Horses are really pretty. I like to look at them and to pet their noses and feed them carrots and sugar and stuff like that. I also have been known to want to braid their hair and brush them until they shine. This is natural. I am a girl, after all. I was never too into the idea of riding them or trimming their feet or training them or whatever. I possess something of a slight fear of them, honestly, but I think it’s because I think too much and dwell on things like “that animal is way a lot larger than me and it wears metal on its feet, who am I to tell it what to do?” I call it common sense. Horse sense.
When I was a little girl, though, I didn’t realize that horses could be scary or dangerous, so I collected figurines of them and read about them and liked to see them and claimed that I really wanted to learn to ride them. I also wanted, and got, a few ponies in my time. Actually, those ponies were what taught me that equines are nice to look at but I wouldn’t want to live there.
As you might have guessed, my parents were quite accommodating and loved me and liked making me happy, so they’d do sweet things for me. One of the sweetest things in childhood memory were the yearly trips to the Kentucky Horse Park, which was a few hours away from my home. Prior to the first visit, I had no idea such a place existed. It was as if somebody sat down one day and asked “what sort of park would be perfect for little girls all over the world? Ah, yes! One that was focused primarily on horsies! You can watch them, pet them, ride them, learn about them, pet them… My god – I am a GENIUS!” So Kentucky, being a state well-known for horses for some reason, set aside thousands of acres in the “blue grass” region, and opened up a park devoted to the magnificent equine.
Hey, I Have An Idea! Let’s Go to the Horse Park!
On my birthday, my friend of THIRTY ONE YEARS and I decided to set out on a grand adventure. An adventure in which we would surely be delighted by the horsey antics of the nearly fifty zillion horses at the Kentucky Horse Park, the grandest horse park ever made! We would squeal as they galloped and trotted, we would clap our hands when they ate oats, and we would pet so many horse noses that our fingerprints would wear right off! We left in high spirits and took nearly two hours longer to get there than it ever should because of spiders, getting lost, general hapless flailings, and the like. But we got there!
We got out of our car, and the smell of horse dirt, hay, and tack smacked us in our noses. It is a scent that girls learn to love at some point when they are convincing themselves that horses are the best animals ever. We found, however, that as adults, the smell was slightly nauseating, and we were glad that it was not a hot day. We ran in the gates like giddy monsters and went in to purchase our tickets. Tickets which at the time seemed a bit overpriced at nearly $20, and by the end of the day, we had tears in our eyes because of the anger of having paid such an amount for what we were given.
Let’s not spoil the mood prematurely, however. At the time, we were still high on the idea of even being there. Would we see real horses first, or watch a film about wild ponies in the horsey theater? Would we rush out and catch a Parade of Breeds horse show? How about a nice carriage ride around the park? What? Oh, those cost extra. We decided to tour the free International Museum of the Horse. Well, really it isn’t free, but your entrance fee includes price of admission to this marvelous wonderful place where surely would never find ourselves bored in the slightest.
Enter the Hallowed Halls of Horse
The International Museum of the Horse impresses one as a sacred environment of learning. Immediately upon entrance, you find yourself presented with skeletons of Horse’s ancestors. Oh, tiny Eohippus, how did you ever grow into such a magical creature that regularly breaks the bones of its human riders? There is only silence as you pass these displays, walking along a path which seems to slowly spiral downward. This path represents our entire day, naturally, but only our subconscious minds registered it at the time.
Further along, we are met with dioramas of horses helping our own ancestors with transportation, harvesting, fighting fires and enemies in war, and other such noble actions. We see bits and “training instruments,” the designs of which were surely copied over from the Inquisition and various other time periods in history where we tortured people we did not like. It appears that for thousands of years now, horses have been beaten, maimed, and put into constant pain. Yet they STILL have never risen up to kill us all. I believe it would not have been difficult for horses to trample early man into a pulp. I admit that I am disappointed that horses are such pushovers.
One of the more exciting parts of this vast museum of terror is the fact that they have taken real horses that have died and stuffed them and dressed them up in various historical poses. It gives you a better feel for what it would have been like to be alive back in the days when horrible wax men abused horses and took advantage of their sweet natures. Please note the wild eyed, open mouthed expressions of fear that all of the horses have in common.
Eventually, the downward spiraling corridor opens into a massive room filled to bursting with all of the items they didn’t have a place for. Your mind is assaulted as your eyes fail to take in everything at once, although they desperately try. My friend and I felt the first real traces of dissatisfaction as we reeled as if caught in some sudden nightmare. The worst was when we rounded a curve to find two threadbare hell horses standing together in death, attached to a carriage that had to have been used by Jack the Ripper. They loom over museum patrons, morosely considering whose soul they will steal today.
My mind blanked after that horse’s corpse appeared to be ready to disintegrate onto my upturned face. I believe after that is a large room of creepy antique carriages and sleighs, as well as a large gallery of equine art, some of which was very good, all of which was ridiculously overpriced.
Let’s Get Out of This Building of Death and into the Sunlight!
Even if your skin is out of practice with having to deal with the light of day as mine is, you will find that you welcome the harsh rays of the sun after you exit that horse tomb of shame. We began our quest for real horses. For the first several minutes, all we could find were statues of horses, and an occasional glimpse of what was most likely a horse dotting the horizon in a far away field.
It is interesting to note that the Kentucky Horse Park has an enormous array of horse statues, all of which appear to be real sized. I cannot tell you how many times I was excited to see what I believed was a horse out in the pathway, ready to be fed carrots by any passerby who happened along, only to find that it was just yet ANOTHER statue that looked lifelike. There is not much to do with an old horse statue besides pose by it and pretend it is an actual horse. When I was small, I was allowed to sit on top of them and pretend I was actually on Secretariat or whatever famous horse it was supposed to be. I’d sit still for the 3 seconds it would take to have the scene photographed and then I would leap off, leg skin scorched by the metal which had apparently soaked up the heat from a thousand sunny days.
As we walked, we found a horse cemetery or two. Famous horses of days gone by seem to wind up buried in this park. It must be an honor. It was a little disconcerting to find tombstones scattered here and there, especially when you notice that the plots are not widely spaced apart. Then I remembered that usually just a horse’s hooves and organs are buried, the rest donated to glue or dog food factories. Gross.
There are also gravestones and plaques and monuments dedicated to people from time to time. Great horse friends like top-rate grooms and famous jockeys (negro and otherwise, apparently!) and horse owners are given a nod along the way.
I must add a few words in regards to that monument for Mr. Isaac Burns Murphy right there. Initially, my mind could only accept the idea that maybe the stone had been carved in the 1890s, when the term “negro” was actually a term commonly used. However, my logical mind can no longer deny the fact that it looks damningly new. Also, it is to be noted that it says “here lies.” This suggests that the famous negro jockey is actually buried there, in the Kentucky Horse Park, and not, say, in a proper cemetery meant for human beings. He is actually quite close to Man O’War, famous chestnut racehorse. I am almost certain that the Horse Park was built in the 1960s, maybe 1970s. It is not a very old place, I think, and the huge colossal grave site and giant statue and surrounding gardens and statues dedicated to Man O’War were all made a while after the horse was dead and buried (in his entirety, too, the whole horse was buried for some strange reason), and he was dug up and moved to the Horse Park when they planned this shrine to him. This was when the famous negro jockey came into play, as he is planted there next to the pathway that circles the horse grave fountain, sort of almost as a decorative shrug. Did the Kentucky Horse Park actually acquire this small black man by digging him out of his grave, probably in a segregated black cemetery somewhere in order to rebury him there? Did they BUY his corpse? DID THEY!?
I don’t think I really want to know the answer. I may be sickened.
Okay Does The KY Horse Park Have Any Living Horses At All?
Why yes. Yes, it does. But you would be hard-pressed to actually pet any horse noses here, brothers and sisters! See, first you have to find the horses. There were a few barns here and there, but it seemed that the horses that were normally in the stalls were doing something else. There would be stalls being cleaned of manure, straw and hay sitting there, ready to be applied to the stall once the horse returns. But where were the horses and what were they doing?
We did locate some horses in a barn around the Show Arena, where the Parade of Breeds show happens every hour or so. It is a fancy event that used to thrill me, completely dazzling my young mind with horses cantering around in costume while some guy reads facts about whatever breed of horse is being paraded around at the moment. This time, I found that my attention was not held, mostly because the 27 other people who attended the Horse Park that day all decided to sit on the same bleachers as we were sitting, smoking their cigars and holding their babies so close to me that I was mostly too distracted by anger to enjoy anything in the world.
The show lasted about 30 minutes and I felt that the horses just weren’t enthused enough. They seemed as bored and irritable as I was becoming. I decided to try my hand at alleviating some of my boredom by pretending that I was a professional equine photographer. This quickly added frustration and despair into the thick emotional stew in my brains. You see, it appears that when I actually TRY to take good photos, I take the worst photos of my entire life.
Afterwards, the horses lined up around the fence and the spectators were allowed to approach these majestic creatures and pet their noses. Or, that’s what I was hoping. Really, what it amounted to was elbowing little star-struck girls out of the way to still only make it to the horses’ necks if you really reached. You also had to avoid being bitten, and avoid the stupid long-winded adults who actually had questions to ask the riders. The riders, coincidentally, seemed like the typical kind of brain-dead teenagers employed at any fast food restaurant in the country. I’m sure they were nice enough kids, but they had that shyness and lack of confidence that most young people seem to have. Also, they would be so busy talking that they would forget to keep their horses from snapping at hands which were just trying to touch them for a second. But I finally got to pet a horse nose!
That’s Another Thing: Horses Here Are Nothing But Prima Donna Jerks
These horses here are the snootiest broads I have ever met in the animal kingdom, and I have met a lot of cats in my day. I guess it must give an animal an incredible sense of self-worth to live in what is basically a several thousand acre shrine to it. Unlike all other horses on the planet, horses that yearn for treats and attention, horses that are starving and abused and only dream of having people wanting to brush them and lavish them with affection, these horses at the Kentucky Horse Park are so spoiled that if you try to be nice to them, they turn their backs on you. Of course, normally if a horse turns its back on you, you’d need to get away in case it decides to kick. Not here, though. Every stall is next to impossible to reach into. Horses are separated from the stream of horse lovers by wide gaps and tall fences.
Sometimes you could fit a finger through a mesh wire stall door in order to touch a horse that happened to be standing nearby. For instance, in the Hall of Champions, populated by famous racehorses of years gone by, I was able to touch the nose of Cigar, who is the most well-paid racehorse of all time, as I recall. In fact, Cigar licked my hand through the bars somehow, and he seemed to be the only gentle horse on the entire premises. I felt it was very auspicious and kind of weird at the time, and then later I found a four-leaf clover over the grave of a very successful harness racer. I probably was supposed to go gambling that day, but by the time we left, we were so sick of horses that we didn’t even want to try. Also, at that point in my life, I didn’t yet have the Bug for putting money on the ponies down at the track.
But knowing those horses, it was probably all just an attempt to horribly mislead me anyway!
Sometimes, we would stumble across horses that were out grazing in fields. Actually, I think most of their horse population was out grazing in fields, but they have huge, inaccessible-to-the-public fields, so we never saw them. But sometimes, horses would be near to the fence. You could try to urge them to come over for some petting. Not one of those horses took us up on our offer. In fact, several walked away a little farther, which seemed even more insulting than being ignored outright. A few of the horses were actually horribly aggressive and LUNGED at us when we stretched our arms out at them.
I painted a bleak picture of my trip to what was once a fond childhood memory. A childhood memory dashed to bits by trying to recapture it when I should have known better. I am not sure if the Kentucky Horse Park has fallen on hard times, if it was not the right Horse Season, or if it was just a random off day, but what I remember was far, far grander than what we witnessed on that particular day. I remember horses that loved being petted and gawked at. I remember cheaper food at concession stands. I remember friendlier, and more, people. I remember more horses, for that matter. WAY more!
Perhaps a person should only go to the Horse Park if they are a little horse-crazed girl, or if they are with one who is. Maybe if you are a person who still works with and owns horses as an adult, you would find satisfaction in this destination. I do not know. There is also a chance that in more recent years, they have improved conditions, gotten better attractions and more grateful horses, updated some terminology. I admit that I have written about an event that took place some years ago. Maybe it’s outdated, but at least I waited until the end to tell you!
As it is, only one thing remained the same that I can think of. At the end of the day, exhausted and stinking of barns, I was always very pleased to see this sign: