The Kentucky Derby Museum’s longest-tenured employee is retiring. His plans include frolicking in a field, eating a bunch of Timothy grass and possibly striking up a new BFF-ship with current retirement home resident Little Silver Charm.
The most recognizable face at the Derby Museum certainly belongs to Winston, the museum’s miniature horse and companion animal. On Monday, Winston will pack up his saddle bags and move to Old Friends’ Thoroughbred Retirement Farm, where the senior horse will spend the rest of his golden years.
Fret not, Winston fans — according to one of his handlers of four years, Diane Richardson, he’s in really good shape for a miniature horse who is turning 25 in May. His retirement has nothing to do with his health or his age.
As part of the museum’s $6.5 million renovation and expansion, the structure that houses Winston and his companion animal, thoroughbred Populist Culture, is being razed, said communications director Lindsay English.
“That’s why he’s going now,” she said.
Insider just happened to be paying respects to Winston when he had a surprise visitor, Norma Aubrey, the woman who donated the horse to the Derby Museum more than 22 years ago. Aubrey, of Posh Petites, Paints & Appaloosa Miniature Horses in Shelbyville, relinquished Winston to the museum when her husband became ill and she needed to be his caretaker.
Aubrey’s eyes filled with tears when she saw Winston, who was hanging out in Richardson’s office to get out of the rain.
“I birthed him,” she explained. She named him Lamborghini to go along with the farm’s theme of naming their horses after cars.
When he took up residency at the Derby Museum, WHAS held a re-naming contest for the horse, and the name Winston (as in Winston Churchill) was selected by a person also with the last name Aubrey, but no relation.
“I didn’t want people to think it was fixed,” joked the horse’s former owner.
He’s been the companion horse to more than 30 resident thoroughbreds, including three horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby — Perfect Drift, Phantom on Tour and Twinspired, as well as Kentucky Derby 135 winner Mine that Bird.
Horses are herd animals, Richardson explained. They’re also, by nature, prey animals, albeit to very large predators. That’s why horses need buddies.
Richardson said most of the horses that Winston has been companion to either played nicely with him or ignored him. Populist Culture likes to chase the old mini around, and Winston is still up for it.
“Everyone at Old Friends is very excited to have a horse of Winston’s tremendous stature retired at the farm,” said Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen in a news release. “Everyone, especially Alison Knight at the Kentucky Derby Museum, has taken great care of this wonderful celebrity, and we’ll keep up the standards. His fans will know he’s just down the road.”
While Richardson has taken care of Winston for four years, Knight has cared for him for 22 years.
The way to Winston’s heart is through his tummy.
“I haven’t seen him refuse anything,” Richardson said. Old Friends needs to be forewarned that although he’s allowed the occasional treat, sweet stuff turns the docile equine into a bit of a wild animal. Richardson restricts peppermints and such to an end-of-the-day snack.
Even though Winston has a wild side, he’s been a gentle ambassador for the museum. Winston has been on school trips, worked with special needs students, thrown out the first pitch at a Louisville Bats game, helped Churchill Downs pick the Derby winner ahead of the race, and performed more than 10 marriage proposals with his “Will You Marry Me?” blanket.
“He’s the only horse who’s ever been on Millionaire’s Row,” English said.
“He’s never bit, never kicked,” added Richardson.
“Winston is a fundraising machine,” English joked.
No word on whether or not the museum will acquire a new miniature horse down the road to fill Winston’s horseshoes (and those are some tiny shoes to fill — he’s only 34 inches tall). They definitely will be adding another companion animal, though, and while other animals — like sheep, goats, etc. — will do, the museum will be getting a horse of some sort.
Winston’s final day at the museum will be Monday, March 5. He will enjoy a special sendoff to Old Friends following the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony. So hurry up if you want a chance to say goodbye to Louisville’s version of Li’l Sebastian.
“Bye bye, Li’l Winston.”