By Walter Munday
Kentucky loves its horses.
It’s as ingrained to our culture as the potato is to the state of Idaho.
As Louisville welcomes guests from all over the world to the running of the 143 Kentucky Derby, Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation would like to shine a little light on our history with horses.
But first, why is Kentucky so obsessed with horses? Recorded history indicates as the American settlers migrated into the state, it became noticeable that horses, which grazed in the “bluegrass” region, were more hardy than those from other regions. According to the Kentucky Geological Survey website, more than half of Kentucky’s surface is limestone.
While most limestone is formed in warm, calm, shallow, marine environments, Kentucky’s limestone is flat; sedimentary rock that is primarily made of the mineral calcite, or calcium carbonate. When horses graze on pastures grown on limestone, they consume calcium carbonate which helps harden their bones, just as milk does for humans.
Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association records indicate that Kentucky-bred horses have accounted for 76 percent of Kentucky Derby winners, 75 percent of Breeders’ Cup winners, and eight of the 11 winners of the Triple Crown. But thoroughbreds aren’t the only type of horses grazing in Kentucky’s pastures.
The Kentucky Department of Travel website indicates that there are approximately 320,000 horses in Kentucky. Over half of those are for recreational activities and show competitions. Saddlebreds are popular in Kentucky too.
But the average person more than likely has not clue about the difference. The Thoroughbred horse was developed in the late 17th and early 18th century by breeding English saddle horses to Arabian, Turkoman and Barb stallions. All modern thoroughbreds can liberally be traced back to three foundation Arab, Barb and Turk stallions and were bred as racing horses.
The American Saddlebred horse is the more modern of the two breeds and is unique in having been bred in the United States and used by officers during the Civil War. This breed is a descendant of the Thoroughbred that was selectively bred with other American saddle horses sometime after the American Revolution.
The Saddlebred horse is a pleasure horse known for its extremely high “ambling” gait and high head carriage. The term ambling refers to, “to walk or move at a slow, relaxed pace.”
In Louisville, the 300-acre Fox Hill Estate, originally owned by Joseph Kinney and Basil Prather, was a Saddlebred Horse farm. Prather, who rose to the rank of Adjutant General at Ft. Nelson, was appointed as one of five trustees for the City of Louisville in 1789.
Prather was also one of Kentucky’s first horse breeders having as many as 15 horses in his inventory. Another prominent owner of the Fox Hill Estate was then Colonel John B. Castleman.
Col. John. B. Castleman, an original Louisville Parks Commissioner, renamed Fox Hill to Castleford, and he too became interested in saddlehorse breeding. He later became the founder of the American Saddle Horse Association, and served as their first president. During the Spanish-American War, Col. Castleman was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army, and later a Brigadier General following the war. General Castleman and his prize saddlebred horse – Carolina – are memorized by a bronze monument at Castleman Square in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood.
In 1937, Ben and Bess Collings purchased Castleton, and renamed it Colonial Farms.
In a legal brief titled Collings’ Estate vs. United States filed September 3, 1953, the document indicates that from 1938 until his death, Ben H. Collings operated a farm and conducted the business of breeding, training and selling saddle horses.
He maintained a stallion, Colonial Chief, and both mares and geldings. In 1947, one of Collings’ mares – Colonial Princess – sold for $20,000 (approximately $250,000 today).
Following the death of both Ben (1951) and Bess (1965), the remaining parcels of Colonial Farms were sold to Bellarmine College who then sold it to the City of Louisville the following year (1966).
Colonial Farms is now Joe Creason Park off Trevilian Way; just seven miles from where the big race happens on Saturday.
Now you know!