At The Meadow, “America’s Super Horse” first learned to gallop across its rolling fields, then on its loamy track. There, Secretariat first felt the calming hand of a groom, the taste of a bit in his mouth and the weight of a rider on his back. This is where Secretariat spent the formative first two years of his life. At The Meadow, the foundation was laid for a legend.
The next to last stop on our “virtual” Secretariat’s Meadow Tour is the training barn. It is located on the south side of Rt. 30 on what was the original site of the training center. In something of a rite of passage, the grooms would walk the colts from the yearling barn across the road to the training center to begin their education for the racetrack.
The original complex consisted of barns and paddocks, a three-eighths mile indoor track for exercising the horses in inclement weather, a mile-long training track and an observation tower to watch the Thoroughbreds during their works.
It’s been over three decades since The Meadow was sold to settle Chris Chenery’s estate and only one training barn remains. However this was where Secretariat and Riva Ridge stayed while they learned the fundamentals of racing.
In August 1971, Secretariat was ridden for the first time in his life inside the indoor track, where all the young horses were started. Charlie Ross, his groom, and Meredith Bailes, his exercise rider, had already introduced him to the bridle and saddle. The next lesson was to get Secretariat accustomed to the weight of a rider on his back. Ross held the colt as Bailes hopped up and simply laid lengthwise on his back. Ross led Secretariat around in the ring a bit, then Bailes slid off. The process was repeated for a couple of days until Bailes felt that it was time for the big moment.
Ross boosted him into the saddle and he was astride the colt. “Secretariat didn’t buck at all,” Ross told us when we interviewed him for our book. From schooling in the indoor ring, Secretariat eventually graduated to the outside training track. And after learning all he could at The Meadow, he left for Lucien Laurin’s stable in January 1972, leaving his Virginia birthplace for a legendary place in racing history.
Today the famous training barn is part of the new Rouse Horse Complex at The Meadow, the site of many horse shows and the annual Secretariat birthday celebration.
Next to the barn is the foaling shed where Secretariat was born. It is a holy grail for many fans who make a pilgrimage to The Meadow to see and touch the simple whitewashed little barn for themselves. That will be the last stop on our tour and we will share some of the comments from those who witnessed the birth of a legend.
The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person. Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates. The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.” Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.
Leeanne Meadows Ladin