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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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