Michiana Chronicles: Horse Tales

Jun 3, 2021

Credit Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

Come spring they say that a young man’s fancy turns to love. But for this old Kentucky girl, spring is time to strap on big Partisan boots for the excitement of the season. First thought when envisioning Partisan boots are those very cool-looking, fold-down, pirate-type boots. While fun-looking, they are the wrong Partisan boots for my interest. The boots required for my spring fancy are those very handsome riding boots, because it’s the new season for horse racing, particularly the Kentucky Derby.

Since there have been 146 Kentucky Derbies, its running and the attendant excitement have been a fixture all of my life. All things Derby are the order of the season—well at least the week leading up to the first Saturday in May. Due to the Covid pandemic, the last two runnings have been a bit understated: last year almost invisible, but this year it bounced back a bit. AND, since there is a shut-down of many athletic events, this year television showed much more than in some years. There were hours of the pre-Derby races, extra interviews of “experts,” and commentary on the attendant hoopla: hats and drinks and the beauty of the grounds of Churchill Downs. To mix animal descriptives, it was hog heaven.

In addition to the spectacle of the day in Louisville, there is the at-home-here-in-Indiana ritual of the watch-party with mint juleps, fresh strawberries and asparagus, country ham and biscuits, and Derby pie. Some things just are tradition no matter where one is. It’s important to be primed for the post parade as you watch those magnificent animals and their owners and trainers with the jockeys in their colorful and meaningful silks walk to the gate during the playing of My Old Kentucky Home by the University of Louisville marching band. Always brings a tear to my eye. For a between-Derby fix, I recommend looking at and listening to the internet video of Dan Fogelberg’s Run for the Roses: great lyrics and photos. Today though, at the end of this Chronicle, you’re going to hear a rendition of My Old Kentucky Home by a legendary old Kentucky boy, John Prine.  

Although a city girl and more conversant with riding buses than horses, many who I know and love have far more knowledge of the animals than I. I just love the pageantry and festivity, but not so friends and family. My maternal grandfather, in addition to being a farmer, was a horse-trader. Not of the disreputable sort, but of the genuine animal husbandry sort. Consequently, those of us in the family believe that, growing up, my mother and her siblings saw and absorbed a lot—consciously or not. We think this because Mother, and her youngest sister, Susan, would sometimes go to the track together, each chip in one dollar of a two-dollar bet and come away winners every time. Clearly, they knew what to look for in a winner.

In a combination of young-man’s-fancy and horse-related modes, my friend Patsy’s husband, Alvin, proposed to her on horseback. He mounted a white quarter horse, trotted up to her on her horse, and asked for her hand. Her horse, reputed to be the smartest horse at that barn, nodded in affirmation when he asked. Talk about horse-sense!

In the take-the-girl-out-of-Kentucky mode, when Patsy and I were in Boise, Idaho, we amused ourselves one evening by going to the track there. Not quite the stuff of our mothers, we weren’t winners at the betting window, but we did fulfill the fantasy, a’ la The Thin Man Movies, of getting to do a stint as railbirds. A different ambiance from Derby Day, but great fun too.

In spring-fancy boots, this is Jeanette Saddler Taylor for Michiana Chronicles.

"My Old Kentucky Home" by John Prine