All of the famous ones are represented: Ruffian. Barbaro. Big Brown. Seattle Slew.
Racehorses that died because of leg injuries — or lived despite them — are portrayed in an exhibit on equine medicine called “Ride On!” at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Union Avenue. The exhibit is scheduled to run until December 2009.
The exhibit takes up the entire Peter McBean Gallery, which is usually divided into three sections with separate exhibits, noted Beth Sheffer, curator of collections. It’s the museum’s first exhibit with a large audiovisual component.
It is also Sheffer’s first major exhibit at the museum, where she has worked since 2002 when she was an intern studying library science at the University at Albany.
She had planned to become an archivist after getting her graduate degree but decided she liked museum curator work instead.
“It’s a lot different, definitely a pretty intense experience,” Sheffer said of museum work.
Sheffer is a Norwich native and got her undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati.
Although she has been a racing fan since she was 12, the 31-year-old Saratoga Springs resident admitted that dealing with the medical terminology was difficult, as were the graphic photos of horse injuries and illnesses.
“I was squeamish through a lot of this exhibit,” Sheffer said, especially looking at slides of horses with colic, a potentially fatal digestive disease for horses.
“I didn’t show a lot of colic images because they’re pretty gory,” she said.
But she did include lots of memorabilia from famous racehorses whose dealings with equine veterinary science are well-known, including a special adhesive horseshoe that Big Brown wore in this year’s Kentucky Derby and a boot that Barbaro used to stabilize his injured leg.
The exhibit’s crowning glory, Sheffer said, is a sling that equine veterinarians use to treat horses with leg injuries. The multiple-strap contraption supports some of the horse’s weight without putting a lot of pressure on the abdomen, which could cause colic.
The sling is on loan to the museum until December, outfitted on a life-size horse mannequin that is part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“It’s color-coded, so you can’t mess this up. We didn’t even have directions,” Sheffer said.
Vets pay more than $5,000 for the sling, which also could be used for rescuing horses by helicopter, she said.
“You come up with a list of things that you would like to get — your wish list,” Sheffer said. She contacted veterinary schools and museum communications officer Mike Kane got in touch with people in the racing industry to get items.
But she didn’t get all of the objects on the wish list.
Sheffer was itching to get her hands on an equine prosthesis, but they’re very expensive, so people are reluctant to part with them.
Because the exhibit will run for so long, Sheffer plans to add items to it as time passes. She expects more Barbaro memorabilia to be included as early as this weekend.
The whole exhibit came together in just 10 months, which is quick for a display this size, which would normally take two to five years to research and collect materials for, she said.
The curator is already starting on the museum’s next exhibit, an ode to women in racing, including jockeys, veterinarians, backstretch workers and photographers.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: