The Legend of John Henry at the Kentucky Horse Park Near Lexington

The legendary race horse John Henry.Those who know about horses may recognize the name John Henry, a thoroughbred who won more than $6.5 million in his racing career. He was tough on the track and was ranked # 23 of the Top 100 Thoroughbred Champions of the 20th Century.

John Henry had a bit of a temper, ripping his feed and water buckets off of the wall if service didn’t please him.

He was legendary for biting his owners, his trainers, his jockeys and just about anyone around when he was in a bad mood. On multiple occasions, he would extend his front hoof to trip those around him. John Henry was a bad boy and he didn’t care who knew it.

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Visiting the Kentucky Horse Park 
The gated entrance to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington Kentucky

That’s why the story about him and baby sparrow they tell at the Kentucky Horse Park is so heartwarming. Located just a few miles from Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park is where you can experience just about anything and everything related to horses.

It’s home to several retired Kentucky Derby winners. Although John Henry never won the Derby, he was the founding star in the Hall of Champions, the most popular exhibit at the park.

Because he was such a mischievous troublemaker, his caregivers became suspicious one day when they noticed he had not moved a hoof in more than four hours. Entering his stall, they discovered the cause.

John Henry's grave at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

John Henry’s grave.

There, all but buried in the fresh straw under John Henry’s massive body, was a baby sparrow. Apparently, it had fallen from its nest in the rafters. They picked up the tiny bird, returned him to his nest. Only then, did John Henry take a step. His caregivers surmised that big bad John was afraid to move for fear of stepping on the fragile creature near his feet.

John Henry was 32 years old at the time of his death in 2007. That’s about 90 in human years, and he still receives fan mail at the park and fresh flowers on his grave. John Henry was ornery until the day he died. Except for a few hours one day in the life of a baby sparrow.

For the Horse Lover in All of Us