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


Leave a Comment:


What an awesome program and a fabulous opportunity for all of you. Blessings to Sheikh Mohammed for his insight and forward thinking. Your article was a hoot to read and I'm sure many of us would love to read more of the various parts of this obviously intense program. Good for you! And good luck with your future studies! P.S. What is that white stuff? Diana in Phoenix

23 Feb 2011 8:05 PM

Awesome program !

23 Feb 2011 8:24 PM
Arts and Letters

It's great to see Benburb - I didn't know he was there.  I remember him running and was a great fan!

23 Feb 2011 9:07 PM
Blue Blue Sea

What an awesome program all the way around. Love seeing Old Friends!

23 Feb 2011 9:30 PM

Who was lucky enough to do the pony?  LOL

23 Feb 2011 10:07 PM

This sounds like a really interesting program you're in Kelsey! However it already seems like you are on your way to career in journalism.  Good luck with your endevors and I hope you were able to see Commentator while you were out there.  He was an exciting horse in New York and watching him run in the Whitney was so thrilling.  Thank you for helping take care of those great Old Friends!  (And Diana...I believe that white stuff is snow!  However I'm sure it made it quite hard for them to trim horses in that weather!)

23 Feb 2011 10:40 PM

Fortunate Prospect is an '81 model making him 30--it's a very minor thing but 30 is such a major threshold for a thoroughbred.  He is truly a great horse and loved by everyone that gets the chance to meet him.

24 Feb 2011 7:59 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

Absolutely fantastic!

24 Feb 2011 9:38 AM

I finally decided to learn to do my own horses and have done them the last 10 years or so, you are so right...good farriers are worth their weight in gold! It's hard work!

♥ to all the retirees.

24 Feb 2011 10:14 AM

You all are so lucky!!!

24 Feb 2011 10:51 AM

Thank you Kelsey!  What a delightful read.  And love the pictures, too.

24 Feb 2011 5:28 PM

In the picture captioned "Darley Flying Start students preparing for hoof trimming at Old Friends," who is the horse?

24 Feb 2011 6:04 PM

I believe the horse in the photo is Kudos.

24 Feb 2011 6:33 PM

Thank you for sharing your experience at hoof trimming at Old Friends.  How wonderful to share some special time with the retirees and bravo for braving the cold like that!  The photos are great also and I will be looking forward to more articles from you as you progress on your journey through the Flying Start program.  By the way, the link to the blog doesn't work for me, but by going to twitter, I was able to get to your blog from there.  Maybe it is just my computer or the operator, but any way... thank you!

24 Feb 2011 8:19 PM

Kelsey - like Deb said 'You all are so lucky!!!"  What a fantastic program. Such a fabulous way to learn the ropes in the industry and the invaluable experience that you gain will surely pave the way for you to get your foot planted firmly in the door when you've 'graduated'. It must have been such a treat to learn the farrier part of the program at one of the most wonderful places in the world, Old Friends. I wish you well as you continue on and hope we hear from you again.

25 Feb 2011 7:48 PM

Fabulous to see Benburb.  I did not know he was there, but now I will try and get to Kentucky to see him.  Dan Loiselle's race call when he beat AP Indy made me cry.  It seems like yesterday!

25 Feb 2011 10:29 PM

I think the horse actually might be Northern Stone AKA Rocky, not Kudos....

26 Feb 2011 3:22 PM
Kelsey Riley

Thank you all for your nice comments. Flying Start certainly has been a wonderful experience. Txhorsefan: the link for Turf Beat is now fixed.

26 Feb 2011 5:22 PM

Please do an article on Our Mims.

26 Feb 2011 11:55 PM
Esther Marr
27 Feb 2011 4:50 PM
Barbara W

Great column! Thank you so much for sharing with us!

27 Feb 2011 6:05 PM

Would it not be better to help the unwanted horses that are starving in the killer pens? Money should be directed to retraining Tb's, make them USEFUL!

There are lots of groups who retrain or find good homes for horses but they get very little funding because they put all their money towards the horses not fundraising .

I don't believe retired Stallions need to be saved, let the farms where they stood take care of them, same for successful racehorses.

01 Mar 2011 11:44 AM
Christine Fiorilla

I just had the pleasure and honor of speaking to Michael Blowen on the phone...courtesy of Carlos Figueroa. I am planning a trip to take my 10-year old son to Kentucky and visit Old Friends as well as the Kentucky Horse Park and any other farm that will allow us a look at their beautiful horses.

My whole life I have loved and followed horseracing. What Michael is doing for these horses is tremendous and should be commended to the higheest level. He is a wonderful man and I cannot wait to meet him and his wife as well as the horses I grew up watching and loving. I'm sure it will be a trip I will never forget.

You're a good man Michael...keep up the great work!! Hope to meet you soon!

01 Mar 2011 3:41 PM

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