“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” is the title of a terrific book and movie. It is also reality for some unfortunate thoroughbreds, those top-of-the-line athletes we are used to seeing in Kentucky. The best-known example of the needless killing of a racehorse is the case of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, who died in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002.
That’s where Old Friends, a thoroughbred retirement and rescue center in Midway, Ky., comes in. “We knew such a death must never happen again,” says founder Michael Blowen. “And so the plan became to bring at-risk racehorses — those whose racing and breeding careers had come to an end — to Old Friends, provide them with the dignified retirement they deserve, and open the space to the public.”
Ex-racehorses, such as Sunshine Forever, the 1988 Eclipse-winning Turf Champion, and the 1984 Bluegrass Stakes winner Taylor’s Special, are bought or donated to Old Friends. Blowen hopes to add a Kentucky Derby winner in the near future, such as Alysheba, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, or two horses now in Turkey, Sea Hero and Strike the Gold. Other expansion plans include new horse stalls (with one empty stall in Ferdinand’s memory), and a media center, bookstore and gift shop.
All of this takes money, with the public’s raised awareness that there is a need for it. The Chapman Friedman Gallery show, “A New Vision for Old Friends,” a collection of contemporary equine artistry to benefit Old Friends at Hurstland Farm, hopes to accomplish both. With what promises to become an annual Kentucky Derby event, the art exhibition and sale of paintings, sculpture, drawings and photography by artists from around the country opens with a reception this evening from 5-9 p.m. A number of the artists will be present, as well as members of the horse racing world, such as jockey Jean Cruguet, who rode Seattle Slew to the Triple Crown in 1977.
Curated by Elizabeth Bartolo of Equus Fine Art in Pittstown, N.J., the show features works by 29 artists from across America. Louisvillian Dan Rhema has three acrylic on Masonite paintings in the show, all done in his self-taught, spiritual/visionary style. Rhema is a co-supporter, along with artists/gallery owners Julius Friedman and Cheryl Chapman, of this exhibit and Old Friends, and is the author of the children’s book “Bluegrass Breeze.” The exhibit also has good local and national sponsors, as well: Fed Ex, Woodford Reserve, Harris Printers, BBC and River Bend Winery.
The horses are portrayed in all manners of representational and abstraction, from simplistic to impressionistic to graphic. Nationally known equine painter Cyndra Bradford’s “Running with the Herd” has a resemblance to prehistoric cave art; Henry Patton’s oil painting “Blue Horse Leads the Herd” has a Pop Art feel to it, while the very striking pastel drawing “Apollo” by Brenda Wolf has the stylized look of Art Deco.
Slightly romanticized views of horses, running free in their natural Southwest environment, is the domain of photographer Tony Stromberg. Midway’s own Peggy Maness represents more standard equine photography, occasionally featuring the horses at Old Friends, including Sunshine Forever, Creator and Ruhlmann. Ruhlmann is also the subject of Frank Braden’s life-size aluminum foil sculpture of jockey Gary Stevens riding him in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Old Friends Homecoming, an additional fundraising event in Midway, is set for Sunday, May 7, from 5-9 p.m. Additional work donated by the artists from the Louisville show will be for sale along with horse-racing memorabilia. The cost is $35 for adults and $15 for children, which includes a buffet and live music. Old Friends is located on Hurstland Farm at 484 Spring Station Road in Midway. Visit www.oldfriendsequine.org or call (859) 846-9094 for more information.
BY JO ANNE TRIPLETT