Retired jockey Joe Steiner led a new “Horseman’s Tour” at Old Friends one recent morning, telling insider stories and showcasing parts of the property not often seen on tours. Michael Blowen joined part of the tour, socializing with Silver Charm and attempting to get War Emblem to race him along the fence line.

It always feels like a privilege to see and have interactions with Silver Charm, who continues to perfectly embody all one could hope to see in a racing ambassador. His kind eye draws people in, and his nature appears nothing short of gentlemanly, as much as that seems to be a human characteristic.

War Emblem thrives at Old Friends, as well. He definitely has settled into a routine and his demeanor, while he will never be one that can have direct access to visitors, has mellowed somewhat. Steiner said he essentially decided when he was done racing when he went to the track one morning, theoretically to train, and refused to move one step that would have him joining the others that morning also getting in works. It was to eventually become the same story when he transitioned to a breeding career, famously refusing to breed mares at all, prompting his retirement from the breeding shed and opening the door to his repatriation to the United States. He seemed to want to do things his own way whenever possible, and may very well have found it reassuring that life at Old Friends doesn’t come with expectations to race or breed. He has dappled out nicely over the summer and is quite photogenic.

Afternoon Deelites stuck his head through a stall door nearby, beseeching the three visitors on the Horseman’s Tour for carrots.


Afternoon Deelites

Alphabet Soup was also in a stall, with his relatively new constant companion, the donkey Gorgeous George. Blowen talked about the experimental treatments that were done for his melanomas, which responded by shrinking drastically.


Gorgeous George

The tour then passed by several fields of horses off of the typical tour paths, including one that housed a horse who had sold for millions when younger.

Driving along a narrow path lined by trees that once had been a train bed, our group arrived at the home leased from Old Friends by Steiner and his wife, resident artist Dagmar and their young son. She recently completed a book of paintings honoring Old Friends residents, and had a lovely painting she created of Zenyatta hanging in the entranceway of their home. She paints in pastels, and studies the direction horses’ hair grows in to add another dimension of authenticity to her paintings. It was evident in the Zenyatta painting how meticulously she works, especially when examining the noseband on Zenyatta’s bridle, where each fiber appeared to have been painted individually and looked as realistic as a photograph.

Moving to the living room, her large painting of Silver Charm held court over the couch. It was nothing short of a masterpiece, capturing every nuance of Silver Charm, from the brown spots that dot his grey coat to the depths of his eyes and a nobility that transcended the single dimension and drew you in, much as his actual presence does. It was a painting that was difficult not to study for hours and to turn my back on (and it will be included in the forthcoming book), but to listen to Dagmar talk about a new style of painting she is trying, which primarily consists of geometric shapes and little detail, I did.

She also paints them upside down, and mentioned that it is an exercise in getting outside of her usual style, which is one of intense attention to detail. She also said that Picasso could paint in a straightforward style, where his subjects were easily recognizable, but that it can be beneficial to pick up a paintbrush and try a style outside of what might normally be used.

After the interesting visit with Dagmar, it was back through the property and along the train bed, with a stop at one of the fields that is not on the usual tours to feed carrots to the horses there.

Future plans were also discussed, like developing some recently acquired land and possibly opening up parts of the farm to guests in cabins. Blowen’s vision continues to grow, and while Steiner noted he can’t save all the horses, he’s to be commended for trying and for the impact he has made on their lives and how their stories touch the many people who visit each year and get to go home and say they’ve gotten acquainted with Game On Dude or fed a carrot to a Derby winner.

Stories of Catlaunch also abounded on the tour, with many of the Old Friends staff and volunteers stopping by to reminisce about the top Ohio-bred, since his owners were present on this Horseman’s Tour. The way a horse can touch a life, even with just a few moments of interaction, is a lot of what Old Friends is all about. Catlaunch touched many people during his time at Old Friends, with his incredibly sweet demeanor. His owner, touchingly, spoke of how he put his business name under owner instead of his own, because the glory belonged to Catlaunch.

This was an especially fitting tour for a story like that to be unfurled.