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Chester County Horse Country


The scenic rolling hills of Chester County have been home to many horse breeders, trainers, and riding enthusiasts for decades.

Made popular in films like Stagecoach and Seabiscuit and songs like Chestnut Mare by The Byrds, horses have become symbols of beauty and freedom ingrained within the American spirit.

Seeing these muscular, yet graceful creatures, racetracks emerge in our consciousness as their major pursuit. There are three types of horse racing: flat racing, harness, and steeplechase.

The breeding of thoroughbreds is big business. Roughly 37,000 foals are registered each year in North America, predominantly in Kentucky, Florida, and California. According to the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA), the Keystone state ranked fifth in recent statistics. The industry generates more than $34 billion in annual revenue in the United States, providing about 470,000 jobs through a network of farms, training centers, and racetracks.

The wide expanses in Chester County allow racehorses to be a popular pursuit, with access to riding trails and expert veterinary support. One risk of thoroughbred breeding is its optimization of the equine anatomy for speed, rather than durability. Beloved Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro (bred at the Lael Stables in West Grove) spent time at the renowned New Bolton Center, his struggle touching the hearts of millions.

George Strawbridge, Jr. is a Chester County legend, well known in both the thoroughbred racing and steeplechase segments. The owner of Augustin Stables, his horses have won several victories, including the Breeder’s Cup Filly and Mare Turf. He’s the only American to win the prestigious St. Leger Stakes in England – part of the British “Triple Crown.” Strawbridge’s numerous achievements at the track are matched by his humanitarian contributions around the country.

In horse racing, one can sense elements of both art and science. Sometimes the two come together. Renowned artist Jamie Wyeth and his wife, Phyllis, own Union Rags, who won the Belmont Stakes in 2012. Horse enthusiasts share Wyeth’s passion for beautiful scenery and are often strong proponents of land preservation. Nancy Hannum and George “Frolic” Weymouth helped set aside portions of the former King Ranch decades ago to protect it from development. So when you spot these lovely four-legged animals grazing in a picturesque meadow, think about their long heritage as they join the roster of Chester County icons.

Gene Pisasale is an author based in Kennett Square whose books and lecture series focus on topics of local interest. “The Forgotten Star” is his latest historical novel, which delves into the War of 1812 and true-life mysteries surrounding an American icon- the Star-Spangled Banner. His website is www.GenePisasale.com. He can be reached at G…@GenePisasale.com.