australia, America, South Africa, and last but (arguably) not least, myself, from Canada. Our course commenced August of last year in Ireland, and we landed in Kentucky about four weeks ago. Career aspirations within the group include trainers, bloodstock agents, syndicate managers, and stud management.

So what in the world are these people doing on a farrier course? Our training on Darley Flying Start includes a wide variety of accreditations aimed at making us well-rounded industry leaders. We partake in everything from equine anatomy and nutrition courses to hospitality and etiquette classes. So on Jan. 17 we strapped on our chaps and headed to Richmond, Kentucky to commence our two-week farrier course at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School.

It didn’t take me long to realize we were in for an interesting and exciting two weeks. After five days of rigorous (and incredibly insightful) lectures and many hours of practice trimming on cadaver legs, all 12 of us successfully passed our trimming test and were approved to test our new trade on the residents of Old Friends. But the question was, were they ready for us?

Kelsey practicing her hoof trimming skills on a cadaver leg

With subjects that included leading sires, grade I winners, and champions, I was understandably slightly nervous heading into my first day of real trimming. The nervous tremors, however, soon gave way to quivering muscles and aching legs as I struggled to wedge myself beneath a burly bay beast, who then proceeded to rest all 1,000 pounds of himself on my back. I quickly learned that trimming live horses is very different from trimming cadavers! I worked the hoof knife and rasp with amateur precision, and, in roughly half an hour, had manicured one hoof. This was going to be a long week, indeed, for the Old Friends!

Darley Flying Start students preparing for hoof trimming at Old Friends

Practicing on live horses turned out to be a very valuable experience, and over the next few days my technique improved. I was lucky enough to work on high profile horses like Danthebluegrassman and Fortunate Prospect.

Nicknamed “Grandpa,” Fortunate Prospect is going strong at the ripe old age of 30, and is the eldest horse at Old Friends. He was a leading sire and stood in Florida until he was pensioned in 2005. In spite of some minor body aches from old age, Grandpa sportingly held each foot still while I trimmed his hooves.

Just as cooperative was Danthebluegrassman, who had to do his time outside amidst a blizzard. A resident of Old Friends since 2008, Dan was a grade III winner and competed on the Kentucky Derby trail for owner Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert. While Dan seemed unfazed by the chilly whiteout, I found my own feet nearly frozen to the ground by the time I finished.

Danthebluegrassman with Old Friends miniature horse "Silver Charm"

The highlight of the week for me was meeting 1992 Canadian Horse of the Year Benburb. Now 22 and nearly white, the grey gelding is happily living out his days at Old Friends. Benburb’s greatest glory on the track came when he defeated A.P. Indy and Alydeed in the 1992 Molson Export Million at Woodbine en route to capturing a Sovereign award as Canada’s champion three-year-old male in addition to Horse of the Year honors.

Kelsey with 1992 Canadian Horse of the Year Benburb

In the end, there were two major lessons that I gained from my time at Old Friends with the Kentucky Horseshoeing School: first, the farrier’s job is much more difficult than they make it look, and they should be commended for all their hard work. Without sound farriers, we would have no sound horses. And second, I learned that just like popular belief suggests, an Old Friend is always there when you need him.

To learn more about Old Friends, visit http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/

For more information on Darley Flying Start, go to http://darleyflyingstart.com/

Darley Flying Start student Michael Morrison of Australia with Silver Charm

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