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Where to Find America’s Horse Museums
In 1788, a thoroughbred British stallion named Messenger arrived at
Philadelphia Cream. This little-known immigrant soon began a career as a breeder which
started the sport of standardbred racing in America. When Messenger died in 1808, he was buried with full military honors.
Horses were our first sporting heroes. Greedy crowds approaching 100,000 people
gather to watch legendary horse races in the 1800s. Today, our equine athletes are no longer
less revered. More US museums celebrate horse racing than any other
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New
York (Union Avenue and Ludlow Streets, Saratoga Springs 12866, 518/584-0400) is
a thoroughbred racing sanctuary. Inside the brick building across from the Saratoga
The Hippodrome Museum meanders in a racing oval around a central courtyard. adorning
the court is a Secretariat statue of the winner of the Triple Crown. On the lawn lies
an eighth post that was on Belmont Racecourse when Secretariat won the Belmont
Put by 31 remarkable lengths in 1973.
Inside the museum, accessed through a real starting gate, the highlight is
the vast Hall of Fame honoring horses, jockeys and trainers on a black, brown background
and green plates in lighted cabins. Fans can request information about their
favorite inductees or one of AmericaÕs 130 racetracks from computerized video
monitors in the cabins. A big-screen movie theater, with plays from Race America
inside the Hall of Fame.
The history of thoroughbred racing is traced through horse galleries
paintings and photographs. A horse skeleton in prolonged action helps explain
how a 1500 pound thoroughbred with incredibly fragile ankles is a perfect move
machine, accelerating to 42 mph in just over 2 seconds. The atmosphere of the race track is
recreated in a simulated paddock area and jockey’s changing room.
Across town, tucked away at the back of Saratoga Raceway, is a
rustic dark green wooden building with a green and red striped roof. With its wide
porch and landscaped front yard, it could easily be the local garden centre. In fact he
is the Saratoga Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame (352 Jefferson Street,
Saratoga Springs 12866, 518/587-4210), a gem of a sports museum dedicated
harness racing at Saratoga Springs dating back to 1847, 16 years before the
start of Saratoga’s most famous thoroughbred races.
Harness racing equipment, photographs and exhibits abound in homage to the
horses and riders who raced in Saratoga. A large side room has a
collection of old sulkies including two cutters from the 1800s with blades
instead of wheels, which were used for winter racing on ice. Each visitor to the room
of Fame receives a free harness racing pass at Saratoga Raceway. You are
encouraged to sit on the Horseshoe Bench before leaving the Museum to test your
luck at the races.
The Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, New York (240 Main Street, Goshen,
10924, 914/294-6330) is located in the famous Tudor-style Good Time Stable in the center
from the city. Inside the museum, the atmosphere of the stable, built in 1913, remains.
The stalls have been transformed into showrooms and the hay chutes transformed into
miniature scenes for statues and trophies. Behind the museum is Historic Track, the
first sports venue in America to be designated a registered national monument.
Exhibits in the original stall area tell the stories of legendary horses, including
Hambletonian who sired over 1300 foals and to whom all trotters can trace their
line. A fun exhibit shows how horse racing has permeated our
everyday language. Terms such as starting over, whipping a dead horse, running over
to the bit, and hold your horses are just a few sayings from the equine
world. Also on display are weathervanes from the 1800s which have borrowed heavily from
the horse trotting.
The trotter’s Living Hall of Fame is among the horse’s most attractive
museum exhibits. Each living member is honored with a 12′ colored clay statuette in
living decorations displayed in a Plexiglas showcase. Upon their death, Hall of
Celebrities are automatically registered in the adjacent Peter D. Haughton room of
In a large side gallery hang many of the nearly 200 trotting prints from Currier &
Ives collected by the Trotting Horse Museum. At the back of the museum, the
The Historic Track clubhouse has been recreated, providing a glimpse of the turn of the
century elegance. Upstairs, the Sulky Loft sports a collection of sulkies, wagons and
sleds dating back more than 100 years which bear witness to the evolution of
sport. Also on hand is the first movable starting grid, welded to the back of a Ford
Model-T, which solved the problem of how to fairly start harness racing.
The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington (I-75 and Iron Works Pike, Lexington,
606/233-4303) is actually several museums. The International Museum of
Horse chronicles every breed of horse as you travel on a circular ramp past exhibits
and artifacts. The exceptionally colorful American Saddle Horse Museum depicts the
world of the American Saddlebred. Dazzling dioramas explore the elegant saga of
the quintessential American show horse. An innovative exhibition immerses you in
saddle of champions like Imperator, Skywatch and Wing Commander. The
The museum also houses the Hall of Fame of the Association of United Professional Equestrians.
In one corner of the park is the polo museum and hall of fame with exhibits
and illustrations on polo ponies. A display of polo apparel shows how the sport gave the
world the button-up shirt, introduced by Brooks Brothers in 1900. Also on the
is the Man O’War monument, the burial place of the great racehorse.
Down I-64 under the familiar twin spiers of Churchill Downs in Louisville is the
beautiful white Kentucky Derby Museum (700 Central Avenue, Louisville, 40201
502/637-1111) where every day is Derby Day. The order and winning silks of each
Kentucky Derby includes the Timeline around the first floor Great Hall. Boots,
Not shoes, worn by the first Derby winner Aristedes in 1875 are on display. Other
unique artefacts from Derby’s history include an 1896 Kingman award-winning silk handbag.
In the center of the Great Hall, a life-size statue of the current Derby winner
and the rider stands inside a replica of the Churchill Downs winner’s circle in front of a holdall
illuminated table with the final results. Embroidered blankets of the Triple Crown winners hang
the two-story ceiling. A 360 degree multi-image presentation with 96
projectors on a 225-foot screen around the great hall unveils the drama of
Kentucky Derby Day. The film is updated annually to honor the current Derby
Numerous computerized interactive exhibits bring horse racing to life. On time
Machine Theater videos of 65 Derbies are available at the touch of the screen. Place
Your Bets is a computerized race that shows how placing bets changes the
chances of a horse race. Derby Trivia is a
computer test of your Kentucky horse racing knowledge. Horse Talk teaches you
backstretch language. Prospective jockeys can grab a saddle and weigh themselves
for a race. Hundreds of artifacts capture the magic of the Kentucky Derby. There are
mint julep mugs and winnerÕs blanket woven with 600 roses. Guide
walking tours of the Churchill Downs trail are included with admission to the museum.
In Amarillo, Texas, three galleries at the American Quarter Horse
Heritage Center & Museum (2601 I-40 East, Amarillo, 806/376-5181) celebrates this
supreme equine athlete. An orientation theater familiarizes newcomers with this
fabulous horse. The Museum contains photographs, artifacts and videotapes of
historic horses, colorful people and significant events associated with the neighborhood
horse. A special exhibition in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution traces the
the impact of the horse on American life. Live quarter horse demonstrations are
scheduled periodically for the adjacent outdoor ride.
Is there a real American sport? Leaving the action-packed ProRodeo
Hall of Fame and Museum (Colorado Springs, Colorado 80919, 719/528-4763)
would be hard-pressed to name another sport as all-American as rodeo. Rodeo,
who evolved from daily Western work chores to sports, is an all-American
experience. Your precisely orchestrated semi-guided tour takes you through two
video presentations and in front of a great collection of cowboy gear.
In the Hall of Champions, the stock takes pride of place with the cowboys. During
in the summer months a champion bronco lives in the stables area of the backyard. After his
retirement Hall of Fame bucking bronco Descent has taken up residence in the stable
region. You were thus able to meet a Hall-of-Famer living on the site of his
consecration, which is not possible in any other sports museum.
These museums are just the largest horse museums in America. There are
others honoring different breeds and local horse communities. Whatever your
equestrian passion, there is an exciting museum for horse lovers.
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