Day 8: Louisville to Asheville, N.C.
We could have spent a few more days with Kola in Louisville, weeks in fact, but we had to keep the train moving. The next stop on our agenda was Old Friends. Kola also recommended doing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but we decided we’d save that for next time.
My friend Winette first told me about Old Friends roughly 10 years ago. I love animals, but she loved animals so much she stopped eating them before vegetarianism was even a concept. I have her to thank for turning me into a partial vegetarian (I’m technically pescetarian since I still eat fish). She and her husband had traveled to Kentucky to visit a farm where former race horses went to retire. I didn’t know they were typically sent off to Japan where they were sold to the highest butcher, I mean, bidder. Hearing about this made my stomach turn and I was so happy to learn about Old Friends farm and what they were doing. Visiting Old Friends on our way out of Kentucky was an absolute must.
We called the previous day and reserved two spots on the 10 o’clock tour. You must call in advance. You don’t just show up and wander around the horse farm. We had such a great time whooping it up (as MainMan likes to say) with Kola that we woke up painfully hungover and late. I called the office and luckily they said it wasn’t a problem and we’d be able to meet up with the tour guide. When we pulled up to the farm it was raining daggers. And the clouds were low and dark and we could see lightning in the distance — not exactly optimum weather for leaving Agnes in the car, who, in a house with closed doors, is scared of loud noises. I was in shorts and flip flops and MainMan was similarly dressed. We looked like dimwits running around the car, fire drill style, throwing rain gear at each other.
We drove to a barn at the far end of the property where we met up with the tour guide and his golf cart. Today was our lucky day. The owner and founder of Old Friends, Michael Blowen, was leading the tour and man, were we in for a treat. Now that we’ve met him and experienced his generous, humorous spirit and passion for the horses, we can say if you’re planning to go, request the tour with him and ONLY him. We loved seeing the horses, of course, but Blowen is a jovial, lovable old man, oozing with personality, and I believe he’s the reason Old Friends is the huge success it is today.
We were clearly the uneducated pair in the group. The three others were dropping old race horse names like publicists on the Oscar red carpet. One woman had a Breeder’s Cup hat on and her horse was actually running in a race that weekend. Shame on me for forgetting its name.
Highlights of what we learned that day: horses have tattoos on their gums for ID purposes to prevent racing fraud, a horse can live into its 30s, Clever Allemont was the oldest horse on the farm (and I just read he passed away, RIP poor guy), and Blowen used to be a film critic for the Boston Globe before a friend asked him to wager on a horse race decades ago. He didn’t know a single thing about horses or racing!
Clever Allemont was one of the first horses we met whose story gave me the chills. He was on the brink of death, deaf with one eye and 26 years old, and about to be shipped to the slaughterhouse, when a woman spotted him and saw, despite his circumstances, he had the will to live. She called Blowen and he lived six more happy years at Old Friends. I feel lucky to have met such a special, tenacious horse.
And here are more of the celebrities we met that day.
Meet Creator. He is a handsome stud who’s definitely a bit full of himself. These horses run right over to Blowen like dogs welcoming their owners home from a long day of work. It’s clear they adore him almost as much as he adores them.
Popcorn Deelites starred in “Seabiscuit.” Though this needs an asterisk. Blowen amusingly pointed out PD wasn’t handsome enough to be on screen in closeup shots of the legendary race horse, but he did all the hard work on the track. He lives in a pen with his best friend Special Ring.
Then there’s Danthebluegrassman. And no, there are no spaces in his name. He was one of the last horses we saw and my favorite, besides Clever Allemont. He was a little shy at first, then he followed me around the fence, and when we took off in the golf cart, he ran after us (though I’d like to think he was just chasing after me and the bucket of carrots).
I didn’t want to leave Old Friends. I don’t really know where my love for horses stems from. My experience with them has been limited to a brief riding school stint when I was 8, followed by repeated viewings of “Man From Snowy River,” and the occasional vacation trail ride; but I’ve always adored them and the idea of some day owning one, or several. There is something heroic and majestic in each of them and I am always awestruck by their fierce competitiveness on TV throughout the racing season. It’s otherworldly.
While at the gift shop purchasing postcards and a couple of stickers, I asked Blowen if there were any farms where I could volunteer in South Carolina so I could learn more about these wondrous creatures. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of any, but he got a kick out of me asking. I hear Aiken, S.C., is a horse town so we’ll have to visit there soon.
After we bought a couple of souvenirs, we headed for Asheville. There we checked into the most awful, horrible, no good Mountaineer Inn (but it looked so quaint from the street!) and I’ll fill you in on that in my next post. Stay tuned…