- Kentucky Horse Park
The Kentucky Horse Park opened in 1978. It is a 1,224–acre park devoted to “man’s relationship with horse” that doubles as an educational theme park and a working horse farm. This review focuses on three of the Horse Park’s main attractions: the Hall of Champions, the International Museum of the Horse, and Rolex Stadium.
The Hall of Champions is close by the Horse Park’s entrance and allows attendees to visit with a celebrated group of retired champion horses that includes Cigar, Da Hoss, Funny Cide, and Go for Gin. The champion horses are paraded and profiled daily during the spring, summer, and fall seasons (10:15 am, 1:15 pm, and 3:15 pm).
While sporting museums employ all manner of bold visuals and high-tech graphics to engage visitors, nothing can quite match literally being within an arm’s length of a living thoroughbred champion. Cigar—named “Racehorse of the Decade” for the 1990s—is a favorite at the Horse Park. Cigar was retired to stud at the end of 1996 and became a resident at the Kentucky Horse Park in November 2000.
The Hall of Champions is also home to the Man O’War Memorial and the gravesite of the famous horse and his various sons and daughters—Brushup, War Hazard, War Kilt, and War Admiral. A circle of spotlights and a moat give the memorial the aura of a stately castle that captures the champion racehorse’s dignity.
The International Museum of the Horse is a short walk from the Hall of Champions. The hall’s second floor features a series of exhibits devoted to equestrian sport that includes a loving recognition of Man O’War and a fascinating archive of photographs showing the horse enjoying his wins and playing up to adoring fans.
The museum’s “Horse in Sport” exhibit covers a total of fifteen equestrian-related activities: draft-horse competition, dressage, driving, endurance and distance driving, harness racing, horse shows, the hunt, show jumping, polo, quarter-horse racing, rodeo, steeplechasing, thoroughbred racing, the Kentucky Derby, and the three-day event. This exhibit succeeds as a visual smorgasbord of brightly colored pictures that highlight horses in all manner of athletic poses. Nevertheless, the exhibit’s absence of analysis and sometimes bland generalizations represent a missed opportunity to draw in visitors and establish a serious dialogue about equestrian life’s inner workings. For example, the material on the foxhunt fails to make interesting critiques. Is it not of interest that fox hunting was banned in Great Britain during the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair? What were the reasons for this? Similarly, in the coverage of rodeo, no mention is made of the sport’s inhumane treatment of animals. Rodeo bulls buck mightily because they are “pained” into doing so! While the museum’s discussion of steeple-chasing addresses the many risks jockeys face, it elides equine fatalities. Animal rights activists claim that modern steeplechases have approximately four equine fatalities for every one thousand horses taking part.
Moreover, the museum—and the Horse Park in general—ignores one of the most fascinating elements of contemporary horse racing: African American jockeys. In the [End Page 404] inaugural Kentucky Derby (1875), thirteen of the fifteen participating jockeys were black. The Kentucky Horse Park unfortunately omits this important history, which Katherine C. Mooney explores in Race Horseman: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made on the Track (Harvard University Press, 2014).
A great way to explore the Kentucky Horse Park is to visit Rolex Stadium’s famous Three-Day Event (which actually takes place over the course of four days). It is held annually in the last weekend of April and is one of only six four-star events held in the world. The first two days are devoted to dressage, the third day is a cross-country course, and the final day is stadium show jumping. Horses and riders compete for a Rolex watch and $250,000 in prize money.
One of the special attractions of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is how spectators are allowed access to the competitors. For...