Sprawling more than two hundred acres across the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s central region is home to some of the Thoroughbred industry’s most iconic horses.
Old Friends Farm, which began in 2003, sits outside of Georgetown between Frankfort and Lexington.
Former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen started this attraction with a leased paddock and merely one horse. The facility, originally dubbed Dream Chase Farm by its prior owner Clay Neel, has now expanded to 236 acres, with a trio of satellite locations and a herd of more than 240 retired former racehorses and breeding stallions.
Blowen’s early efforts two decades ago put a new face on the concept of Thoroughbred aftercare — providing a place where the equestrian athletes can comfortably enjoy the rest of their lives.
As with any retirement, the pace of the horses may have slowed, but the audiences that once rooted them on from the grand stands still meets them with admiration and enthusiasm. Every year, nearly 20,000 people visit the farm to get up-close-and-personal with not just the notable names, but also a few others who never saw the inside of a winner’s circle.
A handful of employees take care of rock star residents including Silver Charm, the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, plus Hall of Fame Member Lava Man as well as four Belmont Stakes winners: Touch Gold, Sarava, Birdstone and Ruler On Ice. While these title holders generally draw the crowds, donations also support each name on the roster. The volunteer tour guides enjoy sharing the story of each horse.
“When we were looking to expand our property about six years ago, Independence Bank supported our vision,” Founder Michael Blowen shared. “We have never missed payroll and the horses have never missed a meal thanks, in part, to the fantastic service this financial institution provides. I appreciate that I can always pick up the phone and call Greg Burton or his team to have a business-centered conversation.”
Burton, Independence Bank President, recalls his recent visit to the farm.
“It’s easy to identify the enthusiasm Michael and his team have for these horses and this industry,” Burton expressed. “Their passion pours out in every interaction. As a local bank, we recognize the importance of listening to the ideas that may help increase their mission. Old Friends is an inviting place that provides an intimate experience with the animals that reside there.”
A report by the American Horse Council Foundation shows the equine industry generates a combined $6.5 billion in annual economic activity — a number that could continue to grow.
With more than six dozen horse attractions in the Commonwealth, nearly 15,000 tourism related jobs are attributed to the equine industry.
“Our hope for the future is to keep stride at our current pace,” Blowen added. “We trust that it will all fall in place just as it always has. Our success boils down to two basic aspects: our many supportive fans and the dedicated horse owners who have monetarily contributed to our efforts. While we may not be a horse’s first home, we’ll always aim to create an enjoyable atmosphere as their last.”
Visit oldfriendsequine.org to schedule a guided tour of this living-history museum, make a donation or learn more about its history at 1841 Paynes Depot Road in Georgetown, KY.