Tom Bass Arena Memorializes Forgotten Horseman

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Photo by Just chaos/Flickr
Photo by Just chaos/Flickr

For decades, these men were considered the forgotten horsemen — the African-Americans who cared for and trained high-stepping show horses.

For the most part, the men have remained in the shadows of the Saddlebred industry.

Exhibits about African-American horsemen

A recent exhibit at the Saddlebred Museum in the Kentucky Horse Park finally celebrated their contributions.

(Ed. Note: I have a copy of the “Out of the Shadows” DVD, also available in VHS, which is an excellent mini-documentary based on the exhibit.)

And Bass’s contributions are featured in a permanent exhibit in the American Saddlebred Horse Museum in Mexico, MO, where he ran a large training stable during the early 1900s.

Tom Bass Arena

Now, a facility at the complex where the final jewel in the Saddlebred Triple Crown is held will be named for one of these oft-forgotten horsemen.

The new building will serve as the warm-up arena for horses about to compete in The American Royal.

The Contributions of Tom Bass

Bass had been born into slavery but eventually broke racial barriers in the show ring by being the only rider that a wild showy mare would tolerate. He went on to run his own show stable and become a celebrity of his times. He met presidents and trained champions for the ultra-wealthy and the powerful.

He is also credited with inventing a bit that carries his name that was gentler for the horse. He considered it a gift to horses, so he never patented it.

Some accounts credit him with inventing the American Royal horse show as a fundraiser for the local fire department.

An Observation

I believe he would appreciate that his name would go on a warm-up ring. One of his greatest victories in the show ring resulted from his conditioning of his horses for endurance during competition.

Scroll down this page to read the story of his and Miss Rex’s victory in the 1895 Saddle Stakes. She outlasted the greatest competitors of her time in a long workout.

The Comical History of My Stints as an Equestrian Charity Volunteer

Posted on 4 min read 6 views
Photo by mcmoody/iStockphoto
Photo by mcmoody/iStockphoto

Horse mystery novelist Kit Ehrman recently blogged about having a case of “horse withdrawal.”

I know what she means. I’m in the same boat, more or less.

I’m in no position to own a horse. Both my physical and financial health would be better off if I didn’t even take lessons.

Besides, I don’t have the time anymore. I have the typical, modern over-scheduled life.

I used to ride before I had a scary health situation. Now, the idea of sitting to a trot is enough to keep me away from the saddle. So, as a consolation, I started writing about horses.

But, at times, there is no substitute. There’s nothing like the warm breath from a soft muzzle. Or the soft fur of a winter coat. Or the satiny sheen of sleek summer coat.

Helpful horse people give me lots of suggestions, like they did for Kit in the group blog Equestrian Ink.

One suggestion is to work in a barn for a local trainer. Working as stable help is a time-honored way to get riding time. Let alone horse time. Young William Shatner reportedly did it.

(Ed. note: I’ve driven myself batty looking for the source to cite for a link. I know he once said that he worked as a stableboy so he could ride. I remember reading that. If you can find it, post it in the comments. All I can offer you in return, though, is Internet glory in my comments section.)

But I’ve been too sickly to participate in manure management. My husband made me promise, “No saddling. No mucking.” I all but swore to it with my right hand up, as if I were taking a pledge. Even though I’ve always prided myself on the fact that, once I became tall enough to do so, I saddle my own mounts, thank you very much.

Once, a tack shop owner offered up another suggestion, to volunteer at a horse rescue. Or a therapeutic riding stable.

I’ve tried both. I wish I could report warm fuzzy feelings. Let alone link to these deserving groups. They work hard on wispy shoestrings budgets of both staffing and funds. But if I identify them now, I can’t tell you the funny stories. Believe me, you’ll see why soon.

The Therapeutic Riding Stable Misadventure

Once my health situation stabilized, I jumped at the opportunity when a local therapeutic riding stable opened up its volunteer program. It does so once every year, only in the spring because it’s easier to train volunteers for the season all at once.

However, when I showed up ready to work, I wasn’t ready physically. I didn’t have my strength up yet. Plus, even if I had volunteered just to groom, I would have to break my promise to DH about the saddling.

But the deal-breaker for me was that I needed to be able to either lead the horse during the sessions or walk along to help the rider as a walker. After all, the more reasonably fit volunteers who could help would give more clients a chance to ride. And that’s the whole point.

So. because I couldn’t keep up on foot with a trotting horse, I was dismissed. I cried bitter tears of frustration, but I understood.

The Horse Rescue Deflater

Option number two: I picked a somewhat local horse rescue that’s really too far for me to visit regularly. No worries. I could write press releases and do online public relations. A board member said that she would serve as my contact.

But she didn’t grasp that print publications and other community activities boards often need months of lead time for submissions. She would send me updates for event notices the week before the event. Sometimes, even the night before. I came to wonder if my distance from the rescue may be putting me a bit out-of-touch to serve as a spokesperson.

I finally got to attend one event that I had promoted in various outlets for months. I arrived oddly pleased for once to have trouble finding a parking space because there were so many cars. I overheard guests marveling at “such a great turnout.” When I finally tracked down my contact, her first words after “Oh, hi,” were not “Great turnout” but “Where’s TV?”

Thus endeth my year in horse rescue PR.

Now, I realize that It’s Not About Me. I should Just Suck It Up and Do It For The Horses. And I’m not proud that I found myself with more generosity of spirit than I could manage in practice.

But the bottom line is that, if you don’t fit into what these time- and cash-strapped organizations need, then they treat you like any other harried human resources manager does.  It’s “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” time.

So, it’s back to writing about horses. Following various competition circuits. And the occasional bit of equine tourism. All of which I will share with you at one point or another.

It’s not such a bad gig. After all, there’s “no mucking and no saddling.”

Celebrating the Life of the Genuine Risk

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Original drawing by G.W. Hughey@2008 gwh/art

A feminist icon from 1980 passed away quietly a few weeks ago at the truly ripe old age of 31.

Genuine Risk caused a sensation when she beat the boys at the 1980 Kentucky Derby. She almost won The Preakness, except for a controversy with the winner Codex. And she finished, again, in the money in The Belmont.

Her history is detailed in a free download collection, offered by The Bloodhorse. (To find the download, click the above link, scroll down and look in the right hand column.)

She still holds the record as the only filly to have placed in the money in all three Triple Crown races.

However, she was unable to pass along those fast, fiery genes. A mating with her “dream date” 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat produced a still-born foal. She didn’t carry a foal to full term until she was 16. And she only foaled another one. Neither foal of hers ever raced.

But leave it to this pioneer to re-define success. She spent her retirement career as grand dame of Newstead Farm near Upperville, VA, and transitional baby-sitter. She calmed fillies fresh from the racetrack and readied them for the slower-paced life in the pastures.

She spent her long years of retirement there, except for various visits to stallions, in love and comfort with the owners Bert and Diana Firestone, who had followed her into the winner’s circle all those years before.

We should all have such comfortable golden years.

In the Pink with KP Equestrian and Tiny Dancer

Posted on 2 min read 7 views
Photo by doubtfulneddy/iStockphoto
Photo by doubtfulneddy/iStockphoto

Note: Photo not of merchandise from the KP Equestrian collection.

I’m either too provincial as a Yank or too old or too out-of-touch to have heard of Katie Price, aka “Jordan,” a British supermodel-merchandiser who excites headlines and gossip “across the pond.”

Price seems to be the UK’s version of a madcap mix of Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson and Martha Stewart.

And more pertinent to our purposes at The Horsey Set Net, she’s launched an equestrian-inspired clothing line for both horse and rider called KP Equestrian.

It’s a sportswear line that you could wear — and match with — your horse at the barn, if you were so inclined. And had a horse.

Currently, the dominant available color is hot pink. Or shocking pink across the pond.

Fashionistas will recognize the color as “Schiap,” inspired by designer Elsa Schiaparelli from the Nars cosmetics line.

But I also recognized the color and the motif from an episode of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16.”

That episode’s belle of the birthday was Mary from Mississippi. Mary went all out with a Vegas-theme party for which she would dress as Barbie. But she didn’t want Barbie’s fabled pink Corvette. As an experienced show ring competitor, Mary wanted a Tennessee Walking Horse named Tiny Dancer, who had charmed her at her trainer’s barn.

As the finale for the show, pardon the spoiler, Tiny Dancer was led up to her party all decked out in a matching ensemble of hot pink blanket, leg wraps, halter and lead shank. Kind of like Barbie’s pink Corvette, but more fitting for Mary’s interests.

Except for the lack of a logo, Tiny Dancer’s attire reminds me a lot of KP Equestrian’s horse wear.