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Exhibition Honoring Black Horsemen Set to Open


LEXINGTON, KY -  The American Saddlebred Museum, located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park, will be highlighting a seemingly forgotten group of horsemen in its 2007 exhibition.  Out of the Shadows: Bringing to Light Black Horsemen in Saddlebred History, opening February 16, will feature the many contributions made by African Americans to Kentucky’s oldest native breed of horse, the American Saddlebred. The exhibition will focus on the achievements of these horsemen which have largely gone unnoticed, unrecognized and uncredited.  Black trainers, owners and caretakers from the late 1800s through the 1970s will be featured.

The Bluegrass region of
Kentucky has long been synonymous with racing and breeding Thoroughbred horses.  The accomplishments of black horsemen within that industry have been made known during the past several decades, in large part due to the efforts of local black historians.  However, there remains another unexposed story within Kentucky’s horse industry.

The American Saddlebred is
Kentucky’s oldest native breed of horse.  Once the preferred mount of the cavalry on both sides during the Civil War, Saddlebreds are well known for their beauty, animation and stamina.  Known today as “The Horse America Made” and “Peacock of the Show Ring,” the Saddlebred also has a dark side to its history.  For many years, black horseman labored within the industry without receiving the credit or fair compensation for their accomplishments.

From the days following the Civil War through the 1970s, black horsemen played an important, yet often unrecognized role as caretakers, trainers and owners of this fine breed.  Forced by social stigma of the times to take a backseat to their white peers, they persevered nevertheless.  The work they did behind the scenes put many horses into the winner’s circle on both national and world’s championship levels for white exhibitors. Not until the late seventies were these men able to claim those victories and more for themselves.

From innovator and racial barrier-breaker Tom Bass, to notables of today such as Mike Spencer, trainer and rider of the 2004 Kentucky State Fair’s World’s Champion Five-Gaited Mare, black horsemen have had a huge impact on Saddlebred history. Born into slavery in
Missouri during the 1850s, Tom Bass became the first black horseman to reach national prominence with his show string of Saddlebreds.  He invented the “Bass” bit which is widely used by horsemen of all breeds today.  Bass was visited at his stable by Presidents McKinley, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. He was asked to perform twice in front of President Coolidge and rode in the inaugural parade for President Cleveland.

The world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, owned and showed American Saddlebreds. Although he was an ardent lover of horses, Louis’ accomplishments in the show ring paled to those in the boxing ring.  He was, however, instrumental in organizing the first all-Negro horse show outside
Detroit, Michigan, where he won ribbons in four classes the first year it was held.  Louis owned and maintained a stable of Saddlebreds at Springhill Farm in Utica, Michigan, where he employed Henry Jennings, a black trainer, to manage his show string.

American Saddlebred Museum presents the American Saddlebred and its role in our nation’s history.  Today Saddlebreds are enjoyed by riders of all ages, race and social class in a variety of disciplines. Saddlebreds compete in three-gaited, pleasure, fine harness and five-gaited (featuring the learned gaits of the slow-gait and rack) divisions at shows held across the country.  The museum offers an opportunity to take a self-guided tour and to shop for unique equine-themed items in its gift shop.  Permanent exhibits include several touch screens and child-friendly interactive stations along with an award-winning movie. The purchase of a ticket to the Saddlebred Museum also includes admission to the Kentucky Horse Park.

A film produced by the museum will also be featured titled “Out of the Shadows,” that will be shown throughout the course of the exhibition, which opens February 16 and will run through
December 30, 2007.

American Saddlebred Museum is located off I-75 at Exit 120 on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park.  Open daily 9am to 6pm Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9am to 5pm September through May and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays November through mid March.  Information about the exhibition and ticketing can be obtained by calling the museum at 859-259-2746 or online at or by e-mailing  Ticket purchase includes admission to the Kentucky Horse Park.  Group reservations and pricing available upon request.

Courtesy of the
Kentucky Horse Park

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