2:44pm

Thu October 27, 2011
The Commonwealth

Traveling Exhibit at Horse Park

Each year the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park attracts thousands of people from across the region. On this particular Sunday a family from Indianapolis is here to experience the museum's newest exhibit simply titled "The Horse". Six year old Sebastian says there's one thing he's really looking forward to seeing. "Bones!"

And there are plenty of those in this new traveling exhibit. "The Horse" uses ancient artifacts, videos, and interactive displays to explore the unique bond between horses and humans; a relationship that started out pretty rocky, since our early ancestors first viewed the creatures as a buffet on four legs.

"There's one piece in the case here that does feature a lot of those bones, that actually shows a spear in what would have been a part of the horse's head."

That's museum director Bill Cooke. He says new archaeological research from a site in Khaziskstan reveals that as early as 4500 BCE, horses and humans were living together. That's almost a thousand years farther back than previous timelines.

"They would find pot shards; just broken pieces. And when those were chemically analyzed , they found milk lipids; and it was mare's milk. Once they determined it was mare's milk it became pretty obvious: you don't milk a wild horse."

Many of the oldest and most priceless artifacts come from the American Museum of Natural History, and its New York native Rachel May's job to shepherd them from location to location.

"We've gone to the Carnegie Natural History Museum in Pittsburgh, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, the Field Museum in Chicago, and now here. The show just makes sense."

Among the many displays exploring the horse as a military option is a very rare, 15th century, Equine Full Body Armor; hand crafted in Germany. And of course no exhibit on the horse would be complete without a nod to Thoroughbred racing. Visitors can view trophies of legendary 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, who was born and raised at nearby Calumet Farm.

"The Horse" is one part history, and one part hi-tech teaching. Museum Director Bill Cooke says his IT staff stay pretty busy maintaining the numerous video monitors and interactive displays that entertain, inform and educate. He predicts a life-size computer animated Broadway show horse named Oberon will be a hit with kids.

"You can look at the skeletal system, you can look at the pulmonary system, you can see how a horse sees, and then obviously, digestion, and basically watch the whole process as Oberon kind of turns his head and glances out at you."

It's the teaching aspect that the museum is especially excited about. "The Horse" marks the first time that a major exhibition will have its full run during the bulk of the K-12 school year. So it should come as little surprise that numerous area schools have already booked field trips.

American Museum of Natural History spokesperson Rachel May says she can't think of a more fitting venue for the traveling exhibit.

"But really Kentucky has a kind of unique perspective because you are here in the horse park. You get to see the animals in action and that's great. That's the unique Kentucky perspective that they can get from seeing the show here."

Bill Cooke is equally complimentary about the show.

"It does very concisely kind of what we do. It explains that incredible relationship between horses and humans and how we shaped horses and how horses shaped us."

"The Horse" runs through April 6th at the International Museum of the Horse inside the Kentucky Horse Park.