Op-Ed

Ky. voices: Horsewoman forgotten

My daughter did not mean to start me on a mission for greater recognition of the Clay family, especially Josephine Russell Clay, when she gave me the book Josephine Clay: Pioneer Horsewoman of the Bluegrass by Josephine's great-grandson, Henry Clay Simpson Jr.

As an equestrian, I was glad to learn of the great contributions by the renowned statesman and his family to the Thoroughbred and Kentucky's equine industry. I went to the Kentucky Horse Park eager to find out more. Amazingly, there was nothing.

Other Kentuckians, some less important, get more attention. For example, the Horse Park museum's historical timeline mentions John Hunt Morgan (Morgan's Raiders of Civil War fame), but it doesn't mention that he camped near Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, fought a battle there and stole valuable Thoroughbred horses from the Clay farm when he left.

Or that John M. Clay, Henry's youngest son and owner of Ashland Stock Farm, had to track him down and pay him $900 to get them back.

It mentions Gen. George A. Custer, but doesn't mention he was riding a Kentucky Thoroughbred in the Battle of Little Big Horn, a successful race horse bred by John and Josephine Clay and sold to Custer when he visited Lexington.

It mentions Kentucky Derby winners and breeders, but it doesn't mention that Josephine Russell Clay was the first woman to breed a Kentucky Derby winner.

The omission of the Clay family is truly astounding because two of the most important American Thoroughbred sire lines began with Henry Clay's breeding efforts through Magnolia, Margaret Woods and his stallion Yorkshire.

Without John and Josephine's continuance of Ashland Stud Farm after Henry's death, there would be no Seabiscuit (of book and movie fame), no War Admiral (Triple Crown, 1937), no Whirlaway (Triple Crown, 1941), no Secretariat (Triple Crown, 1973), no Seattle Slew (Triple Crown, 1977) and no Smarty Jones (Kentucky Derby and Preakness, 2004), just to name a few.

The breeding successes of the Clays are still evident in Thoroughbreds around the world.

More important, from a woman's point of view, is Josephine Russell Clay's success in an arena where women were not welcome. Josephine Clay was recognized nationally for her breeding of the 1890 Kentucky Derby winner, Riley.

Having been denied membership in the New York Jockey Club and other Thoroughbred racing associations, she had to defy the standards of acceptable women's behavior of her era to associate with other breeders and become successful. This may explain why she played poker with men at the Phoenix Hotel.

Josephine excelled in the equine industry where no woman had ever excelled previously, and she was heralded as the Bluegrass Queen of the Sport of Kings with articles in newspapers across the country from New York to California. Her courage and determination were the cornerstones upon which women are now accepted as active participants in all aspects of the equine industry.

In addition, Josephine was an avid suffragist who wrote articles in support of the movement. Unfortunately, she died in March 1920, just months before Kentucky women exercised the right to vote in a presidential election for the first time in November.

I hope some of the visitors to the World Equestrian Games will pick up a brochure at the Horse Park's visitors center directing them to Ashland, the home of Henry Clay, where they will be able to learn more about the family's involvement in the development of Kentucky's signature industry.

Vida Schottenstein of Lexington is a lifelong rider and horse enthusiast.

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