Mention Kentucky horses, and thoroughbreds thundering down the stretch at Churchill Downs is what most people think of.
But there are also Kentucky horses at the opposite end of the spectrum. Discarded by society, they find a forever home at Rainhill Equine Facility on Kentucky 185 in Warren County.
Since 2004, Karen Thurman has been a one-woman show; feeding, caring for,and loving the 54 disabled horses on her nonprofit farm.
"My house is in the middle of 185 acres and a lot of these horses walk around loose," says Karen. "And it's amazing. I'll wake up in the morning and they'll be lying in my yard with the dogs. They have friends, they get around, when it's dinner time they're in the barn."
Although 33 of these horses are blind, they get around the farm just fine, even waiting on their own for Karen to close the gate.
"Even though they're blind, they see you through you," says volunteer Adrian DeRoy from Morgantown. "They can see who you are."
Adrian Deroy is the rescue farm's web site designer and photographer. She's been helping care for the horses since 2008, when she was diagnosed with Crone's Disease and later, with fibromialgia.
"And it was a real dark time in my life," says DeRoy, "and I couldn't find any reason or meaning. I needed something to get me through, and I came out to Rainhill and it was magical, like it's so therapeutic for me and I can't even begin to explain how much it's helped."
But caring for 54 horses doesn't come cheap. Karen works seven days a week; Monday through Friday for WKU's parking services department, and weekends waiting tables at Cracker Barrel.
"But I get up at 3:30 in the morning and I'm here at 5," says Karen. "It's upsetting to me almost. I clock into my job at 7, and I come home and I don't get home till 6 o'clock. And just keeping these horses fed, and all this goin', it's more than I wouldn't wish on anybody."
"She'll come here and tie things together with baling wire and baling string," says volunteer Chris Thorn. "She doesn't waste anything, and she's 100% in love with the horses. And when it's below freezing, everything freezes, the water freezes and everything, and she has to come out here several times a day and hand water and hand feed these horses."
Thorn is the CEO of Graves-Gilbert Clinic. He's a horse owner himself, who's been volunteering at Rainhill the past three years.
"There's a group in town here called the Barn Buddies," says Thorn, "and we kind of help out whenever we can. We have work groups. We built the barn extension here. We tell people we're like the Amish without the talent."
Speaking of talent, Van Gogh is an earless horse that paints! In fact, his paintings are featured at Rainhill's annual fundraiser, Barbara Stewart's Horses, Hats, & the Derby party.
But Van Gogh isn't the only celebrity at Rainhill. "Secret Pattern" is the great, great granddaughter of Secretariat. Patty, as they call her, was a filly when she broke her leg in a race in New Jersey. Her Lexington owners did not want her destroyed, so Karen took her in six years ago.
Rainhill is filled with these kinds of stories, where the volunteers get as much from the horses, as the horses get from the volunteers.
"I mean they talk about the horses having a sixth sense," says DeRoy, "and I feel like when I pull up to the barn and start workin' with 'em, you can really feel it."
"It's all about the horses for Karen," adds Thorn "And it's a forever home."
It takes much more money than Karen makes in two jobs to care for those 54 disabled horses. You can help by adopting a horse by the month or by the year. You can donate your money or your time, and they're always in dire need of hay.
This year's Hats, Horses & The Derby fundraiser is scheduled for April 12 5-7 p.m. and April 13 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Barbara Stewart Interiors, downtown Bowling Green. They will feature Van Gogh's paintings, Derby hats, Equestrian accessory merchandise perfect for a Derby party or Churchill Downs!
100% of the proceeds from Van Gogh's paintings and a portion of the sales during these two days will benefit Rainhill Equestrian Rescue.
Just click on Rainhill's web site at the bottom of this story to get more information on how you can help.
In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, "There's nothing better for the inside of a man, than the outside of a horse!"