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October 1, 2011
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The Horse Reigns

New Horse Park exhibit explains the bond between humans and horses

By Katherine Tandy Brown

“The Horse,” a comprehensive exhibit on the enduring bond between horses and humanity, opens at the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park on Oct. 22 and will remain on view until April 6, 2012.

Whether you’re a world-class equine competitor, a seasoned racehorse trainer, a horse-crazy teenager or just an admirer of horses grazing in a field of lush bluegrass, the International Museum of the Horse (IMH) at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington has a must-see for you.

Opening Oct. 22 and running through Apr. 6, 2012, “The Horse” is a comprehensive exhibit of the strong, lasting link between humans and horses.
Developed and curated by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the exhibit addresses horses in general, i.e. “everyhorse” – speedy Thoroughbreds, spin-on-a-dime reigning horses, Belgian drafts, high-stepping Saddlebreds, hardy Icelandics, leaping Lipizzaners and kid-sized miniature horses – and the folks who work and play with them.
“This exhibit is not quite as big as our three international blockbusters,” said Bill Cooke, director of the Smithsonian-affiliated museum. “But I consider it one. It’s not as academic but is so very broad and really entertaining. And there’s not a dull second in it, thanks to the wonderful internal exhibition team at the Museum of Natural History.”
The show’s curators are Dr. Ross MacPhee, former chairman of that institution’s Department of Mammalogy, and Dr. Sandra Olsen, head of the section of anthropology at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and director of the archaeological dig in Kazakhstan that identified the original date of horse domestication. “The Horse” was organized by the AMNH, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, United Arab Emirates; the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau-Ottawa; The Field Museum, Chicago; and the San Diego Natural History Museum.
These stellar credentials make the exhibit a knockout, complete with dioramas, including a stunning 220-s.f. depiction of the horse’s ancestors, fossils, models and two videos especially created for the project. Six distinct areas tell the equine story: The Evolution of Horses from dog-sized animals 55 million years ago; Horses and Hunters, illustrated with archaeological evidence, such as cave painting, of man’s first relationship with horses; Domesticating Horses, a recreation of an existing 5,000-year-old archeological site; The Nature of Horses, biological traits of the horse that contributed to its domestication; How We Shaped Horses, How Horses Shaped Us, the horse’s transformative role in world cultures throughout time; and An Enduring Bond, the horse-human relationship.
Numerous interactive stations invite visitors to participate in discovery, such as learning the characteristics of many different breeds of horses, and peering into a zoetrope, a precursor of the modern movie projector, to examine a horse’s gaits through a series of historic 1800s photographs. Another station takes a virtual peek into a life-sized horse, showing how it stands up while sleeping by locking its knees, and how oats travel from the mouth through the digestive system and ultimately end up on the ground as potential fertilizer.
Among some 140-plus artifacts are a full suit of armor from 15th-century Germany, a horse-drawn fire engine from the 19th century, a 17th-century Samurai saddle, and Citation’s three Triple Crown trophies.
“No animal has had an impact on civilization like the horse has,” Cooke said. “This exhibit covers that so well and makes it digestible even to an audience who might not be as familiar with all the aspects of our daily lives that the horse has influenced.”
Entry to “The Horse” is included with park admission, or a “museums only” ticket may be purchased for $8 for adults or $4 for children ages 7-12, which also includes admission to the entire International Museum of the Horse, the Al Marah Arabian Horse Galleries and the American Saddlebred Museum.
For school groups a curriculum is designed that addresses biology, physics, history and art. According to Cooke, “The Horse” is totally family-friendly and fun for every age.
“Though you may not realize it, you’ll learn a lot before you leave this exhibit,” he said, “and you’ll definitely have a good time while doing it.”

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