Michael Blowen might place a bet in this year's Kentucky Derby, although he thinks the sport of horse racing has its imperfections. Once a movie reviewer for the Boston Globe, the 64-year-old has been devoting his life to saving retired racing champions since 2002.
See also: Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary.
Blowen's Old Friends sanctuary in Georgetown, Ky. — along with another affiliated farm near Saratoga Springs, N.Y. — is home to 100 horses that have won a combined $75 million during their racing lives. He was originally inspired to start Old Friends when he learned that a famous Derby winner, Ferdinand, died in a slaughterhouse in 2002.
"I discovered that when horses couldn't race anymore, that was often their fate," he says. "They should be collecting Social Security or a 401(k), but they don't."
Blowen raises money through contributions, daily tours and selling horse art, or "Moneighs," created by the animals themselves by dipping their muzzles, whiskers or tails in paint. Celebrity donors, including Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston, have contributed their own artworks to benefit Old Friends.
Until a local television station revealed his obsession with race horses, Blowen lived a double life of sorts in Cambridge, Mass. Early every morning before reporting to his job at the Globe, he worked as a racehorse trainer.
"I fell in love with the animals," he says, and soon he surrendered his heart — and life — to them.
"When I retired, I came down to Lexington, Ky., to do a story about the horses that were being cared for by prisoners from the Blackburn Correctional Complex. Then, in 2001, I got an offer to be operations director for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. I thought it would be terrific."
Michael's wife, Diane White, also a Globe columnist, wasn't exactly happy about leaving New England. He recalls her jokingly telling him, "You have to promise me that when I leave you, you won't come looking for me." But they're still very much together today.
After a year and a half, Blowen left the foundation and started Old Friends. While not many other sanctuaries are eager to take in stallions — they tend to be feisty and difficult — Blowen is proud to have them.