The Final Word Less One - on any subject anywhere any time that the author finds interesting -

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Horse Art and the Originals

Statue to Secretariat - at the entrance to the Visitor's Center
Kentucky Horse Park - Lexington, Kentucky

A dramatic life-size depiction of the great racing legend of our time, this lovely statue also pays tribute to Secretariat's trainer Lucien Laurin and his jockey Ron Turcotte.  The bowed energy of the neck, the thrust of the sees the racehorse. Here's a wonderful clip, a little grainy and rough, that replays the 1973 Belmont which shows Secretariat going out head to head with the "speed" horses who were supposed to wear him down, duel with the great Sham all down the backstretch and finally distance the pack in the most incredible race I have ever seen if my life:

Man O'War

This huge statue is 1 and a quarter times life size. Man O'War was a big horse, as a three-year old measuring out at 16.2 hands*. His statue looks to be something like 20 hands high. I know draft horses that big, but Man O'War would not have been as effective a racehorse if he had been that large. Secretariat was "only" 15.2. Not only is that average size for a modern riding horse but that is probably close to ideal.  The Man O'War statue above was commissioned to mark his grave originally on the Riddle farm. Mr. Riddle located it near a road and kept it open to the public, a gallant gesture to the fans of this wonderful horse. The grave and statue, along with the graves of Man O'War's most famous sons, including War Admiral, were moved to the entrance of the Kentucky Horse Park in the early years after the park's founding. Suburban construction and urban sprawl have rolled over the old Riddle farm, but I will never forget seeing this statue in its original setting. One parked at the roadside and walked down an avenue of trees which opened out in a stately circle of dark evergreen. The statue appeared larger and more imposing in that closed setting and one could get closer to it than is presently allowed. Here's a brief commentary on Man O'War's life and times that stitches together old newsreels so we can catch a glimpse of this champion in action and in retirement:

Thoroughbred Park
in downtown Lexington Kentucky

This enchanting natural-looking group of statues crowns the little hill on this small park across from the offices of the Lexington Herald Leader. A couple of mares watch over some frisky foals in what looks like a lovely pasture. This is a great park for fans of horse-related art. At street level there's a life-size race going on and there's also a small frequently-overlooked statue of the great foundation sire Lexington. For comparison purposes, I have found a lovely video of a mare and a foal performing for the camera. The mare is responding to signals given by the woman in black in the field; the foal is responding to his mama like a good boy; the audio is suppressed so we don't hear the women clicking to the mare or the thunder of the horse's feet.

To a horse person, no horse is a generic animal. Yet frequently in art what we see is a generic depiction of a horse. Both the racehorses above were portrayed as real individuals. The mares and foals are generic. I can recognize my own horse in the field at a distance, not only by color (there have been as many as 13 chestnut horses in that same field) but by his markings, his tail, his head in profile, his distinctive walk, his top line, his bottom line, his stance when short I recognize my horse:

Not just a horse out standing in his field but my horse, Rudy.

Just a note about Rudy: He is a shrimp by comparison to the two thoroughbreds above, being only 14.2 hands high. He could be considered a pony, until you get on his back and take him down the trail. Then you realize that his heart and his mind and his character are bigger than his whole body.

* a hand is four inches, about the width of a man's hand. A horse is measured from the top of the withers to the bottom of the hoof while standing square on level ground. Anything less than a hand is expressed in inches. Thus 15.2 hands equals 62 inches meaning that Secretariat's withers were 5 feet, 2 inches above the ground and that Man O War by the same measure was 5 and half feet. Someone asked me why the measurement was not taken to the top of the head, whereupon I tickled Rudy's ears and he stretched up like a giraffe. "Oh," said my questioner, "I see."

1 comment:

Ellen Mizell said...

I just watched the video of the 1973 Belmont again. Still the most stunning performance I've ever seen. Sham was a champion in every way, true quality, but he came along in the same year as Secretariat. His performance was truly courageous, giving everything until he had nothing left to give is as thrilling in its own way as Secretariat's. I will also note that after setting fractions worthy of a Quarter Horse sprint champion for the first part of the race, Secretariat ran that last quarter of a mile in 24 seconds--still fast enough to qualify as a "Quarter Miler Horse."