by Emily Baker
You know when you've been looking forward to something for a long time, and hyping it up in your mind, only to be disappointed when that something finally arrives? That was not at all the case for our trip to Grand Lake, CO this Labor Day Weekend. I had been looking forward to this trip since probably April and we had a great time.
Grand Lake is a quaint old mining town deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Located about 45 minutes passed Winter Park (coming from Denver) Grand Lake serves as the westernmost gateway of Rock Mountain National Park. The town itself consists of one major street packed with restaurants, bars, and shops for an assortment of goods. Some of our favorites are Sagebrush Bar & Grill, Never Summer Mountain Products, and of course the classic and historic Lariat Saloon. The store fronts lining main street are a virtual outdoor museum, many of which are surviving from original construction. In fact, some stores still have hitching posts out front where cowboys tied their horses.
The town sits on the edge of Grand Lake, formerly named Spirit Lake by the Native Americans who once inhabited its shores. The derivation of the name Spirit Lake comes from the early morning mist that can be seen rising from the waters, thought to have been the ghosts of the Ute ancestors that perished in a tragedy on the lake long ago. Today, there are numerous marinas for boats and jetskis, including Grand Lake Marina, where we rented a pontoon boat one morning on our trip.
Being located so close to the Rocky Mountains, Grand Lake is also a great location for hikers. Seen above is one of the earlier stops on the Adams Falls hike, the trailhead for which is just a three minute drive outside of Grand Lake. The first stop on the hike (featured below), after just 0.3 miles is Adams Falls. Another .5 a miles or so and you can reach this meadow- an ideal spot for fishers. Continuing much further along the trail are campgrounds and a ghost town. Spotted along the trail were the remnants of equine travelers, making it a great place for a mountain trail ride.
All in all it was a beautiful and fun filled trip to Grand Lake. Of course, no Equestrienne destination is complete without some equine activities. If the old west history isn't enough for you, just outside of Grand is Sombrero Stables Snow Mountain Ranch- currently the Grand Lake stables is closed. Sombrero features one of my favorite trail rides that we did every year when I was a kid: the breakfast trail ride. If you are willing to wake up bright and early you can join the 8:00AM breakfast trail ride in which you ride out to a beautiful dining location. Once there, Sombrero cooks you a cowboy breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, and hot coffee. After filling up and enjoying the scenery you ride your steed back home. Truly a unique and unforgettable experience!
by Emily Baker
As September comes around the corner, many of us are back to school or have children who are heading back to the classrooms. As a teacher myself, I am gearing up for trading in my lovely morning summer rides for 7pm rides by myself in the indoor arena. Not to mention, how jam packed my schedule becomes once I am trying to balance work five days a week and a horse five days a week. So here are a few tips and tricks that I have adopted for maximizing your barn time.
1. Spread out the Tasks
3. Avoid High Traffic Time
If I have learned anything in my years working full time and riding it is that the biggest time waster by far is attempting to drive to the barn in peak traffic hours. Sure, you could listen to even more of your audible book during that time, but there are plenty of other things that we all could be doing. I was wasting so much time by going straight from work to the barn, it took me over an hour to get there every day when normally it took me 30 minutes. Instead, I began to stay at work longer, run some errands in between, or go home and cook dinner. If I left for the barn after 6:00, traffic had died down and I would have gotten plenty of things done that I needed to do anyways!
by Emily Baker
Most of us equestriennes spend every waking moment of free time with our equine companions. One might argue that we spend even more time with them than our human companions! Even when we're afforded the opportunity to "get away" many of us can't imagine doing it without horses in the picture. If you are planning an upcoming adventure, and need it with a dose of horses, there's an array of options for planning an equestrian holiday for you and your loved ones. In this modern age, there are online travel sites dedicated to finding you the perfect destination and excursion with your horsey friends.
Equitours has been arranging riding tours for travelers since 1971. It began as a simple Dude Ranch operation in Wyoming and expanded to a hub of equine travel that has connections worldwide. Equitours boasts a high level of service, because they have personally gone on most if not all of the excursions they offer. In addition, they have consultants who are there to help you through your entire journey until you have safely returned home.
Equitours has destinations on 6 of the 7 continents (excluding Antarctica.) Current featured destinations are the Mozambique Safari, The Highland Trail in Scotland, The Welsh Mountain Trail in Wales, and the Gobbi Steppe trail in Mongolia.
Equitours recommends factoring in many different pieces when considering where you would like to travel. Among these are terrain, weather, climate, and most importantly skill level. Safety is extremely important on equine travel excursions, and some trips should be reserved for more experienced riders. You can speak with a ride consultant for Equitours at 1(800)545-0019 or visit their website here.
Equitrekking is the companion website to the Emmy Winning PBS show of the same namee. This is and was the only TV series ever to inform viewers about equine travel destinations. Like Equitours, every destination offered by Equitrekking has been visited by their staff, albeit possibly not on the TV show.
Currently, the featured destinations on the Equitrekking site are a Sicily Riding vacation in Italy, the Castle Leslie in Ireland, and the Moore Ranch in Kansas. In addition to this, Equitrekking has a monthly featured "bargain" vacation offered at a discounted rate. This month the featured destination is right here in Colorado; Cheley camp is located in Estes Park and offers all the opportunities of a summer camp to adults and kids alike.
The featured and baragain destinations and equitrekking are always updating so be sure to check with them regularly. To book your equine travel excursion now visit the website here.
Similar to our pricey equine hobby, travel can also be extremely expensive. If you'd like to get out of town for a bit, and not have to spend all your money to do so, check out WWOOF- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This trip requires a little bit of work from the the traveler in that you are providing a service on a farm in exchange for a place to stay and food on your plate.
Many of the WWOOF destinations offer horse farms to stay and work on as well. By visiting the website you can select a country and peruse a variety of farming opportunities. The website offers you information as to what type of work and animals are on the farm. Simply keep an eye out for "horses" and you've found yourself a free equine trip! All you have to do is pay for the airplane ticket there. WWOOF is also a great and inexpensive way to travel from place to place. If you'd like to see Europe on a budget, plan your trip through WWOOF destinations and work your way around the continent. For more information check out their website here.
by Emily Baker
There's really no truer representation of "Outside the Ring" than wild mustangs. Since their peak in the United States, Mustangs' numbers have been dwindling due to land control measures by the United States government. Around the West there are many different protected land areas dedicated to the preservation of these amazing creatures.
Located just 90 minutes North of Denver in Byers, Colorado is the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary. Situated on 900 acres of land, Great Escape is currently home to a standing herd of around 22 mustangs, and then a handful of horses and wild burros for adoption.
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this facility in a Living Social deal awhile back. They willingly offer tours of the property. On our tour, we got to visit with the horses and burros for sale, and then drive out into the massive open pasture where the herd lives and have lunch overlooking the animals. It turns out, they have become quite friendly and came over to say hi.
Prehistorically, horses existed in the Americas over 12,000 years ago but disappeared. They were reintroduced by Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century. With colonization and expansion of what would become the United States of America, the horse became the primary means of transportation. Inevitably, there were wild horses throughout the continent which reached their peak population in the 1800s. At this time, it was estimated that millions of Mustangs were roaming North America.
Consequentially, the US Government began to regulate the Mustangs leading nearly to the extinction of these incredible creatures. This of course, led to such heroes and heroines as Mustang Annie (a personal favorite of mine since I was a girl.) Eventually, this also led to the creation of Mustang sanctuaries around the country like Great Escape.
Places like Great Escape can only thrive with the help of generous donors. To schedule a tour or to donate to the cause visit their website here. Or, if you find yourself in search of a new equine friend, you can peruse their list of horses for sale. Either way, this organization is certainly deserving of support!
by Emily Baker
Mondays are a sacred day to the avid horse shower in the summer. As much as we love our days spent at the show, Mondays offer one day of respite to recover or perhaps take advantage of the activities off the show grounds. Whether you are in state or traveling from far away this summer, there is a plethora of fun and exciting activities to partake in on your day off just a short drive from the Colorado Horse Park.
1. Top Golf
Top Golf is located in Centennial, CO just a 15 minute drive from the Colorado Horse Park and is one of the most exciting new attractions in the area. It is a driving range and bar that creates a dynamic interactive hangout environment. If you are a golf enthusiast, you can take advantage of the multi-level 240 yard driving range. If you are just there to spectate, Top Golf has a full bar and menu (the Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Spring Rolls come very highly recommended.) Depending on the time of day, rental of a Bay - a driving range spot with a booth and table - ranges from $25-$45 per hour. Or, if you are truly looking to take advantage of your time off, Top Golf also offers lessons and classes. Top Golf is open from 9:00 AM to midnight on Mondays. For hours on other days and more information check out their website at http://topgolf.com/us/centennial/.
2. White Water Rafting
If you’re the adventurous type, a favorite of many Coloradans in the summertime is white water rafting. Arkansas Valley Adventures provides many different rafting opportunities around the state of Colorado. No previous rafting experience is necessary for even their advanced trips, but as their descriptors indicate “physical fitness is required.” Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem for any of us riders! The two most convenient trips from the Colorado Horse Park are the Royal Gorge advanced rafting trip which is about 1.5 hours south of Parker, or the Clear Creek beginner rafting trip just outside of Denver. However, if you don’t mind the drive there are a few other beautiful trips up in the mountains and even some that include dinner or a ziplining experience. For adults prices range from about $54.00 to $76.00 for a rafting only experience. For more information or to check out the other adventures visit www.coloradorafting.net.
3. High Speed Go-Karting
For an adrenaline rush on your off day check out K1 Indoor Speed Racing located just 30 minutes from the Colorado Horse Park in Highlands Ranch. With 20-hp engines these little karts can reach speeds of up to 45 mph instantly. The track itself has been professionally designed and all ages are allowed. In addition, K1 has a video game arcade, snack bar, and TV lounge for your entertainment. It is open from Noon to 10:00 PM on Mondays and prices start at $20.000 per race, but discounts are available for more races. Reservations aren’t necessary but if you’d like more information check out www.k1speed.com.
For even more of an adrenaline rush, if you don’t mind the drive, you can visit the IMI Motorsports Complex in Dacono, CO. There are tamer Go Kart options here as well, but the TKM, Biland, and Shifter karts can reach speeds of up to 90 mph on the 1 mile long outdoor track. IMI is open 7 days a week and costs range from $3.50-$7.00 per lap (minimum 5 laps on some options) depending on which kart you pick. Check out www.imimotorsports.com for more information.
4. Chatfield State Park
If you’re looking for more of a relaxing day off Chatfield State Park is also just a 40 minute drive from the Colorado Horse Park. Located off Titan Parkway in Littleton, CO Chatfield offers trails, camping, and a lake for boating or relaxing. If you don’t have your own boat, Chatfield marina offers boat rentals and even a floating restaurant. If you brought your furry friend with you for the horse shows, there is a dog off-leash area which allows them ample room to run and play outdoors. Entrance to the park costs $8.00 per day, while entrance to the dog park is just $2.00. For more information or to check park conditions visit http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Chatfield.
5. RiNo Brewery Tour
Why not get a little rowdy on a Monday when it’s your only day off? In recent years Denver has become home to an array of Micro-breweries, many of which are located in a neighborhood called RiNo, just North of Denver. Some of the hotspots include Ratio Beerworks at 29th and Larimer, Epic Brewing at 30th and Walnut, and Blackshirt Brewing at 37th and Walnut. River North is also a great brewery, but it is closed on Mondays. If you find yourself in need of a break from beer, Stem Ciders at 28th and Walnut is essentially a cider brewery and has homebrewed ciders from tart to sweet. Infinite Monkey Theorem is a RiNo based winery serving up their own personal wines in cans and on tap. It’s about a 45 minute drive from The Colorado Horse Park so be sure to nominate a designated driver, or pool your money for a Lyft or Uber. In spite of the distance, it’s well worth a trip to the RiNo Breweries.
6. Coors Field
Another downtown option for your day off is to go to a Rockies Game at Coors Field. Though they may not be the best major league baseball team, The Rockies’ stadium provides beautiful views and (hopefully) beautiful weather. Most days there is either an afternoon game around 1:00 PM or an evening game around 6:00 PM. Seats are as low as $4 if you are willing to sit in the rowdy Rockpile. Or you can buy a $16 concession ticket for the Rooftop area. This is a standing room only ticket but comes with a concession credit in the amount of $6. This option is for the spectators who are more there for the social scene than the baseball scene. For the Rockies schedule and to purchase tickets visit http://m.mlb.com/col/tickets/info/ticket-specials.
7. Red Rocks Ampitheater
No trip to Colorado is complete without a journey to Red Rocks Amphitheater. Both an unforgettable concert venue and an outdoor exercise spot, you’ll be able to find many reasons to make the trip out to Morrison, CO on your day off. Though it is unlikely there will be a concert on a Monday, red Rocks is open all days for general tourists. Many choose to exercise using the venue’s stairs or simply take advantage of the beautiful scenery. You can also choose to take a hike that goes up and around the amphitheater itself. Furthermore, Monday nights throughout the summer Red Rocks hosts Film on the Rocks- a movie series with a one-of-a-kind backdrop. For directions and more information check out redrocksonline.com.
8. Water World and Elitch Gardens
For a more classic spin on fun on your day off hit up Elitch Gardens or Water World. Both located in the Northern part of Denver, they are about a 45 minute drive from the Colorado Horse Park. Elitch Gardens is a Theme Park with typical rides like a ferris wheel, the carousel, and the observation tower as well as an entire kids’ park. But for the thrill seekers Elitch Gardens boasts massive roller coasters like the Minderaser and the Boomerang. Adult tickets cost $35.99 and the park is open Mondays generally from 10AM-7PM.
Neighboring Water World is more ideal for the hot Colorado summer temperatures. Numerous water slides and tube rides will keep you entertained, and then you can relax in the Lazy River. Wally World is a mini water parks for the kids. Top recommendations include: the White Lightning slides, the Voyage to the Center of the Earth, and The Storm. General admission is $41.99 and the park is open on Mondays from 10AM-6PM.
For more info visit www.elitchgardens.com and www.waterworldcolorado.com respectively.
The prototypical thing to do when you’re in Colorado is, obviously, go outside and enjoy our beautiful mountains. There are an innumerable amount of hikes to go on in Colorado. Though there are a few flat lands ones near the horse park, and of course the trails at Chatfield, the best views and hikes are going to be up in the mountains. A short and yet rewarding hike is the Flatirons hike in Boulder. It’s not too grueling, but at the top you have beautiful views of Boulder and the foothills. Another Colorado favorite is the Hanging Lake hike. Only the view at the end of the hike can even begin to explain why this hike is a Colorado must. And of course, somewhere on every Coloradans bucket list is to hike a14er- this is a mountain exceeding an elevation 14,000 feet. You will need to come well prepared for these adventures, and it will require you to wake up much earlier than you may like on your only day off. But it will be well worth it. For other hiking suggestions check out Day Hikes Near Denver at www.dayhikesneardenver.com.
10. Dinosaur Ridge
Long before equestrians, horses, or the Horse Park ever existed Colorado it was home to some even larger creatures- dinosaurs. A fun and unique excursion for your free time is a visit to Dinosaur Ridge. Dinosaur Ridge is located near to Red Rocks in Morrison, CO. A short ⅓ mile hike will walk you past dinosaur fossils and footprints, as well as traces of the aquatic life that was in the area when Colorado was still underwater (yes this is a true fact.) This is a particularly appealing adventure if you have kids, as there are games and entertainment for them as well. But even as adults, the gargantuan footprint of an Apatosaurus is a pretty cool sight to see! Dinosaur Ridge is open 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM on Mondays and admittance is free. However, if you’re not feeling like the hike and want to take a bus to the fossils, this costs $6 for anyone older than three. For more information and directions check out www.dinoridge.org.
By Anna Jensen
“It was an incredibly moving experience. I had spent a lifetime training domestic horses and every interaction I had with a horse was trying to improve or fix or somehow solve a problem. The experience of going to Sable Island to appreciate the beauty of the horse as a species was absolutely cathartic for me.”
Debra Garside has spent a lifetime in the horse business. As a teenager growing up on Vancouver Island, Garside rode hunter jumpers, and soon found herself a professional grand prix and hunter rider, trainer, judge, course designer, and show manager. I met Garside a few years ago at a summer show at Thunderbird Showpark, just outside Vancouver. There, as a spectator wandering the vendor area, her dramatic canvas’ of the wild horses of Sable Island stopped me in my tracks. Their muscled bodies mid-rear, their wild, long manes whipping through the winter air, their gorgeous primal nature captured in time. Garside has dedicated her life to nature photography with her business True North Fine Images. Since 2007, the award-winning photographer has had her focus on the wild horses of Sable Island. In 2010 she published her first book, “The Wild Horses of Sable Island: A Horseman’s Journey. “I think when you know your subject intimately you can predict when certain behaviors are going to happen so you can really be ready for the shot. Out of a thousand shots you might wind up with ten you really like. Because I know horses so well and because I know what horse people like to see in an image, I am able to choose images that really resonate with horseman.”
Back in the mid-eighties, after riding professionally under many others, Garside decided to venture out on her with True North Stables. As anyone in the horse business understands, that became all consuming. “I enjoyed the competitive aspect, don’t get me wrong,” said Garside. “But for me the thrill was always taking that young horse, that diamond in the rough or that horse with a problem, and developing that horse and trying to allow that horse to be the best it could be.” Eventually the day-to-day reality of dealing with customers who weren’t always on her same wavelength grew tiresome. “One of the things I didn’t like about the horse business was I thought there were not enough like-minded people, and I found it difficult to teach people who would not appreciate their horse - Who only used them as a machine or a tool to accomplish their sport goals. That was really when I started to become disenchanted with the sport.” Garside decided to sell her equestrian center, and following her own “true north,” she started exploring.
“ I went to Patagonia, Antarctica, and Alaska. During that time I rediscovered photography, which had always been sort of a latent passion of mine.” Garside sought out mentors, and professional photographers, and every one turned her back to her horses. “They would always go to my horse photos as my strongest images. So that led me to investigating where are the wild horses that I want to photograph? You know, because photography was supposed to be the non-horse part of my life.” Wanting nothing to do with commercial horse photography she began to research Sable Island, a small sandy island about 200 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nearly 400 horses roam the island, famous for causing over 350 shipwrecks due to thick fogs and treacherous ocean currents in the area, which still inhibit travel. And once on the island, it was far from paradise as Garside described the challenges. “You have a fifty/fifty chance of getting off the ground on the day you book a flight. One third of the year the island is fogged in and a plane can’t land if it’s too windy, too foggy, or if the beach where the plane lands is too wet or too dry.” Permission had to be granted by the Canadian Coastguard, in charge of the island, to let her stay and live in their staff quarters. To Garside, the hassle of getting to that little sliver of sand and grass was well worth it. “I knew the history of the horses, which was fascinating, but nothing could’ve really prepared me for that personal experience of just being there with the horses.”
The horses of Sable Island are the only unmanaged wild herd left in the Americas. They have been there since the mid-1700’s and historical accounts say that when the Acadian settlers were deported from the Nova Scotia area their livestock was confiscated and a merchant from Boston took the horses over to the island because he wanted a foothold on it. The horses that roam the island now are descended from that herd. In the beginning of the 1900’s thoroughbred, draft and Morgan stallions, among others, were introduced to the herd to increase its size and health. At that time, a small community of about 50 people lived on the island, manning the lifesaving station there and domesticating some of the horses.
“Those horses were used for everything from farming to mounted beach patrol and dragging lifeboats to rescue sites. They were really multi-purpose horses,” says Garside. “Because they’ve been so isolated, they have really unique adaptations to their environment- particularly the tolerance they have for drinking water from the ocean. Being on the island and experiencing horses in their natural state - not interfered with by people, really gave me a sense of what can happen without human intervention and how a species can flourish,” explained Garside.
There are no predators on the island, so the harsh weather proves to be the horses’ biggest enemy. The herd is also protected from what wild horses in the United States are in danger from- the political battle between mustang enthusiasts and the livestock ranchers who consider them a pest. The Sable Island horses have been fully protected by the Canadian government since 1960.
“Wild horse management is a complicated question,” said Garside. “I think people kind of get camped on one side of the fence or the other as far as how to do that.” Garside hopes her work and her passion for the animals not only introduces people to their untamed beauty, but also fosters a more far-reaching effect for other wild-horse populations. “The Sable Island horses are protected now. They’re safe. But because they are so unique and have such a fascinating history people are drawn to them and I think indirectly, they can be the poster children for wild horses everywhere. Our history was built on the backs of these animals and they deserve our respect,” said a passionate Garside.
Helping the cause of wild horses may be the broad goal, but the past six years spent in the presence of the horses has been a much more personal journey for Garside. “As a trainer of domestic horses, you don’t always get to see the herd dynamics that take place between stallions and mares and foals together in a group with different herds interacting with each other. I’ve learned so much from just being able to observe body language, mannerisms and the way horses communicate with each other.”
Garside remains fascinated with the difference between wild and domesticated horses, since she adopted two yearling Alberta mustang colts, Flyer and Preacher. “ The wild horses are so street smart - that’s the best way I can describe it. They’re not screwed up by people so their reactions are true. Training those colts has been a completely different experience.” Garside believes wild horses make great trail and ranch horses, and one of her colts is headed for a future in the hunter-jumper world. “If they’ve spent any time in the wild they have learned respect. Our show horses grow up mostly isolated from the herd environment. They are handled from birth and so generally speaking, hand-raised domestic horses do not respect people the way a wild horse does. They learn the herd pecking order right from the beginning. My two colts have absolute respect for me. It takes them longer to trust me, but once they trust me they will do anything for me - like if they get their leg tangled in a rope or they step on their lead shank they don’t pull back or freak out or anything. They stop, they calmly think about it, they figure out which leg to move next, and they figure out how to extricate themselves.” Garside believes all this savvy comes from herd influence. “Last year the water in my stock tank accidently froze over, and they all came, one at a time, to get a drink. They all looked at it, realized it was frozen, and turned and walked away. My black colt, the youngest, walked over to the water, saw it was frozen, picked up his foot and smashed the ice and started drinking!”
Now, with her advanced understanding of herd dynamics, learned from time spent on Sable Island, Garside says her intuition has sharpened. “I think I’ve always been a really good reader of horse body language, but I think I’m much better now. When we train domestic horses, we read that horse’s body language as it relates to us, but we do not understand where that body language comes from. It comes from how that horse would behave around other horses. It’s called anthropomorphizing, and it’s not helpful.” That view brings a decidedly different perspective to how she interacts with students. “I try to get them to see things the way the horse sees them. If a horse doesn’t want to do something, it’s not because that horse is being stubborn, it’s because that horse has a reason and we need to understand that reason through the eyes of the horse.” Garside’s shift goes beyond just being a more understanding and aware horsewoman. “Perhaps the biggest shift for me has taken place from the perspective of what constitutes beauty. I still love a beautiful eye, a great top-line and a nice mover. But my appreciation has widened to something less tangible. There is an intensely personal aspect to developing trust with an animal that has been born in the wild and not been tarnished from human influence. Now, for me, it’s more about appreciating the horse as it is, and allowing that horse to be the best it can be.”
Garside left the show horse world but couldn’t leave horses. “As a child, I grew up reading beautiful storybooks about Misty of Chincoteague that had beautiful illustrations of horses swimming through the ocean and galloping on the beach. I guess everything eventually comes full circle.” Garside seems to have realized after all the years of teaching and training, that it is she who is really the student of these magnificent creatures. “I wish I had some profound wisdom or epiphany to bestow upon those who show interest. The truth is, that observing wild horses and handling captured ones, has only served to show me how little I really know about horse behavior, and that the door has been opened into a fascinating world that will undoubtedly take a lifetime, or what is left of mine, to decipher it to the best of my ability.”
Moving from a rigorous schedule of shows, goals and accomplishments, Garside has found her true north, her personal path, and it is through the unknown. “I have no idea where this will lead, and therein lays the beauty and enchantment of it. Perhaps in time I will have more answers.”
Debra Garside’s second book, “The Wild Horses of Sable Island: A Horsewoman’s Journey” is available on her website, truenorthfineimages.com. For information on joining Garside on a trip to Sable Island in the future please contact her at email@example.com
by Emily Baker
As primarily hunter/jumpers in the equestrian world we often celebrate The Kentucky Derby purely for its ceremonial value. What we may overlook is that this race is the longest standing sports tradition in US history and is one of the greatest influences in the popularity of our sport today.
The tradition was brought to America but Meriwether Clark, grandson of Lewis and Clark, who had attended the historic Epsom Derby in England and fell in love with the sport. Clark returned to the states and founded what would 8-years later be called “Churchill Downs,” in honor of his grandparents who gifted him the land. Admission price was $.50. Aristides, one of fifteen three-year-olds in competition, won the very first Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875. The first race was a whopping 1.5 miles long.
Since then the race has evolved to become a national spectacle that has remained stable despite the influence of war or economic turmoil. With the growing popularity of the race it was evident that some changes needed to be made in the years to come. Grandstands and the twin spires were erected at Churchill Downs to accommodate the growing crowds. In addition, the race was shortened to 1.25 miles as the original length was determined to be too long for the young thoroughbreds.
In 1899, the race encountered its first tragedy with the suicide of Meriwether Clark. He killed himself twelve short days before the running of the 25th derby. The Derby fell to the leadership Matt J. Winn who saw the first profits at Churchill Downs four years later.
As history wound on the Derby continued to overcome hardship and strife in America and around the world, and became a symbol of hope for millions of Americans. In 1930 the Depression hit the United States. Unemployment skyrocketed from 3.2% to 8.9% in one year and reached its zenith five years later at 20.1%. During this time a little horse with a big reputation inspired millions who were struggling with starvation and poverty. His name was Seabiscuit.
During the 20th century the race was hit hard by the racial segregation in the United States. During the pre-Civil Rights era African Americans were facing discrimination and violence throughout America and particularly in the Jim Crow South. Prior to the 1920s the majority of jockeys were black and 15 of the first 28 derbies were won by African American riders. From 1921 until the onset of the 21st century, however, not a single African American raced in the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby overcame even the challenges of both World Wars. In spite of restrictions on travel, the Kentucky Derby of 1943 was held in front of 65,000 spectators and was won by Count Fleet bringing hope and joy to millions around the world in war time.
In 1970 the first female jockey races in the derby. Her name was Diane Crump and she finished 15th in the field. Though she didn’t win the race, this was a huge victory for women in America who still today are fighting for equal rights.
In 1973 Secretariat, one of the most famous names in horse racing, won the Derby and went on to win the Triple Crown. He finished the race in 1: 49: 40 which is still the track record to date.
Today the Kentucky Derby is an international event. The advent of television and radio brings the race to households worldwide. The price of admission is now $30, inexpensive in sports standards today but a huge hike when considering the original $.50 ticket price. The most recent Kentucky Derby boasted 165,307 fans and set a $133.1 million wagering record. 141 years later the Kentucky Derby continues to grow and attract the attention and admiration of horse lovers and sports fans around the world.