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Where to Find America’s Horse Museums
In 1788 a British thoroughbred stallion named Messenger arrived
Philadelphia. This unheralded migrant soon began a breeding career that
launched the sport of thoroughbred racing in America. When Messenger died in 1808, he was buried with full military honors.
Horses were our first sporting heroes. Eager crowds approaching 100,000
gather to watch legendary horse races in the 1800s. Today, our equestrians are not
less respected. More American museums celebrate horse racing than any other
The National Racing Museum 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 Saratoga
Racing Race The Museum wraps around a racing oval around a central courtyard. Grace
courtyard is a statue of Triple Crown winner Secretariat. On the front lawn he sits
an eighth pole that was on the Belmont track when Secretariat won the Belmont
Stakes by a remarkable 31 lengths in 1973.
Inside the Museum, entered through an actual launch gate, is the highlight
the expansive Hall of Fame honoring horses, riders and trainers in black, brown;
and green plates in lighted chambers. Fans can call information about them
favorite entrants or any of America’s 130 racetracks from electronic video
screens in kiosks. A widescreen movie theater, featuring Race America shows
inside the Hall of Fame.
The history of thoroughbred racing is traced through equine galleries
paintings and photographs. A horse skeleton in extended action helps explain
how a 1500 pound thoroughbred with incredibly fragile ankles is a perfect mover
machine, accelerating to 42 mph in just over 2 seconds. The atmosphere of the track is
recreated in a simulated paddock area and rider dressing room.
Across town, tucked away in the back of Saratoga Raceway is a
rustic dark green wooden building with green and red striped roof. With his broad
porch and landscaped front yard could easily be the local garden center. Actually this
is the Saratoga Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame (352 Jefferson Street,
Saratoga Springs 12866, 518/587-4210), a little gem of a dedicated sports museum
to capitalize on the races at Saratoga Springs dating back to 1847, 16 years before the
start of the most famous thoroughbred races at Saratoga.
Racing gear gear, photos and exhibits abound as a tribute to
horses and riders who have competed at Saratoga. A large side room features a
collection of antique sulkies including two 1800 bladed cleavers
instead of wheels, which were used for winter ice racing. Every visitor to the Hall
of Fame receives a free pass to the races at Saratoga Raceway. Are you
you are encouraged to sit at the Horseshoe counter before leaving the Museum to sample
luck in 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 downtown
city’s. Inside the Museum remains the atmosphere of the stable, built in 1913.
Stalls have been converted into showrooms and haystacks have been converted into
miniature scenes for statues and trophies. Behind the Museum is the Historic Track, the
the first sports venue in America to be designated a registered national landmark.
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
origin. An entertaining exhibit illustrates the extent to which horse racing has permeated us
everyday language. Terms like starting from scratch, flogging a dead horse, jumping
to the bit, and hold your horses are just a few sayings that come from horses
world. Wind vanes from the 1800s are also on display which were heavily borrowed
the flying horse.
Trotter’s Living Hall of Fame is one of the most attractive horses
museum exhibits. Each living member is honored with a colorful 12′ clay statuette
live environment exhibited in a plexi-glass case. With their passage, the Hall of
Famers are automatically enrolled in the next room Peter D. Haughton of
In a large side gallery hang many of the nearly 200 caravan prints by Currier &
Ives collected by the Trotting Horse Museum. At the back of the museum the
The Historic Track clubhouse has been recreated, providing a taste of the change
century elegance. Upstairs, the Sulky Loft features a collection of sulkies, wagons and
sledges dating back more than 100 years that demonstrate its evolution
sport. Also available is the first movable starting gate, welded to the back of a Ford
Model-T, which solved the problem of how to fairly start a race.
The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington (I-75 and Iron Works Pike, Lexington,
606/233-4303) are actually several museums. His International Museum
The horse records all the horse breeds as you travel down a circular ramp, past exhibits
and artifacts. The highly colorful American Saddle Horse Museum depicts the
world of the American Saddlebred. Dazzling dioramas explore his elegant saga
the quintessential American show horse. An innovative exhibition puts you in the
champion saddles such as Imperator, Skywatch and Wing Commander. The
The Museum also houses the Professional Horsemen’s Association Hall of Fame.
In one corner of the Park is the Polo Museum and Hall of Fame with exhibits
and pony polo artwork. A display of polo clothing shows how the sport gave
world the button-down shirt, introduced by Brooks Brothers in 1900. Also in
the site is the Man O’War Memorial, burial place of the great racehorse.
Down I-64 below the famous twin cones 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. Everyone’s order and winning silks
The Kentucky Derby features the Time-Line around the first floor Great Hall. The boots,
On display are not shoes worn by the first Derby winner Aristides in 1875. But
unique items from Derby history include an 1896 Kingman-awarded silk purse;
In the center of The Great Hall a life-size statue of the current Derby winner
and jockey stand inside a replica of the Churchill Downs Winner’s Circle before a bag
the board lit with the final results. From it hang embroidered blankets of Triple Crown winners
the two-story ceiling. A 360-degree multi-image slideshow displayed with 96
floodlights on a 225-foot screen around The Great Hall reveal its drama
Kentucky Derby Day. The film is updated each year to commemorate the current Derby
Many computerized hands-on exhibits bring horse racing to life. In time
Machine Theater videos of 65 Derbys are available at the touch of the screen. Position
Your Bets is an online race that shows how placing bets changes the situation
horse racing odds. Derby Trivia is a
computer test of your Kentucky horse racing knowledge. Horse Talk teaches you the
backstretch language. Aspiring riders can pick up a saddle and weigh in
for a match. Hundreds of items capture the magic of the Kentucky Derby. There are
trademark mint julep cups and winner’s blanket woven with 600 roses. Guided
walking tours of the Churchill Downs track are included with Museum admission.
In Amarillo, Texas three galleries at the American Quarter Horse
Heritage Center & Museum (2601 I-40 East, Amarillo, 806/376-5181) celebrates this
top equine athlete. An Orientation Theater familiarizes newcomers with it
wonderful horse. The Museum contains his photographs, artifacts and videotapes
historic horses, colorful people and landmark events associated with the district
horse. A special collaborative exhibition with the Smithsonian Institution traces it
effect of the horse on american life. Live quarter horse shows are
is scheduled periodically for the adjacent outdoor arena.
Is there a true American sport? With the departure from the action-packed ProRodeo
Hall of Fame and Museum (Colorado Springs, Colorado 80919, 719/528-4763) you
It would be hard to name another sport as all-American as rodeo. Rodeo,
evolved from the daily jobs of the West to sports, it is thoroughly American
experience. Your precisely orchestrated semi-guided tour takes you to two
video presentations and passed an amazing collection of cowboy items.
In the Hall of Champions, the stock is honored along with the cowboys. During
During the summer months a champion bronco lives in the backyard stable. After his
retirement Hall of Fame bucking bronco Descent made his home in the stable
region. So you got to meet a live Hall-of-Famer in his place
imprisonment, which is not possible in any other sports museum.
These museums are only the largest of America’s horse museums. There are
others honor different breeds and local horse communities. Whatever yours is
equestrian passion there is a fascinating museum for the horse lover to enjoy.
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