Sunday, June 8, 2003

Exhibit looks at horses, history

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Lexington touts itself as the "Horse Capital of the World." Bill Cooke spotted a natural connection with Great Britain, where horses also are of great interest.

So when Cooke, the director of the Kentucky Horse Park's International Museum of the Horse, considered ideas for the museum's latest exhibition, he thought something connected with British history would be fascinating.

The result was "All the Queen's Horses: The Role of the Horse in British History," the exhibition now on display at the park.

Great Britain's Princess Anne officially opened the exhibition on April 25. The exhibition, which continues through Aug. 24, is considered a highlight of the 25th anniversary celebration of the opening of the Kentucky Horse Park.

"The exhibition probably reflects some of the oldest trading partnerships and relationships in man's experience," Princess Anne said during her visit to Kentucky. "Next to the dog, the horse is man's oldest friend and working partner."

The exhibition traces British history through its connections with horses. About 12,000 years are covered in the display. The oldest item is at the start of the exhibition: a horse engraving on a bone that has been dated to about 10,000 B.C. It's thought to be the earliest human art ever found in Great Britain.

Key items among the 450 artifacts in the exhibition include King Henry VIII's hawking glove and the "Burgundian Bard," a set of equine armor given to the king by Maxmillian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1511.

There's also a set of stirrups used by Oliver Cromwell, a key figure in England's Civil War in the mid-1600s, as well as several medieval manuscripts from the British Library and seals of various British monarchs, including Edward III. A sidesaddle used by Queen Elizabeth I is on display, as are 60 paintings and several suits of armor from different eras.

One of the more unique exhibits is the recreation of a burial pit for a sixth-century Anglo-Saxon warrior and his horse. The pit originally was unearthed during construction at a U.S. Air Force base in England in 1997. The actual skeletons are used in the display.

The exhibition also includes items donated by current members of Britain's royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II. All told, the estimated value of the items on display is about $100 million.

Park spokeswoman Lisa Jackson said that through about the end of May, the exhibit had attracted more than 24,000 visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm and educational theme park dedicated to man's relationship with the horse.

"Response has just been outstanding," Cooke said. "People say they have to come back, because it was bigger than they thought it was going to be. We've got so many different layers to get through. I don't think you can do it justice in anything less than two hours and catch it all."

Seventy museums, institutions and private donors allowed their prized possessions to be a part of the exhibition.

Hilary Bracegirdle, the director of the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket, England, said when some of her acquaintances saw the exhibition for the first time, they wondered why a British museum didn't try to organize a similar display first.

Cooke said Bracegirdle and the husband-and-wife museum consulting team of Kenneth Pearson and Patricia Connor, who are based in Richmond, England, played critical roles in obtaining key pieces for the exhibition, including the Henry VIII horse armor.

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