Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When fashion wins over horses April 29, 2015

FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, my now nearly 83-year-old mom has been enthralled by the Kentucky Derby.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse paintings are available for purchase.

I purchased this stunning unframed 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse kits are available for purchase.

This week I asked her why, something I felt compelled to know because, well, time slips away and then we wish we’d asked these questions. So I phoned her at her assisted living apartment 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota, catching her right before lunch.

“It’s because of the hats they wear, not because of the horses,” she replied. And here, all along, I thought her Derby interest was fixed on the horses.

She continued: “It’s unbelievable to me what kind of crazy hats they wear. They’re so big.”

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

In that moment I wished Mom could join my husband and me for the Big Hats & Big Hearts Annual Auction for the Arts and Kentucky Derby Party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday. That celebration includes viewing of the race, live and silent auctions, and Derby food and drinks.

Kentucky Derby hats

Kentucky Derby hats at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, on display in early April.  Photo courtesy of The Crafty Maven.

A bonus is the current gallery exhibit, “A great place to hang your hat,” running through May 5 and sponsored by The Crafty Maven. That downtown Faribault shop offers an assortment of Derby hats and will even custom embellish hats for the big race day.

While I’m sitting in the Paradise theatre watching the Derby on the big screen, my mom will have her TV tuned to the festivities. She’ll review the list of contenders and choose a horse solely on liking its name. That’s precisely how I pick a horse. Neither of us cares about their rankings, only the names.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Of the 140 Kentucky Derby winners, I remember only one—that of triple crown and 1973 winner Secretariat. Aristides won the first race in 1875. Reviewing the list of horses for the 141st Derby run, Bold Conquest grabs my fancy.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

I wonder which horse Mom will choose. She’s never been to Churchill Downs, but years ago attended several races at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. The Shakopee horse race track is hosting a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. Mom and her sister Rachel selected horses at Canterbury based on liking their names. Once, though, they picked a horse co-owned by the son of the veterinarian from my hometown.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

I wish Mom could travel to Louisville, sit in the stands in a big fancy hat and sip mint juleps. She’s always wanted to attend the Derby. But at her age, she never will. Life is like a horse race. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we don’t.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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20 Responses to “When fashion wins over horses”

  1. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    I hope we’ll see a photo of you in your fancy hat! I pick my horses the same way you and your mother do — why do it any other way? Of course, I don’t have any money on the race. I enjoyed seeing the derby glasses. Once in college a group of us drove up to the derby. We sat in the infield on the grass, so we didn’t even see any ladies in fancy dresses and hats. But we did each get a mint julep in the commemorative glass. I was sad when I broke mine years later.

    • I won’t promise a photo of me, unless I can talk someone into taking one.

      You should look online for that Derby glass that broke. I bet you could find a replacement. I can just picture you college students at the Derby, wishing you could get inside.

  2. Marilyn Says:

    I am working on a paint-by-number! And now this post reminded me that it was a previous post of yours that had subliminally re-sparked my interest in such! Thanks. I like those horses, too, but my picture will be a field of red poppies.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    It sounds like a lot of fun.

  4. The Fashion, the Horses and the Cocktails – A 3-Way WIN!!! Happy Day 🙂

  5. Thread crazy Says:

    No matter where she lives, I bet she’d love to have one of those big fancy hats. Why, can’t you just see the big smile o her face to receive a hat light one from the Derby….enjoy.

  6. Thread crazy Says:

    So sorry Audrey for my spelling errors…

  7. Jackie Says:

    I loved horses as a kid, and rode often with my childhood friends (they had the horses, not me). I love your hat, you’ll need to post a picture of you wearing it at the party. I remember Secretariat as well, she was a very popular horse! I actually visited Churchill Downs as a child, but not during the big race. I remember it being very beautiful!

    • I loved horses, too, as a young girl and always wanted one. But Dad said, “No.” A horse would not earn its keep on our farm and would eat grain needed for cows and cattle. We were always thrilled when my second cousin rode her horse over to our place and we could maybe sit in the saddle and have her lead the horse around the farmyard.

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    Oh my goodness! I love this post! I am not a horse person but I have always felt a thrill about watching the triple crown races. The Big Hats and Arts Auction sounds like a wonderful community event. And I love that you’ve woven your mother into this post… I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  9. Sue Ready Says:

    I do think you should post a photo of you wearing your favorite hat!
    Fashion mixed horses and cocktails sounds like a recipe to me for FUN!

  10. segmation Says:

    What a beautiful paint by number! Thanks for sharing.


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