The first leg of our May road trip from North Carolina to Colorado took us to Lexington, Kentucky for a short visit with our nephew, Brandon, his wife, Joanna, and their four children.
We shared a meal and hung out in their yard, chatting while the kids played until close to bed time, and then we spent the night in a nearby hotel. Even though we were in horse country and I’d been oohing and aahing at the sleek thoroughbreds grazing on pristine meadows of Kentucky bluegrass, I had no notions of eating into our road schedule by stopping anywhere horsey.
That next morning as I wiped sleep from my eyes and reached for my phone, Bob was already browsing the Kentucky Horse Park website. Then I noticed our sister-in-law, Darla, had sent a text the previous evening which said simply, “Go to the horse museum.” They were teaming up on me, making sure I didn’t miss out on an experience I would regret missing.
And so we found ourselves with an hour and a half to experience Disneyland for horse lovers.
Before I even reached the ticket booth, my face had broken into a cat-ate-the-canary grin.
We started our tour of the park inside The International Museum of the Horse, an Equine Smithsonian, brimming with horse art, lore, and accoutrements.
This model of a horse being lifted onto a ship was so lifelike, I stood underneath it and stared. Meanwhile, Bob galloped on ahead and was several rooms away by the time I stopped gawking.
If you’ve read Geraldine Brooks’ novel, Horse, you will understand why I had to pose with the portrait of Lexington. I’d read Horse in March and was captivated by its interwoven story lines, so I was thrilled when the museum clerk told me both the photo and the bones were here.
Horse fictionalizes the true story of a famous race horse whose bones went on to live at the Smithsonian. The story jumps back in time to Lexington’s birth and career with focus on his trainer and the many obstacles that young man faced as a slave, his relationship with the artist who captured the horse in oils, and forward in time to the woman who put Lexington’s bones together for the museum.
Back outside, we encountered a large globe welded from horseshoes.
As globetrotters and equestrians, we were naturally drawn to the horseshoe globe. Plus, I felt compelled to share a photo with my horse buddy and art welder, Sharyl.
We spent some time in the breeds barn before walking over to the Mounted Police Barn.
I am pretty sure it was the mounted police of New York City that sparked my horse addiction. It took my breath away to see horse and rider weaving their way through traffic or trotting across a public park. And when an officer rode up and asked me, a tiny grade-schooler, if I would like to pet their horse or perhaps sit up on it, I was forever smitten.
This is Henry, an eight-year-old Spotted Draft Cross (probably Belgium and American Paint) who came to the park at two months of age.
Many of the horses were catching a little lay down on clean bedding after breakfast and a bath, and before working their exhibition shows. Bob and I would be gone by the time the shows started, but it made us happy to peer into the stalls at these beautiful, well-cared for animals.
This is Junior, a 1700 pound American Cream Draft, a breed I had never heard of or seen before. Like many of the others, he was catching a nap. Junior is nine years old, was previously employed at the Breeds Barn, and is learning to be a police horse.
Officer Sedlaczek was bathing Billy, an twenty-two year old Gypsy Vanner who also came over from the Breeds Barn. She was happy to answer our questions and pose for a photo, and I probably told her the story about my young self falling in love with a Bronx police horse.
On the way back to our car, I paused to admire a bronze Morgan horse. The Morgan is one of my favorite breeds because of their superior intelligence and ability to emphasize with we humble humans.
I recall one memorable bareback ride on a sturdy little Morgan gelding when I was in my twenties. We were traveling at a good clip over a construction road on the prairie east of Denver, when I felt him consciously level up his back as we cantered around a bend. I thought I’d imagined it, but he repeated this maneuver with each subsequent curve, proving that he was making a conscious effort to keep me from sliding off.
I probably shared this story and others as they bubbled up during our long drive to Columbia, Missouri—all prompted by our visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. Bob was, of course, happily engaged as one might expect from a supportive and loving spouse. I also let Darla know how much I appreciated her prompting. They knew before I did, that it would have been wrong for us to come to horse country without dipping our toes into this vast pool of equine lore.