Saudi Arabian Group Funds Record Donation at Kentucky Horse Park

Associated Press Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - It's a story Saudi Arabia decided was worth $2.3 million to share with horse enthusiasts in the United States.

Every thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three 17th Century Arabian stallions - a kinship that has always provided an intercontinental link for the horse industry, from the deserts of the Middle East to the Bluegrass country of Kentucky.

On Wednesday, the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation pledged $2.3 million to sponsor a dynamic exhibit and film on the Arabian horse, which opens at Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park in 2010 to coincide with the first American-sponsored World Equestrian Games, also hosted by the park.

The exhibit, entitled "A Gift from the Desert," also aptly describes the donation, which is the largest for an exhibit in the history of the horse park.

The exhibit will focus on the Near East, a region that includes several countries, including Iraq where America is currently at war. This project was viewed as a way to find some common ground between the two regions.

"For both of us, there's a strong common bond in our appreciation of the horse," said Bill Cooke, director of the International Museum of the Horse at the park. "It's not a politically sensitive subject. It kind of gives you a little neutral ground to not only tell the story of the horse in the Near East but also to be able to talk about civilization."

The exhibit will feature artifacts borrowed from museums across the globe and live-action demonstrations of Arabian horses and their riders. Although the horse park has already hosted exhibits on horses from China and Great Britain, it is heralding this one as the largest and expects it to shatter attendance records, particularly with all the international visitors in town for the games.

"The point of this exhibit is to make it a landmark - the very best ever done," said Cynthia Culbertson, a curator for the exhibit. "We'll be getting artifacts from the finest museum, from the Met to the Louvre. To really tell this story correctly, we'd like to bring to this museum some artifacts that have not left their home museum."

Plans for the international sponsorship were put in place during last year's Kentucky Derby, which Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, attended as a guest of Jo Franklin, who is producing the documentary film accompanying the exhibit. Cooke visited with Al-Faisal that weekend and mentioned the project, and the ambassador said his country would be honored to help provide financial backing.

Franklin said the film, which will be shot in Saudi Arabia, should feature breathtaking scenery.

"The actual terrain is a knockout," said Franklin, who owns and rides Arabian horses. "It's absolutely spectacular."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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