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Racehorse Burials
 By Winniefield Park   •   16th Sep 2017   •   4,678 views   •   0 comments


Back in 2014, a group of archeologists dug beneath the Californian soil and unearthed three large horse skeletons. These horses weren’t prehistoric, or anything like the site of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di terracotta army where its ranks of clay chariot horses were discovered. Nor are these horses that once belonged to native North Americans, who sometimes buried a person’s horse with them to ride into the afterlife. These horses were buried with some ritual though. The skeletons were remains of three famous race horses that raced on the property when it was part of Hollywood Park, an elaborate race track supported and frequented by movie stars and moguls.

The three horses were exhumed to make way for commercial and residential development. One of the horses was globally famous Native Driver who was honored as the first California bred Thoroughbred to win over one million dollars. The horse was born in 1959 and related to Native Dancer. The other horses were a Seattle Slew daughter and a horse named Great Communicator. In 2016, Native Diver was settled into his new resting place on the infield of the busy racetrack along with other famous flat and harness racing horses. Del Mar has both the infield cemetery and a memorial dedicated to the horses.

Ritual horse burial is nothing new. Mankind has shown their reverence for horses by trying to take them into the afterlife with them for centuries. Horse burial sites exist all across Europe. In North American First Nations culture, horses were sometimes buried with their owner. Today, horses aren't part of a sacrificial burial rite. But we still bury horses. Done correctly, it’s one way to dispose of a dead horse’s body. Many burials are more than just a convenient way to dispose of a body, however. They are an effort to memorialize the greatness of the horse. Some of the most elaborate practices come from the race horse community.

It’s not the usual practice to bury a whole horse when a Thoroughbred comes to the end of its life. Most often the tradition is to save and bury the hooves, heart, and head of the horse. The head signifies the horse’s intelligence, the heart its spirit and its hooves its speed. The rest of the body is usually cremated. But in the case of the horses moved from Hollywood Park, the horses were laid out sideways as has been done with many beloved horses. One of the most famous race horses, Man o’ War, was buried at the gates of the Kentucky Horse Park. According to the Kentucky Horse Park website, all horses buried on the ground are buried whole.

This is sometimes done on private farms too. Man o’ War’s famous son, Seabiscuit is buried at an undisclosed location on his owner’s farm. Secretariat too has been buried whole on the farm he was raised on in a gesture that honors his prowess on the track. Citation is buried near his sire and dam on Calmut farms. These owners felt less need to share their horses with the public after their death, and these types of decisions are often very personal.

There are several options for dealing with a horse’s body after it dies. Cremation, rendering, and composting are all options. Burial may not even be legal in some areas or the site may be subject to strict laws about depth and placement. But for many people, burial feels like the only option because it’s a way to keep the horse close. Some may choose to bury the horse in their paddock. Other’s may have their own ‘boot hill’. Along with the burial, trees may be planted or a memorial built to signify that what lies beneath was more than ‘just a horse’.
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