Mere minutes before a fast-moving structure fire fully engulfed a barn at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky this weekend, two horses— a Breeders Cup Classic winner and a 27-year-old rescue horse—were led to safety by workers who rushed in as the 7-stall building went up in flames.
Michael Blowen, founder of the world-renowned retirement farm for Thoroughbreds, says the quick-thinking of staffer James Krump and his wife Tammy saved Alphabet Soup, a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and Archie’s Echo, an elder chestnut rescued from the slaughter pipeline. (Please see earlier story about Archie’s Echo).
Both horses were led calmly to safety as the roof above them went up in flames in mere seconds, says Blowen, who notes that both horses were calm and entirely unharmed in the incident.
“They didn’t have a scratch on them,” Blowen says. “In fact, we put Alphabet Soup in a round pen near the barn, and he went right in and calmly munched his hay. The only one horse who was freaked out by the fire was (Old Friends mascot) Little Silver Charm. And I think he was more upset by the emergency vehicles and sirens than anything.”
Fire crews arrived on the scene early Saturday morning, shortly after Blowen was alerted to the blaze by screaming. “Tammy came running to my house screaming, ‘The barn’s on fire! The barn’s on fire!’ By the time I got down there a couple minutes later, she and her husband had gotten Archie’s Echo and Alphabet Soup out of the barn. And within about 10 minutes, the entire thing was completely engulfed.”
Blowen adds that he was incredibly grateful for the heroic effort of the husband/wife team. “James was devastated, and crying all day. He kept thinking that maybe he did something, that maybe he forgot to shut something off. I had to keep telling him that everything was turned off; it wasn’t his fault.”
Although a cause of the fire has yet to be announced, Blowen says fire crews suspect that wiring that had been “nibbled on” by rodents may have touched off the blaze.
As Blowen awaits word on an official cause, he is moving full steam ahead to raise funds to build a state-of-the-art barn to replace the modest, 7-stall structure, which had served as a medical barn, he says.
Several racing syndicates have stepped up to offer funds, as well as individual horse owners and breeders. And area farms have made stalls available to any Old Friends horses requiring shelter, says Blowen, noting, “We’ve gotten calls from all over … from people in the racing world pulling together wanting to help the animals.” (Those interested in donating to the effort to rebuild may do so here: http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/how-to-help.html).
The ruined structure had been retrofitted to accommodate the needs of sick horses, though the two horses rescued were not sick at all. Alphabet Soup simply prefers to come in at night, as does Archie’s Echo, who is older and suffered greatly before he was rescued in June.
Archie was discovered by Parx Racing Vice President Sam Elliot at the New Holland kill pen in June. He and Danielle Montgomery of Turning for Home, paid to remove him, and had him shipped to a rehab farm. After which Blowen, who remembered the old horse from his long-ago racing days at the now defunct Rockingham Race Track in N.H., offered him a home.
Now that Archie and Alphabet are safe, and the flames have been tamped down, Blowen is philosophical. “It’ll end up being a good thing for us to build a new barn. And nothing would have been more devastating to us than if those horses had been injured.”