Wednesday, December 31, 2008

American Museum of Natural History Exhibition of the Horse - Enjoyable and Informative!

Yesterday was a trip into NYC for the family. My husband, the boyz and myself took the train into Penn Station to go to the Museum of Natural History. One of my Christmas gifts was to get to see the Horse exhibit and of course the kids went to see the dinosaurs. I offered the boyz a chance to see the Horse exhibit but I got the reply, as any self-respecting 5 year old boy would say, "no Mom, I want to see the DINOSAURS!"

So my husband herded the boyz towards the dinosaurs and bid me an enjoyable, peaceful show.

I entered the world of the Horse. The first image you see is a large projection screen with a handsome bay horse, moving in glorious slow-motion. Every muscle rippling under his shiny coat, the majesty of the beast invites you to learn more about it.

The exhibit begins with the prehistory of the horse and touches on the evolutionary process that brought the horse from tiny forest dwelling 5-toed creature to the plains roaming grazer we are all most familiar with. If you wanted to get an even more complete visualization of the horses' progression through the eons, the hall of prehistoric Mammals in the museum's permanent display has a really detailed and well presented display for the horse. I highly recommend visiting that as well after viewing this show.

Next, we are led to the places in time where the paths of early man and equines crossed. In the beginning horses were merely a source of food. Then it is thought men next harnessed the animal's strength to carry and pull loads. But it was in the moment man chose to make himself the object carried by the horse that history was dramatically changed.

By bringing the two together, the brains and cunning of man and the strength, speed and loyalty of the horse, ancient and increasingly modern civilizations were pushed into newer levels of advancement. Some of the interesting objects that were in this part of the exhibit were a Samurai's saddle, an equine gas mask from WW1 and a beautifully restored horse-drawn fire engine!

Moving through the show, it was very briefly explained when horses' were first given shoes. I felt this part of the exhibit could have been given a bit more embellishment. The wearing of horse shoes was another major change and advancement into the usefulness of the horse. It would have been interesting for even the non-horse familiar to see some of the many different shoes horses have worn for various reasons and purposes. Even comparing a Thoroughbred's racing plate to a draft horses' shoe is cool for kids and adults!

There was much to see for the modern horse and it's more recreational/sport/business use. Racehorses, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred were well-featured. Rodeo and ranch horses, show jumpers, polo ponies and therapeutic riding horses also had their place. I was surprised there wasn't a bit more visual display regarding the Olympic participation of horses. I may have missed something, but Dressage and Combined Training seemed only a written mention.

A video monitor showing various horses used in sport in different countries was very interesting for me. In this presentation, racing Mongolian ponies, the wild and colorful Palio de Siena in Italy and The Japanese mounted flag capture games were some of the featured events. However, the replay of Secretariat's incredible finish to the Belmont Stakes that brought him the Triple Crown was the high point of the show for me. I remember watching the race when it was run in real-time as a kid and every time I see it, I get chills!

The show wrapped up with a neat popular breeds interactive display where you could use a touch screen to view several of the most common breeds of today. It was especially fun for me since I personally know the Percheron representing his breed on the display! There was another room with a video show of a therapeutic program and some other pictorials on the wall but it was packed with viewers and I noted it was near the end of the show so I only briefly observed it and moved to the finish.

Of course, the end of the show lets you exit into the well-placed gift shop. I usually move through the gift shop quickly (especially with the kids in tow) as it's a cash trap. However, since this show is closing this Sunday, January 4th to go on the road, most of the souvenirs were 50% off to get rid of the inventory -especially the items marked Museum of Natural History. Woo-hoo! I bought a T-shirt, keychains for me and the kids and some toy horses for them as well. Must remember museums may offer similar bargains when we plan to attend future shows. The closer to the end of the shows run you plan to go, perhaps the better the deals in the gift shop!

In my opinion, it was entertaining, interesting and good for those well educated in all things equine, those who have a little horse knowledge and those who know little but wish to gain more insight into the only animal other than the dog who has given so much to mankind by working side by side to benefit us all.


OnTheBit said...

I swear I spent 3 hours in the exhibit when I went to go see it when it first opened! There was just so much information!! And I am very jelous you got half price goodies! My poster and travel coffee mug were full price...but I also went about 2 weeks after it opened.

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jme said...

i'm jealous! i wish i had known about the exhibition (though i can't imagine when i would have found time to go...) i have always loved the hall where the evolution of the horse is displayed.

horse-human history is one of my obsessions :-) but, my area of focus is very limited, so there is a lot a still don't know about other times and places that i'd be interested to learn. i studied archaeology in college and (of course) my general interest was/is nomadic horse-riding peoples of eurasia in the late bronze and early iron ages.

i would imagine few people realize how instrumental the horse was in shaping the world's languages, religions, cultures and politics throughout our history together!

Preston said...

Sounds like you had a great time. I've gone to NYC to see shows and to shop but have never gone to the musuems. Next time, that's what I'm gonna do. Happy New Year!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like an interesting exhibit, I'd love to go and check it out.
Happy New Year to you and your family. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts in 2009!

Katie said...

Wow that sounds pretty awesome! We don't have anything like that in the good old NZ lol.

Happy New Year!