Old Friends is home to the first two companion animals ever featured in our Barn Buddies series – Yahoo and Google, the goats who keep Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer company. In October, the retirement home added another four-legged species to its ranks: a donkey by the name of Gorgeous George.
Old Friends Founder Michael Blowen got a call from longtime volunteer James Crump, whose father died suddenly and left behind 8-year-old George. Crump had nowhere to keep the donkey and wondered if Blowen knew of anyone who could help. Technically, Old Friends is only a haven for Thoroughbreds and one miniature horse, who predated the facility.
“Gorgeous George meant a lot to James, so I told him we'd make another exception,” said Blowen. “Hell, if we could make an exception for two goats, we could make an exception for the donkey.”
George's history is largely a mystery. Crump knows he was rescued from a bad situation out West before George found his way to Kentucky. Crump's father kept antique farm machinery and often took it to shows and put it into action with his animals, but George wasn't required to work for his keep.
“There for a while he would come in the house with Dad and he would ride around in the truck and do things together,” said Crump. “Then he got a little bigger and they stopped doing that. He was one of Dad's best friends. “
Even Blowen didn't guess how close George would become with one of Old Friends' most famous residents.
“The first time George got here after Dad's accident, he bellowed out a little bit and got War Emblem's attention,” said Crump. “He ran to the corner, trotting with his tail up going 'What in the world is this particular creature?' And Alphabet Soup ran down to his corner of the field at the same time. That's when him and George first communicated across the fence.”
After completing quarantine, George was turned out with multiple graded stakes winner Smooth Air and was eventually introduced to Alphabet Soup. Now, George and 'Soup' spend all their outdoor time together. A few weeks after they met, George suddenly refused to drink from the small water bucket placed outside for him. Crump wondered if he wanted to share a drink with his buddy and built the donkey a small ramp so he could use Soup's trough. Now, they hydrate together.
George doesn't get along with every equine resident at Old Friends so well, however.
“Tim [Wilson, farm manager] and James started working with the donkey, walking him around the farm,” said Blowen. “And the only horse on the whole farm the donkey's afraid of is Little Silver Charm. He goes nuts when he sees the little horse.”
In fairness, Blowen agrees George has probably never seen any strutting miniature horses with rockstar forelocks and voluminous manes before now.
Donkeys are often kept by cattle farmers to discourage coyote attacks on the stock. They are known to bray when they hear coyotes and will chase them off if necessary. Crump isn't sure whether George's presence is keeping coyotes at bay but he does know they pass through the area from time to time – and when they do, George makes sure everyone knows about them.
In return for his friendship, Soup is teaching George all sorts of tricks of his own.
“He's very friendly,” said Crump. “As you go to catch him to do his hooves or put his blanket on or groom him, he'll run around a little bit before he gives into you. It's no more than what Alphabet Soup does when it's time for him to come in the afternoon. Alphabet Soup doesn't want to leave him, and it sometimes takes two to four of us to catch him.”
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