Lexington became an oasis of Arabian horse culture Thursday.
Saudi royalty arrived to formally open a multimillion-dollar Kentucky Horse Park exhibit, A Gift from the Desert, with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear.
"Saudi Arabia and Kentucky are separated by half a globe but linked by a mutual fascination by the power, the grace and the beauty of the horse," Beshear said.
The royal tour of the exhibit was broadcast live to Saudi television and covered by Arab media, whose members shot photo after photo of the delegation admiring everything from ancient petroglyphs to T.E. Lawrence's gold-embroidered robe.
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The 400-piece exhibit of Arabian art and artifacts takes the celebration of the link between mankind and horses "to new heights," Horse Park director John Nicholson said in welcoming the Saudis, some of whom flew 15 hours to be there.
"We are filled with such gratitude to the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, which has made this night possible and made this celebration so very special," Nicholson said. At the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Horse Park this fall, he said, "the world will witness our partnership and our friendship in the symbolism of cultures and nations coming together, all with the mutual devotion and love of the horse that makes this possible."
As they walked through the museum, the Saudi guests murmured "beautiful, beautiful."
As co-curator Sandra Olsen described her part of the exhibit, she lauded the cooperation that made it possible, saying that "the Saudi people are the most hospitable in the world."
Turning to the crowd of onlookers, Prince Turki Al Faisal smiled and said, "You hear that, everybody."
After the tour, the prince said it was impossible to say which part was his favorite. "They're all so intrinsically beautiful," he said.
A former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom and Ireland, Prince Turki said the point of the exhibit is "to let people know who we are, where we come from, and that we do share values."
Princess Adila bint Abdullah, the daughter of Saudi ruler King Abdullah, also admired the effort it took to bring together works from 28 museums around the world.
"I've never seen such a big collection under one roof that celebrates horses," Princess Adila said.
She said this is her second visit to Kentucky, having visited Buckram Oak, which was owned by her uncle, the late Mahmoud Fustok, 12 years ago. She again found the state "very welcoming. They love horses, which we love as well. ... There's no better place to bring something that belongs to horses," she said. "It's the best place to share your love for horses."
She said she hopes the exhibit will open new avenues of friendship between Saudi Arabia and Kentucky.
It already has.
Kathy Murphy of Lexington snapped a photo of her son, Bryan Station High School sophomore Dylan Murphy, mingling with the Saudi princes as they admired the work done by Murphy and other students in a special tribute to the exhibit.
Murphy painted his statue of an Arabian horse with desert scenes.
Dylan Murphy was impressed with the Arabs, and the feeling was apparently mutual.
"They were surprised," Murphy said. "They were happy to see a little bit of their culture."