Featured Volunteers

Barbara with Hidden Lake
Photo © Laura Battles

Barbara Fossum

From Barbara:  Driving away from Old Friends at Hurstland Farm in October 2005, after meeting Michael, the newly returned from Japan Ogygian and Fraise plus a handful of other Old Friends residents while on vacation, I thought to myself how cool it would be, at some point, to be an Old Friends volunteer. “At some point” came in 2007, after I moved from southeast Pennsylvania to Lexington, and showed up at Sylvia’s desk saying “Put me to work”.

A lot has changed in the last seven years. Many of our Old Friends have excitingly arrived and sadly departed. Yet the highlight of my week remains Saturday, the day I get to spend the day with my favorite people - the volunteers who staff the office and give the tours on Saturdays - and, of course, the horses. After all, it’s all about them.

As volunteers, we love every Old Friends resident, even those grumpier souls who don’t consider a kiss on the nose to be essential to their daily lives. But I suspect most volunteers will admit to having formed a deep, personal bond with a particular horse. You may not know why, but for whatever reason, a particular horse calls to you, and you cannot help but answer. For me, that horse is Hidden Lake. Who can help but feel deep admiration for this Eclipse champion mare? Anyone who witnessed her 1997 Go For Wand Stakes at Saratoga knows that here is a horse with uncommon determination, bravery and courage. The Hidden Lake of today still carries those same qualities, albeit somewhat tempered with the passage of time. That she knows me, looks to me for joy, runs happily to meet me brings a deep satisfaction that nothing else in life can provide.

My volunteer work with Old Friends follows a lifetime of horse involvement with my own horses in Pennsylvania (Champagne and Dear Liza) and my sponsorships of Step Out Phyllis (Steffi), Wargod and Holly at Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines located in the Philadelphia suburbs. And, bringing the horsey loop full circle, I am fortunate to work for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) based in Lexington.

From Michael: Barbara moonlights from her job at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association virtually every Saturday at Old Friends. Her talents are too numerous to mention but she adores the horses (particularly Hidden Lake), prepares thank you letters for our generous contributors and edits the Old Friends/DRF magazine. She's extremely intelligent, diligent and organized. I don't know how we'd manage without her.

Charlie hanging out with Bob B.
(Charlie is on your right)

Charlie Brown

From Charlie: My wife Charlene and I became acquainted with Old Friends back in October, 2005.   At the time I had just retired after 38 years with a hospital equipment company, living and working out of Washington, D.C.   Our bucket list included visiting the Bluegrass, so in October we took a road trip to Lexington to visit Secretariat’s grave at Claiborne Farm. While in Lexington, we took a horse farm tour that included Old Friends at Hurstland Farm in Midway.  We were taken with Michael’s dream to provide a dignified home for retired racehorses.  In short order, Charlene fell in love with Ogygian, who was then 22 and had recently been brought back from Japan.  By the Spring of 2006, we were looking at houses and moved to Lexington in June, 2006.  Charlene did tours and worked the barn at Old Friends through that winter, and by spring of 2007, I was doing tours there, too. I guess I can call myself an old-timer as I just completed my seventh summer at Old Friends.

Seeing the horses up close and personal with all of their individual habits, like Special Ring showing his tattoo, or Ogygian eating the baby carrots that Charlene sends out with me is one rewarding part of the tours. Another is being able to show folks from around the world the retirees and tell of their races won and how they got to Old Friends. Whether they are expert handicappers, or never heard of Zenyatta, they all seem to enjoy being near these great champions.

I’ll be heading into my eighth year showing off my “old friends.”  Of course the sad part is  knowing we’re going to lose them all someday, but we can enjoy—and appreciate--the time we can spend with them while they are with us.

From Michael: Charlie Brown gets lots of respect from his friends here at the farm. And he's usually picked first when it comes to the tour guide popularity contest. Just ask him. Charlie's been helping with Old Friends for nearly a decade. His witty, informative tours are usually greeted with unanimous approval from our guests. And he's got great hair.


 Mercer VandenBurg

From Mercer:   During my freshman year at college, a group of us drove to St.Louis to see one of our fraternity brothers family race horse, by the name of Dixie War, run at Cahokia Downs.  I had been to the races before because Cahokia Downs was not very restrictive about age when it came to drinking or betting.  But this time having a horse that was “ours”, made it special.  And from that point forward I enjoyed going to the races.  

Years later I frequented Fairmount Park quite a bit because of family connection, and then a group of us started making week-end trips to Lexington for the Keeneland races in October.  These outing continued through the years. They expanded from going to the fall meet to the the spring meet and then they grew from a long week-end to several weeks of vacations.  Most of the time I was interested in the handicapping side of the game, but eventually I started to appreciate the horse as an athlete.  My wife, Ruthann always loved the “horse” angle, and eventually I became appreciative as well. 

In 2006 we decided to move to the Lexington area, and a friend of ours in  Lexington , told us about a new organization that worked with retired thoroughbreds.  Ruthann was enthusiastic, and I got involved with Old Friends as well, since I was at the point of life where I was looking at retirement. 

That proved to be one of my lifes better decisions. After I started volunteering I soon became amazed by their beauty, power and intelligence, and knew that Old Friends was a special place .  Doing tours is great, and I have met some wonderful people, but the greatest thrill is getting to be around the horses. Not only does it feel like a new career, but I also find them to be therapeutic.  That is a win-win.

From Michael: We have plenty of great volunteers who are wonderful tour guides. They all communicate their enthusiasm for the retirees and adroitly mix factual information with spirited anecdotes. But Mercer brings one extra talent to the table. He's an excellent handicapper. And, if you press him, he'll probably give you a hot tip or two. And, he's a great friend.


Team Ivytree - Viv and Bea at Old Friends

Bea Snyder and Vivien Morrison

   Bea Snyder grew up riding a pony named Ginger across the farm fields of Central Ohio. Viv Morrison grew up riding a Rocky Mountain horse named George with her beloved Pappaw on the steep, wooded trails near Slade, Kentucky. Horses were always part of life for Bea....she and her sister would trek down to the local dairy freeze on horseback with their dog Crickett gamely trotting beside them. After a round of ice cream cones for all, they would start for home, the exhausted pup held in their arms. Although riding horses was part of her world, horse racing, not so much. "We watched the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races on television every year" and once took a family trip to see some of the farms in Lexington, but that was about the extent of it."
   Viv is the granddaughter of a retired Mining Safety Foreman and his wife from southeastern Kentucky. "My grandfather grew up very poor, in absolutely Dickensian conditions. His father and step-mother were terribly cruel. He met my grandmother because he was allowed to sleep by the hearth at their house, having been locked out of his home in the wintertime. Despite his upbringing, Pappaw was kind and loyal to his own family and I'm sure based on what he endured, he hated abuse of any kind toward children and animals. He could not bear to see an animal suffer. He was a natural horseman who sat well on a horse with no fear. He passed these lessons on to his granddaughter from an early age...how to approach a horse, how to hold the palm of your hand out flat while feeding, how to show kindness and respect but never fear. My (grandmother) Nanny was not keen on riding, but animals adored her and she loved to walk the shed-row at the riding stable, stopping at each stall with a sugar cube and petting every nose. Great horses were also the stuff of bedtime stories. "The great Man O War was a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. His exploits had reached over the radio waves deep into the mountains of Floyd County and he remained an equine folk hero to my grandparents throughout their lives. There were many childhood visits to that magnificent bronze statue who was forever referred to as Big Red." Like Bea, however, Viv's exposure to contemporary racing was limited to watching the Triple Crown contests on TV every spring. Racing was a spectator sport, betting was considered frivolous. "Genuine Risk was the first Derby pick I ever made and I remember my Pappaw rooting for the filly in the stretch because I so wanted her to win."
   Their first visit to Old Friends was when it was located at Hurstland Farm. The first horse they happened upon was a bold chestnut stallion whose forelock handsomely covered his eyes. He craned his neck over the fence to nip at Viv who was charmed rather than intimidated. Upon seeing this, the big red stallion gave her a confused, almost wounded look, as if to say, why aren't you afraid of me? She had just fished a mint from her purse as they heard a voice calling out in greeting from a tall man in a green shirt and matching ball cap with a patient, knowing grin on his face..." Hi there, watch him, he bites." This was Bea and Viv's first meeting with Michael Blowen and Creator. We were introduced to Swan's Way, Sunshine, Viggie, Fortchie, Taylor and finally a compact, black stallion with wary eyes.  Michael started to scratch the horse's back and cautiously allowed us to feed him. We did so and then Bea ventured a pat on his nose. "He must really like you if he lets you do that," Michael observed. This was the beginning of Bea's grand love affair with Ruhlmann. The outlaw and the school teacher understood each other from day one. In time, he would nicker softly to her when she would approach and drop his great head in apology if she scolded him for nipping at her. After our visit, we left feeling terribly inspired.  When Old Friends moved to it’s home at Dream Chase Farm, horses were being fed on foot by a bucket brigade. A golf cart was needed. We found Billy Bingham at SS Carts and a week later, we were there when the cart arrived. We were christened the "golf cart ladies" and created a name for our partnership, Team Ivytree, named after Bea's favorite book. Since those early days, there have been many wonderful days sharing the mission of providing a dignified and safe retirement for Thoroughbred athletes. We've endured, along with the Old Friends family, the loss of Bea's beloved Rhulie and our own retiree, Appygolucky.
   Appy's premature death was not in vain, however, as Viv worked with Michael to create "Appy Days" at local tracks in order to raise awareness and the funds to retire another hard knocking gelding in Appy's honor. These efforts eventually secured the retirement of Mikethespike who resides at the farm today.
   Bea retired from teaching and relocated to Kentucky. She volunteers in the office 6 days a week and also works special events, hand-grazes Charmie, acts as his assistant during his modeling photo shoots for Ebay and gives the occasional tour. While Ruhlmann will never be replaced in her heart, she has grown very fond of the equally dark and handsome, You and I. Viv intended to return to the Bluegrass permanently as well but her husband was felled by a stroke four years ago. Circumstances finally aligned for their relocation this spring.  Viv continues to maintain the OF Facebook page, help with fundraising, work special events and spend time with her beloved Creator and equine son Mikey whenever possible. They are, simply put, grateful to Old Friends for changing their lives for good.
   From Michael: “I don't know where Old Friends would be without Bea and Viv. Bea is a tireless volunteer who works very hard in the office. If we had to pay her, we couldn't afford her. She takes care of our visitors and cuts tons of carrots. Viv, her best friend, does a great job communicating with our Facebook friends, lining up items to auction on e-bay and acquiring golf carts. Like Bea, she's irreplaceable.”


 Kelly on fellow O.F. volunteer Vivian Rowe’s OTTB--Stella. We are standing in a creek that feeds into the KY River. She is not 13hh--she is standing in 2 feet of water! 

Kelly Eggleton

Kelly Eggleton

From Kelly:

To borrow a title from a popular song—“I was born this way”—in love with the horse.  I was raised in small town West Virginia with an early exposure to horses and the unexplained magical attraction was instant and lifelong.  In my earliest memories—maybe age 3 or 4—I can remember being held up to pet a horse and instinctively reaching and begging to be put on top of it.  I have memories from that time of being gifted with the privilege of riding atop a plow horse and holding on to the harness collar as he pulled the garden plow.  I can also remember having to literally be ripped away from his harness when the garden chores were finished.  From that time onward—I was indulged with endless equestrian opportunities by my adopted Grandfather. He taught me proper care and horsemanship, how to ride, and life’s most important lesson—to get back in the saddle after you have fallen off.  Most importantly he taught me to respect and protect the horse.  I honed my horsemanship skills throughout my childhood and adolescence. From teaching my beloved pony tricks to showing my tough willed Arab mare in local county fairs and fun shows.  I was ready to show every time the gait opened!  After a lot of hard work and the occasional stroke of luck—I became a professional trainer in the years to come.  I have worked many positions in the equine industry including show groom, assistant trainer, broodmare manager, farm manager, and show barn manager. As an exhibitor I worked my way up from those county fairs in the sticks up to class A shows and World’s Championships in Morgans, Arabians, and American Saddlebreds.  As I mentioned before—the most important knowledge that my Grandfather imparted upon me was to respect and protect the horse.  His favorite thing to do was to buy horses in poor flesh and bring them back to health.  That was a hobby that was richly rewarding to him and me.  This was something he did his entire life—long before the ideology of equine rescue and retirement.  This was a trait that apparently was contagious rather than genetic.  Although I would prefer to have my own large farm full of horses that need my love and attention—Old Friends serves as a wonderful supplement to fulfill that need.  I first visited Old Friends and met Michael, Diane, Sylvia, and the gang when they moved into Dream Chase Farm in Georgetown.  From the moment that I toured the farm it was love at first sight. It was everything that I had dreamed about.  The Old Friends family welcomed me on board and gave me the opportunity to use my artistic talents in the form of beaded jewelry and other items to raise money for these noble hay burning athletes.  Every time one of my projects raises some funds—it fills me with pride to know that it might have helped Bull Inthe Heather get new shoes.  Maybe it helped Black Tie Affair get a therapeutic treatment in his last months. Perhaps it helped buy a few fence posts for a new paddock.  I know that my spoke is small in the big wheel that is Old Friends—but it fills my heart with warmth just the same.  I am grateful that these magnificent horses and people came into my life.  I have heard many people say that our retirees are the luckiest horses in the world. While that is true—I would argue that we are so much luckier to have them in our lives.



Mary and Marquetry and friends

Mary Simons


Mary Simons (aka Moneigh® Mary)

From Mary:

Growing up in Wisconsin, the closest I got to a horse was the Kentucky Derby on television. Little did I know that in my life, I would be licked by, bitten by and slobbered on, by those same Derby winners and some of the most famous race horses in this country. It started when I became a volunteer for ReRun, a Thoroughbred adoption charity in Lexington, KY, and my project was helping with the Moneigh® paintings. Moneighs® were paintings created by famous horses and auctioned to raise funds for the organization. My job was to hold paper plates with paint and try and get the horse to dip into the paint and smoosh around on some paper. I knew nothing about stallions so I had no fear of getting up into their face with the paint. (Thank Heaven for grooms and barn managers holding the lead shank). My first assignment was Gone West, and I had no idea who he was. After researching, I was astonished to learn he had a $150,000 stud fee. I then started to research past performances and pedigrees of the horses who painted and learned of their amazing earnings and I got hooked.  I went on to work with Derby winners, Breeder’s Cup winners, and famous stallions. After hearing about their demeanor, Dynaformer, John Henry and Storm Cat had me concerned for my safety when I got in their stalls, but actually they were very professional. After doing approximately 1000 paintings, I think I’m now considered experienced.  I met Michael Blowen at his first fundraiser at Afton Farm when we provided a Moneigh® for his auction. How can you resist Michael’s enthusiasm for his horses, so I started doing Moneighs® with the Old Friends residents to auction at their events.  It is bittersweet when one of the artists passes away, but at least we have something to remember them by, in addition to their past performances.  I continue to create Moneighs®, and also work at the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and help Old Friends whenever I’m needed.  I’ve tried to give up my volunteering so I can spend time with my family, but I’m hooked on horses.  I understand why jockeys continue to ride after trying to retire. You can’t get horses out of your blood. Don’t ask me who my favorites were to paint with-it would take hours. (But one of them is pictured here).

Michael says of Mary, "The greatest patron of equine arts, Mary Simon leads all the horses in their creation of Moneighs®. Mary knows the proper colors and methods to achieve the most gratifying results. And she always gives full credit to the artists. We love it when she comes loaded down with her paper and paints."


Rachel in Paris!

Rachel Binegar

Rachel Binegar

Rachel has been a volunteer at Old Friends since 2006.  Her interest in horses began in high school in England where she took riding lessons; she continued to ride in college and after. In 2000 she and her daughter took a horseback riding vacation in Vermont where she rode Icelandics. She is rather new to the thoroughbred racing industry, but not to volunteering.  For years, she volunteered at Last Chance Corral in Athens, Ohio, a facility for abused and neglected horses. She finds volunteering at OF is not quite as physical as at Last Chance where she mucked stalls and groomed horses.

Rachel loves all of the horses but feels particularly close to Creator --they both have lived in France and England AND he is beautiful and ornery.  Arson Squad is another favorite; he is calm and responsive, and Rachel and he have similar leg x-rays. She misses The Wicked North.

She and her husband Steven moved to Versailles from Ohio to be near family. She is a retired teacher, arts administrator, and guardian Ad-litum.

Michael says about Rachel: "For years, I could never find anything when I needed it. Not anymore. That was pre-Rachel. Now, it's post-Rachel. And no one's more grateful than I am. She has the odious task of organizing all of our items into various categories..permanent collection, auction items, E-Bay, etc. And she does a great job."

We are sad to report that our very dear friend Rachel passed away in June of 2014.  We miss her very much.   


Martin with Risen Warrior

Martin Klotz


Martin Klotz

From Martin:  It has been said many times, in many ways and it was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite sayings and truly, “there is nothing as good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse!” Being taken to Churchill Downs at a very young age and seeing my first Kentucky Derby in 1945, I spent much of my adolescent years dreaming of being a jockey; however, by the time I reached my teen years I realized my body was not designed for this profession and consoled myself when I discovered girls seemed to liked football players as well as, if not better than, jockeys!  So having to find another profession, I settled upon teaching and coaching, which I did for ten years at high schools in Kentucky, Indiana and California.  A change of professions began for me during my last three years of teaching and coaching and upon graduating from law school, I spent the next 32 years as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and as Special Counsel (Criminal Tax) with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  After retiring in 2004, I returned to my old Kentucky home (Louisville) in 2005 and began my career as a volunteer tour guide in the spring of 2006. As Melissa Solvey Nelson wrote in her book, If I Had A Horse: How Different Life Would Be, “horses afford us the luxury of enchantment” and I have been fortunate to experience this every time I lead a tour at Old Friends.  Being the oldest tour guide and hanging out with these old equines continues to be a magical and enchanting experience for me as I am privileged to tell each of their stories to those who come to meet them and/or revisit them.    

Michael says of Martin: :Martin Klotz, our man Friday, is one of our most knowledgeable tour guides who mixes great anecdotal stories of the horses with meaningful statistics. He also sets a solid pace with some vistors claiming to have lost a pound or two on Martin's invigorating walks. He drives all the way from Louisville at his own expense every Friday during our busy tourist season."


Beth with Ogygian


Beth Shannon


Beth Shannon

One of Beth’s earliest memories is being held up to watch a race at Keeneland before she was tall enough to see over the rail. A Lexington native, she was able to visit horses she’d cheered on the track during their breeding careers and to experience their dignity and intelligence. She moved to Chicago, then California, worked on excavations in Egypt, then earned a Ph.D. in literature at UK. “That’s grim work. Horse racing was my relief.” In early 2004 she visited Old Friends. “I remember it as the Great Horseless Tour. Michael showed my family three empty paddocks at Afton Farm and told us his plans. Then he fooled us. We were talking about stallions overseas, and Michael says, “Want to meet Silver Charm?” We stare. “Really? Sure!” We follow him to…a house. Huh? Out he comes with a pint-sized cutie and tries to convince us the ’97 Derby winner has shrunk with age. By our next visit he’d realized his dreams: Narrow Escape, Sunshine Forever, Creator, Ruhlmann.” Beth has volunteered since July 2006. She gives Saturday tours, researches, writes bios in the tradition begun by Cindy, helps Sylvia with the horse pages for the new web site, and lends a hand as needed. She also donates royalties from her mystery novel, The Sun and Stars (available at the OF gift shop or Amazon.com). Giving tours never gets old. “Each one’s different. Reuniting racing fans with champions they love is a thrill, but I feel it’s just as important to enable people to connect with the horses for the first time. To see people realize their accomplishments and greatness of heart, to make them aware of horses in need and what can be done for them. The only perk more rewarding than that is the wonderful experience of being treated as a friend by the horses themselves.”

Michael said, "Beth is one of our most dedicated volunteers. She makes no secret of the fact that Ogygian is her favorite. On the coldest nights she can be seen delivering warm water to this great son of Damascus. She's an accomplished novelist whose reviews are nearly as good as her tours."

Tom with Swan's Way

Tom Beatty


Tom Beatty

 A native Kentuckian, Tom Beatty has been a horse racing fan since birth; his mother told him the first two words he ever said were "Daily Double." Following graduation from UK (he never took afternoon classes so he could go to Keeneland) and a 21-year Air Force career, Tom spent 12 years as the programming director for a PBS station in Indiana. He retired in 2005 and returned to Kentucky, settling in Georgetown. On Christmas Day that same year, Tom happened to be in Louisville and read an article about Old Friends that appeared in the Courier-Journal. The following week, he went to Hurstland Farm in Midway and took a tour of the farm. He fell in love with the Old Friends mission, and of course the horses (and one in particular). Tom recalls asking if they needed volunteers; that was all it took. He still tells visitors today that, "they tied me to the fence post!" Tour guides find it difficult to have a favorite horse, given the number of interesting equine personalities they encounter each day, but Tom is quick to point out that Swan's Way is number one on his list. "He's an old blue collar survivor," he says. "Swannie worked way too long, way too hard, and for very little money. You have to admire that!" When he's not giving tours, Tom takes care of his own thoroughbred, Ask Ellen. "She's pretty much a pasture pet, and she definitely enjoys being spoiled," he says. In addition to his tours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, Tom is also the summer caretaker of the Old Friends cemetery.  

"Tom is our best looking tour guide," said Michael Blowen "It says so on  the back of his Old Friends cap so it must be true. Tom and his wife, Susan, are loved by the horses and vice-versa I don't know what we'd do without them. "

Cindy Grisolia  

Cindy Grisolia

As a New York-bred now living in the bluegrass, long-time volunteer Cindy Grisolia hears this question a lot: However did you get from Manhattan to Kentucky? Fact is, Old Friends played a big part in her relocation.  After spending a summer living in Midway and helping out at the farm, she just fell in love with everything the Commonwealth had to offer. “I had read about Old Friends in the DRF and emailed Michael to ask if I could come help for awhile,” she says. “I thought I would never hear from anyone.  He called me that day and said, ‘Come on down.’ I did and had a blast.” That summer Cindy conducted tours (“They were short then,” she laughs. “It was 2005 and we only had four stallions.”), drummed up press, wrote horse bios, worked with Sylvia to revamp the website, and helped acquire Popcorn Deelites.  “He was still racing in New Mexico, which, at the time, had an outbreak of equine Vesicular Stomatitis. We couldn’t ship him into Kentucky until he’d been quarantined and tested. It took two months.” Once an editor at Entertainment Weekly, Cindy now works as a freelance editor-journalist-PR writer and helps with Old Friends publicity, event planning, and promotion. In between she tools around on her own horse: Damien, an Appendix gelding. "I don't know where we'd be without Cindy," said Michael Blowen. "She mixes her passion for the horses with an extraordinary intelligence." 



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