Lexington’s Symbolic Big Lex Horse Has the Blues; That’s What It’s All About

New York has the Statue of Liberty. New Orleans has the fleur de lis. Baltimore has the crab. Boston has the beanpot. And St. Louis has the Arch.

Now Lexington, Kentucky, has LEX the Horse, but he’s not Lexington, the stallion we have known and loved for the past 150 or so years.

The famous New York/London design firm Pentagram, hired by the city to re-define its identity and culture through a symbol, has an easy explanation for the blue beast: apparently eating all that Kentucky Bluegrass turned the iconic stallion in Edward Troye?s painting the same color as the University of Kentucky’s basketball team jerseys.

Who is this horse? Once upon a time there was a very famous Thoroughbred stallion named Lexington. I can spot his portrait from a mile away because for as long as I can remember, it has adorned the front cover of the Blood-Horse Stallion Register, an annual directory that resided on my desk back in the pre-digital era.

But you can open any book on the history of the horse in American art, and you will find that classic portrait of Lexington. The real Thoroughbred named Lexington was the leading sire in the Bluegrass region for 16 years in the mid-1800s and established an unequaled record for dominance in the breed. His offspring won everything from Kentucky to Saratoga and would have won more if the Civil War hadn’t inconvenienced racing and disrupted the lives of Kentucky gentlemen (to say nothing of their horses’ lives). For several years, his colts went to war, not to the races; one was even the chosen charger of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Lexington?s image consultants decided that the good old horse should make a comeback; a new generation of townspeople and college students and tourists should embrace the iconic stallion, who happens to have the same name as the city. The brand’s rationale is that by re-embracing Lexington, the city is reaffirming its heritage of horses. All this is good news to those of us in the horse business, considering that Lexington’s chosen icon might just as easily have been a blue Lexmark printer or Tempur-Pedic mattress, a blue Amazon.com warehouse or just a Big Blue Basketball, had they decided that their mission during WEG should be to show the world that Lexington is so much more than horses!

Last week, Breyer even released a model of Blue Lex. Collectors can eternally explain why they have one blue horse in their cabinets. But wait: When Troye painted Lexington, the stud wasn’t exactly racing fit. The kind people at Breyer fixed that. Breyer?s Lex was trimmed down by some fitness-conscious hands in 3-D land.

But as the curtain goes up on WEG, we learn that great design minds do think alike. In England, plans call for a 150-foot-high gray Thoroughbred sculpture to be built along the highway leading from the Chunnel and ferry docks of the south coast, so that visitors arriving for the 2012 Olympics in London will be welcomed to England by a big horse. The English icon looks quite a bit younger, and infinitely more fit, than poor Lex of Kentucky. But he has that look.

If you’re going to have a big horse event, you need a Really Big Horse. And Lexington is ready to send Big Lex out of the Bluegrass with stuffed animals, t-shirts and a screensaver for your computer. There’s even a Big Lex store! I can’t wait until all the Irish horsemen in Lexington decide there should be a green Lex for St Patrick?s Day…

You’re reading a story from DiscoverWEG with Fran Jurga, a blog about the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will be held September 25 to October 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington, Kentucky. The direct address for this blog is www.discoverweg.com. You can subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed by clicking on the icon at the top right of this page; headlines are also posted on Facebook at the DiscoverHorses.com Page. DiscoverWEG is just one component of the Discover Horses support web site for the Games. Make Discoverhorses.com your go-to WEG destination site!

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