Kentucky Horse Park
Landmark exhibition to explore impact of horse on civilizations of Ancient Near East and Islamic world; highlight beauty, romance of Arabian breed

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, May 11, 2010  
Contact Information:  Carla Blanton, 859-608-4850,

Cindy Rullman, 859-259-4209, ext 209,

LEXINGTON, Ky.  (May 11, 2010) – The ancient Near East and Islamic cultures made significant contributions to human advancement – from the invention of writing and the wheel to advances in mathematics, astronomy and medicine.


This month, their latest contribution will be revealed -- the opening of the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of art and artifacts devoted to the impact of the horse in the cradle of civilization. 


A Gift from the Desert: the Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse will be held from May 29 through Oct. 15 at the Kentucky Horse Park’s International Museum of the Horse, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Lexington, Ky.


“These rare artifacts will be united for the first time in one location,” said Bill Cooke, director of the park’s International Museum of the Horse. “The story of the Arabian breed is an important focus of the exhibition, but our art and artifacts also explore the rich and varied cultures and peoples of this fascinating region of the world and the important role of the Ancient Near East, Egypt and Arabia in equestrian history.” 

The exhibition, presented by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, will feature nearly 400 objects from Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan and Turkey, many of which have never before left their native countries or been on exhibit in the United States. 

“The horse was associated with royalty, nobility, and the military, so it was a great status symbol,” said Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and a curator for the exhibition. “The association between the horse and chariot led to major changes in geo-politics, which were kept in flux with the advent of the cavalry. Great empire builders -- including the Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Sassanians and later leaders -- depended heavily on the horse in their conquest. It would be impossible to rewrite history extracting the horse, imagining how language, technology and politics would be different today in its absence.”

The artifacts and works of art will travel from 27 museums and private lenders, including the National Museum of Riyadh, King Saud University’s Museum of Archaeology, British Museum, Furusiyya Art Foundation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford University, National Museum of Warsaw, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the American Museum of Natural History.

Exhibition art and artifacts include: 

·        One of the most famous artifacts in antiquity, the 4,500 year-old Standard of Ur, found in a burial chamber in the Sumerian Royal Cemetery in Iraq;

·        The robes and dagger of T.E. Lawrence, the colorful British army officer known for his role in the Arab Revolt and popularized in the 1962 movie “Lawrence of Arabia;”

·        Egyptian 18th dynasty relief fragments depicting horses during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten;

·        Lavish paintings from famed European Orientalist artists such as Eugene Delecroix, Adolf Schreyer, Eugene Fromentin and Vincenzo Marinelli;

·        Jewel-encrusted royal swords and other arms and armor from various Islamic dynasties;

·        Embellished saddles and bridles from the Ottoman Empire;

·        The Kikkuli Text, the oldest known treatise on horse training, written in cuneiform script on a clay tablet nearly 3,500 years ago;

·        A gold headband from the Sumerian city of Ur, which has one of the oldest portrayals of riding;

·        A gold chariot horse from the Oxus Treasure, a hoard of 180 gold and silver items found in Tajikistan, dating to the Persian Achaemenid period (5th-4th century BC); and

·        Exquisite Islamic glass, ceramic and metalwork from the early Islamic dynasties through the Ottoman Empire.


“The Arabian horse’s partnership with man extends throughout some of the most dynamic and far-reaching epochs in history,” said Cynthia Culbertson, one of the leading experts on Arabian horse history, as well as a curator for the exhibition. “From King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, to the mighty pharaohs of Egypt and sheikhs, pashas and princes of the Near East, from Napoleon to U.S. presidents – the Arabian has transcended cultures to become an enduring symbol of beauty, nobility and pride.”


Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear added: “This landmark exhibition can only be seen in Kentucky, which further demonstrates the commonwealth's leadership in the equine world. The exhibition and World Equestrian Games coming to Kentucky in the same year are a unique opportunity to see the best of the past, present and future of the world’s most beautiful and influential animal -- the horse.”


Tickets are $21 for adults and $11 for children. The general public can obtain more information on the exhibition or the museum by contacting the International Museum of the Horse at 859-259-4232 or visiting  For group tour information, contact Ali Mihankhah, 859-259-4225 or 

       EDITOR'S NOTE:   High resolution photos of pieces in this exhibition are available for use with this release in your publication by emailing

            The Kentucky Horse Park is a working horse farm/theme park and equine competition facility dedicated to man's relationship with the horse. The park is an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet that hosted nearly 900,000 visitors and campers, as well as 15,000 competition horses in more than 100 special events and horse shows in 2008. The park is home to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the National Horse Center, which comprises more than 30 national and regional equine organizations. Located at Exit 120, Interstate 75, just north of Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park is open daily March 15 to Oct. 31, and Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 1 to March 14.