Sunday, January 4, 2009

"A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse!"

Today marks the final day in New York of the American Museum of Natural History exibit, "The Horse," which examines the enduring bond between horses and humanity since the beginning of the Ice Age. The dioramas, fossils, models and culutural objects from around the world were fascinating, functioning as a kind of time machine that offered a peek into to a world in which horses were used as food, for work, for transportation, and yes, in warfare.

According to Kentucky Equine Research, Inc., more than 3,000 horses died at Gettysburg.

One of the more poignant artifacts in the exhibit was a photo of a horse wearing a gas mask during World War I; a quick Google revealed that more than eight million horses were killed from 1914-1918. During World War II, more horses than tanks played a role, as they were used to move artillery, as pack animals and on scouting missions. The German Army had more than one million horses, and the U.S. Cavalry staged its last charge during that time, in the Phillipines. Even today, horses are used by U. S. Special Forces in the rugged terrain near Afghanistan and Iraq.

The role of the horse today is more one of recreation, and sport; near the end of the exhibit there is a (way too) small area set aside for Thoroughbred racing, at which one can, among other things, view the 2005 Kentucky Derby (and listen to Tom Durkin's rousing call of the finish) and view trophies from Citation's Triple Crown.

Curiously, the Belmont Stakes Trophy is absent from this collection, in its stead was a large silver plate. Given the proximity of Belmont Park to Manhattan, one might have thought there would be more of a New York Racing Association presence other than a video clip of Secretariat. There is a rather large section devoted to racehorse injuries and the virtues of synthetic tracks, which speaks volumes about the public's perception of horse racing.

The exhibit goes on tour later this year to the UAE (but not in time for the World Cup); in 2010 it travels to the Canadian Museum of Civilization; in 2011 to the Field Museum in Chicago, and in 2012 to the San Diego Natural History Museum.

4 comments:

thoroughbredbrief said...

War also changed the regulatory scheme of racing in the U.S.
Prior to the Civil War, there was a push for a central governing organization, but there was a resulting power struggle between NY factions and Southern factions regarding where that organization should be based. The South had the better horses, tracks, farms, and races. The war devastated Thoroughbreds in the South, to the point that it's really never recovered. After the war the NY group seized on the South's sudden dearth of power and established the Jockey Club. The South had no voice in the matter, because it basically had no Thoroughbreds, no farms, and no racing.
What a loss of good bloodstock, though. That's the biggest shame.

holybull14 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
holybull14 said...

It would be amazing too see a horse racing museum built inside of Belmont Park - one of the world's great sport venues. There certainly is enough space for it. There are quite a few exhibits already on display when walking the grounds including Woody Stephens' Corner, the PEB Mural, various murals, paintings, and old photographs scattered around - but there really can be soo much more. How about a historic room for new visitors to experience, to learn more about the sport and make them feel like they really got something out of their day at the races besides a few losing tickets and a shitty hot dog. A room where fans can relive some of the exciting moments that took place at Belmont Park. There can be a History of the Belmont Stakes exibit, with all the winning owners silks on display as well as trophies and photos, a machine that plays various Durkin race calls, a tribute to Secretariat and the rest of the TC winners. Video replays of great horses such as Inside Information, Ghostzapper, Easy Goer and Invasor. I think I'm onto something...

Jenny said...

An awesome idea Holybull and one which I hope to see soon....