Planting new hope for horses

On Wednesday, Gabriella and I visited a university (with a great music programme) in Nashville, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Ian and Max (who has just read To Kill A Mockingbird at school) visited a plantation to get a feel for life in the Deep South. Max is the guest blogger, describing the plantation:

The plantation house at Belle Meade, Nashville

The plantation house at Belle Meade, Nashville

On Wednesday, Daddy and I went to the legendary Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, TN. You may not have heard about it (it only got onto Twitter and Instagram a few years ago), but it influenced many horses’ lives and the sport of horse racing very, very much.

In 1807, General John Harding bought a humble abode, and later bought 250 acres of land. He continued to buy some thoroughbred horses to breed and sell. A few years later, Bonnie Scotland (a horse) was born, and then raised. Bonnie Scotland is not well-known, but his descendants are. Here are some:

  1. For the last 11 years, ALL of the Kentucky-Darby race contesters (not just the winners) were Bonnie Scotland’s sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, and great-great-…-grandchildren.
  2. Seabiscuit (a famous racehorse)
  3. War Admiral (another horse)
  4. Many other famous racehorses. There are too many to remember!

In short, Bonnie Scotland was an amazing horse. Tragically though, he died of liver failure so suddenly that an autopsy was done to ensure that he wasn’t poisoned.

When John’s son, William, got into a bit of a ‘financial pickle’ he had to be creative, and what he did was quite ingenious. He acted like a senile old man, and invited guests over, as one did when one had money. And in the morning, over breakfast, he would proclaim, “I am going buffalo-hunting today. I feel ready to shoot a buffalo”, and his guests would say, “But we are in Tennessee, there haven’t been buffalo here for eras!” To this the crazy, old man would say, “I know my property, I live in Tennessee. I know if there are buffalo or not!”, and then the visitors would capitulate saying that “okay, okay, sure, there are buffalo here. If you say so”. Then William would make a bet, he would say “How about a bet, then: if you shoot a buffalo, you will buy one of my thoroughbred horses, if not, then you don’t need to.”

Horsey life on the plantation

Horsey life on the plantation

The visitors, at this point, agreed, thinking there was no way that they would shoot a buffalo, so there was no way that they would lose the bet. What William didn’t tell them, though, was that he had stocked his estate with buffalo and moose. So the men would go hunting, the guests would shoot a buffalo, the guests would buy a horse, and the guests would tell their amazing story, and more curious families would arrive. The solution was magnificent.

William’s daughter, Selene, had a rather tragic life. She gave birth to 5 children by the age of 24, only one of which made it to adulthood. ✝ She married General Jackson, who reluctantly moved in with her in the mansion when her father said that he could only marry Selene if he joined her in the estate.

During this, Selene wanted to check the value of her engagement ring, which was apparently diamond, so she scratched her name in cursive and her initials in a window. They made marks that you can see today, so I suppose she realised that the lump of carbon was, in fact, diamond.

Jackson bought a new horse to replace Bonnie Scotland called Iroquois. Iroquois was bought after he beat the English horses in England. This was an amazing feat, and was accomplished in 1881 for the first time. When he died, his hooves were coated in silver, and turned into inkwells. It was said that Jackson only used the ink from these inkwells to write footnotes [please note that this is a joke, and cannot be used in any factual writing unless you have a teacher with a good sense of humour].

Just before this, Jackson had redecorated the interior in the fashion at the time (1883). He had kept the furniture, though, so had made a crazy mash of colours and designs.

Selene died young, at 24, when the doctors prescribed a curious cure for a now understood phenomenon: asthma. The doctors didn’t understand much about medical science then, so told her to smoke, even though she hated it. She was forced to go through a pack a day, and died with a lung disease because of it. On the topic of curious deaths, though, another member of her now massive family died of an ingrown hair that became infected!

Time passed, and baseball became the prominent sport in America, thus the horseracing business fell. Jackson died, and the estate was given to his great-grandson, a 2-year-old (you might want to reread that last sentence). His grandpa, thankfully, sold the estate as fast as he could, mansion, possessions and all. The 2-year-old went on to become the CIA’s American-British informant, responsible for using the cracked Enigma code for the Americans’ benefit.

So, there you have it: from Generals to asthma, death by ingrowing hair to CIA and World War II, the Hardings (and then Jacksons) were an incredible family with an incredible past. Fascinatingly, their story went from nothing to everything to nothing in the space of just 100 years.

✝On the other side of the family, General Jackson’s side, out of 9 children, only one survived.

About Natalie Gotts

I've been a management consultant, a nutritional therapist, a Journey practitioner and a mother. I've sold ostriches in China and personal safety devices in Hong Kong. Whatever I've done, and wherever I've been, I've written about it.
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