National Museum of Racing Plans Day of Horse Connection and Education, Cleverly Disguised as Big Fun.
I’m always whining about The Way Things are Done in Racing, vs. The Way They Should Be Done. (See previous article on this ‘site.)
So today I must doff my cap to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, in Saratoga, for doing precisely something that should be done: bring the masses into the Museum and the Saratoga Race Course (Union Avenue neigh-bors), and educate the heck out of them.
This, folks, is how to grow fans of horse racing: bring in people who are just looking for something fun to do on a lovely Saratoga Autumn day. Teach them about the history of horse racing–of the famous race track–set them off on a course to find horse-related items in a scavenger hunt–give them all, adults and children alike, the opportunity to meet a horse–then send them across the street to the Museum for a free afternoon of yet-more horse racing education.
Immersion. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. An entire day of learning–imagine that!
An entire day of womyn and men, boyz and grrrlz, and opportunities to get intimate with horses and ponies. THIS is the key to growing the sport of horse racing: I guarantee, that at least ONE child, man or woman who attends this event will end up a fan of the sport or even a professional working side-by-side with us. At least one human will lock eyes with an equine–fall into spiritual love–and never look back.
Before I post the press release from Brien Bouyea, let me tell you a story.
In 2002, I taught a course in an after-school program at an elementary school in New Rochelle, New York. My assigned course was, “Journalism.”
Now, how the heck an after-school program for kidz, aged 7 – 12 is supposed to teach them the rigors of Journalism–I do not know. So I twisted it around, and instead told them that they were going to write just ONE article for our fictitious newspaper, and that article would be about horses.
Now, you have to understand that the majority of these children never–EVER–had seen a horse in the flesh before. They had no concept of a horse’s dimensions, size, smell, nature or ways of thinking. One little grrrl was very pleased to report that she had seen horses on TV; I nearly cried.
I could have shown them a herd of cows, and not one of them would have been able to say, “That’s not a horse!” based on personal experience.
Yes, very sad, indeed. Not only their educations–but their entire lives–were sadder because of this lack of knowledge about The Horse.
So I made a plan. I called Joanne Nielsen’s Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, New York, to see if I could bring the kidz up there. The young woman who runs the dressage side of the farm readily agreed, and got excited.
OK, got horses. Check.
Next, we spent hours learning about The Horse–things that you and I take for granted, like measurement. What’s meant by “16hh,” for example. (In fact, when I showed them by using my hands on the wall, approximately 16hh, they all put on their Tough Noo Yawk Kid ‘tudes, spouting “No way.” “You’re whack, Miss Marion,” “Yer kiddin’ me, right?”)
Then, the piece de resistance: the very kind curator at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at that time, sent a box to me, of things both to keep and to use / send back. Keepers included a printout about Conformation, and a big paper package all about horses. Sender-backers included jockey silks, crops, stirrups and a saddle.
My T.A.s and I took the kids into the gym; set up a sawhorse with the saddle on it; dressed the kidz in the silks. Most kidz did want to sit on the saddle/sawhorse. Some posed as gangstas, arms crossed in front of them. All were out of their minds delighted, for the purpose of this was to take a picture of each of them–create “media credentials” that were laminated. Put the “media credentials” on lanyards–and the kidz then would each have their very-own credential to wear as a Journalist to the farm.
Oh, yes, and of course, we spent many hours learning about writing–writing for newspapers, and my rigid standards–and honing those skills. Many complained loudly that after-school programs weren’t supposed to have homework, but you know me. My response was a shrug, a smirk and, “Oh, well.”
You should know that one of the students, whom we’ll call, Jacky, Drove.Me.Nuts. On a regular basis. Lest you think that I’m being cruel, speaking about a boy who had ADHD–I am not. He did not have ADHD. The school counselor told me simply that he was “an imp, not a bad boy, just an imp.”
“Imp,” my patootie. Well, he did personify that word. He’d do things during class that made the class laugh–or jump–or otherwise give him a reaction.
Many were the times when, like my cat Homer, he’d do something that could cause utter destruction…but he’d look at me, then, also like Homer–tuck himself under my arm, and say almost immediately, “But you do like me, right, Miss Marion?”
Then there were the times that I wanted to throttle him.
He was a good child, not a demon. So I let him live.
Well, the magickal day arrived! We took the 13 children and three escorts up the road from New Rochelle to Bedford, in two SUVs.
Our little Journalists all wore their prized media credentials–many introduced themselves to staff at the farm, as “…a Journalist from — School.” It was adorbs.
Then, the Moment of Truth: meeting a horse. Everyone had been very-carefully taught NOT to touch a horse unless one of us (adults, or farm womyn) were with them. They’d learned how to ball their fists so a horse could sniff them first, and get to know them. How to hold their hands absolutely-flat when giving a carrot or peppermint–because fingers might look like carrots, if you give a horse a carrot by merely handing it to her. Nervously, I dropped the proverbial flag, declaring them to be Ready.
One grrrl screamed, as if she’d just seen her grandmother’s pancreas. The horse at whom she screamed just stood, looking at her. The look said, “Please. Pull it together.”
As I stood, helping another grrrl feed carrot pieces to a particularly lovely little f!lly, a tiny voice from behind me almost whspered,
“Miss Marion! I think he likes me!”
I wheeled around to see Jacky, standing in front of an enormous (18hh), black horse named, Brazil. Brazil’s head went the length of my shoulder to my hand. (I’d measured when first I met him that day.) Brazil’s owner had said that he’d taught her more about Dressage than she ever knew in all the years she’d ridden before she got him. Brazil was (is) an extraordinary horse, indeed.
So there stood Jacky, sweetly and QUIETLY holding a fistful of Sweet Timothy up to Brazil, who munched gratefully. His enormous, soft horsie lips came precariously close to Jacky’s little fingersm but of course Brazil knew how to interact with humans–and certainly with this child.
Of course Jacky ignored the rule, about not approaching a horse without an adult present. Of course. That’s what he does. (Or,did, anyway.)
Jacky stood there, all awe-filled, and yet not afraid. Not one iota. He’d never in his life met a horse in person, and yet–there, on that day, in ritzy Bedford–he met a gigantic black horse who knew that this moment could change Jacky’s life, forever.
The two of them just stood–Jacky, patting Brazil’s enormous face, lips, nose. Brazil taking it all in, and giving that child his very best vibe. Truly, they communicated, in the deepest of ways. The ways that We Horse Lovers have known for years.
When we all got back to the school, and Jacky’s Mother picked him up, I told her about her son’s transformational afternoon.
She was incredulous: “No. You don’t mean my son. Not Jacky. It wtraas some other kid…”
I assured her that Jacky indeed had spent the quietest day of his life on that farm, with Brazil.
Mom leapt into action: she hugged her boy, and asked if he’d like to take riding lessons at Pelham Bit Stables. Jacky hugged her hard, and said, “Oh, YES!”–but still, he was quiet. The transformation wasn’t just circumstantial, it went outside the farm’s gate, and into Jacky’s Life.
THIS, race fans, is The Power of the Horse. Like the most powerful things in the Universe–the quietness of the stars, the flight of an eagle, the creative love of God–The Power of the Horse often wraps itself in silk and near-silence. The most powerful thing about a horse is not his hooves, his butt, his withers, his strong neck or bellowing neigh. The most potent way that a horse shows his power is by looking a human in the eye–crawling right inside that human’s spirit–and sharing peace with that person,who may never-before had a peaceful moment.
This is what the Racing Museum is offering you and your children, on September 24th. What an extraordinary gift. You need not have a child in tow, in order to experience the day. Come with friends. Call the Racing Museum for more details, but whatever you do–COME.
This would be a wonderful thing for city schools, like in Albany, Schenectady and Troy–to do for their students. Call the Museum–tell them you’re bringing a busload–and bring those children up the Northway, thus changing their lives forever. Your own life may be transformed by a soulful encounter, as well–but you’ll never know, if you don’t come.
Saturday, September 24:
Hunt for History and Horses with the National Museum of Racing
and Hall of Fame!
Join the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Saturday, September 24th for a unique and family friendly scavenger hunt at the Saratoga Race Course! Teams will tour around the NYRA grounds with exclusive, post-season access, while learning about the history of thoroughbred racing and its connection to Saratoga Springs. After the scavenger hunt, there will be pony rides in racing silks in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course; a petting zoo; crafts; and more!
When: Saturday, September 24, 2016
Cost: $5.00 per person, children under 5 are free!Schedule:
9:30 a.m.-9:55 a.m. : Registration and check-in
9:55 a.m.-10:00 a.m.: Call to post
10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Scavenger hunt
11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Post-scavenger hunt activities!* In the case of rain, this event will be moved indoors to the National Museum of Racing
and Hall of Fame.