Horse Capital of the World

A man once responded, when I told him I grew up in Kentucky, that I came from the land of "pretty horses and fast women." Although the popular saying is really the opposite, "pretty women and fast horses," it is indicative of Kentucky's reputation as the horse capital of the world.
When I think of Kentucky five things immediately come to mind; horses, UK basketball, tobacco, KFC, and bourbon. As a little girl I dreamed of having a horse of my own. One of my best friends, Kerry Lynn Taulbee, took horseback riding lessons in Lexington at stables located across from Keeneland. Although my parents could not afford for me to take lessons I went with Kerry Lynn so I could watch. After her lesson we would visit all the horses. There was one horse, Alf, who we especially favored. Every week we would buy a can of coke, pop the top, and then watch as Alf drank the soda from the can. No matter how often we saw Alf perform we never grew tired of the novelty. Kerry and I used to pray God would make us short so we could be jockeys. Well, God came through for me on the height but I bypassed the maximum weight for a jockey in high school.
When I was in sixth grade my mother sent me to horseback riding camp at Morehead State University. For one week my entire life centered around cleaning, grooming, catching, riding, and showing horses. I learned the difference between English Hunt seat saddles and Western saddles; I prefer English but mostly ride western. I gained an appreciation for quarter horses and would like to own one someday.
When I was fifteen my dad, who had purchased a farm, surprised me with a horse for Christmas. Her name was Lucy and the coolest thing about her was she had been a pacer at The Red Mile. The Red Mile is a racetrack in Lexington and is a great place to spend summer afternoons, if you love horses or can't afford tickets to bigger racing events like the Derby.
I only had Lucy a few years before my dad sold her. I haven't owned a horse since.
However, my love for horses and racing has continued. One of my greatest dreams is to attend the Kentucky Derby before I die. I always get so emotional when the horses parade before the stands as the University of Louisville marching band plays My Old Kentucky Home. I can't imagine what it must be like to witness it in person.
This semester I am taking a Public History course with Dr. Noralee Frankel. For my final project I am designing a small exhibit about African American jockeys and the important role they played in the early years of the Kentucky Derby. During spring break I decided to take advantage of the Keeneland library's archives. The librarians were gracious and the facility was, as Jacqueline described it, serene. Next to the Library of Congress, it is my favorite library to do research in.


While I was there I took photos of some of the photographs they had, since they wouldn't copy very well. The photo above shows the famous Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield who won the Kentucky Derby in two consecutive races (1901 & 1902). "Wink" not only became one of the best American jockeys but he earned the same status as a jockey in Europe, riding for dignitaries such as Czar Nicholas. When the revolution broke out, Winkfield fled to France where he started breeding and training horses. In 1960, Winkfield returned to Louisville to participate in an award ceremony at the Brown Hotel. Segregation was still prevalent in Kentucky so Winkfield, despite being the honoree, was invited to use the side door. When he refused, the hotel made an exception. Winkfield returned to France, never to settle in the United States again. Alonzo Clayton was only fifteen years old when he won the Kentucky Derby, making him the youngest jockey to ever win the "Run for the Roses." In addition he won the Jockey Crown, an award given to the jockey with the most winnings at an event.
Finally, this is a shot of "my table" where I spent an afternoon trying to focus on newspaper articles and jockey bios while my mother rattled on about Seabiscuit, who was never a Derby contender and popped her gum. Sometimes I wonder how much patience God thinks I need to learn. Actually, the other patrons were just as bad. I do appreciate the memory we made, and look forward to returning to the library set among the rolling, green hills of Kentucky and her majestic horses that make her famous. Who needs the beach when you can go home?

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1 comments:

erinannie said...

You can come ride my horse any day. (He used to be a race horse). English or western. He loves the ladies!

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