12 - Horse Barn
Click Image for a Larger VersionVisiting the Horses Text
Visiting the Horses
The Horse Barn was designed as a home away from home for horses waiting for their moment to shine in the horse show.
“I was in love with horses as a girl and I read all the Black Stallion books and all the other Marguerite Henry books. I knew my horse breeds pretty well. I go in and look for the different breeds. I look for the quality, the magnificence of them and the personalities. It’s such a great experience to spend some time with animals and see that they have personalities too.”
Over the years, draft horses have pulled wagons, American Saddle bred horses have pranced around the ring, and Western Quarter horses have loped around barrels in the cloverleaf barrel competition. Long-time fair employee Steve Pooch has been around the horse judges long enough to know what they are looking for:
“A lot of time horses, as they get older, their legs start giving out and you can see it in their pasterns. So they’ll look for strong legs. ”
Ever wonder why your favorite breed is no longer in the barn, or why your favorite competition isn’t on the program? Well, what happens at the fair reflects what’s happening at horse farms around the state.
“Back in the ‘80s there were a lot of people that had Shetland Ponies, Hackney Ponies, and in the last ten years most of those folks have passed away. Nobody carried on that tradition, so the entries had dwindled to one or two in a class, and we just said we can’t afford to keep those classes, so we eliminated them. So there’s a bit of an evolution of what goes on the farm.”
On the other hand, sometimes new horses or competitions appear at the fair. In 1981, for example, paint horses were added to the western show and in 2000, the six horse hitch, six horses pulling a wagon, was added to competition.
Old breed, new breed, draft, English, or western. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It’s the unique experience of spending time up close with a beautiful horse that makes the barns a popular stop for young and old alike.
The Barn’s Architecture
“I have this memory about the barns being a bit sort of majestic. I mean they’re big barns and they’re nice stables. It’s a permanent infrastructure which in some shows you don’t get that. And so, that comfort was always a nice thing.”
The Horse Barn comes out of a rich architectural period in State Fair history. The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, was a federally funded program that employed millions of people across the country during the Great Depression. Close to 300 people worked on numerous construction projects at the fairgrounds, including the Horse Barn.
In the fair’s early years, horses were kept in traditional barn-like structures. But with attendance at horse shows increasing, it was decided that a formal building was needed, where the horses could stay until they were brought into the competition arena of the Coliseum. Since the earlier horse barns had been fire hazards, the new Horse Barn was made of fireproof concrete and steel. Completed in 1937, it’s typical of WPA architecture. Look outside at the beautiful friezes above the windows—the horses carved there tell fairgoers what to expect inside.
In the 1937 annual report, state fair board members described the Horse Barn and other WPA projects:
“Experts, who have inspected the ramp and bridge, Horse Barn and the Poultry Building, all of modernistic architectural style, have expressed their opinion that these units are the finest example of their type of construction in the country, and exhibitors and the general public were unanimous in their declarations that the Minnesota State Fair…facilities are unsurpassed.”
Today we look at the Horse Barn as a great example of 1930s modern architecture that stands for progress and possibility. And the function of the Horse Barn is as important as it was back then – it houses the champion horses that fairgoers love each year.
When the Barn was something Else
Today when you look at the Horse Barn, you imagine the variety of breeds inside. Early in 1942, the building was examined with a very different eye. With the U.S. engaged in World War II, there was a great need for factory-made machinery to support the war effort. After surveying the entire fairground, the U.S. government determined that the livestock buildings, including the Horse Barn, were perfect for the development of an airplane propeller factory
In early May 1942, the buildings were taken over by the Army Air Corps and the transformation began. The Minnesota State Fair cancelled all horse and livestock competitions, and for three years the Horse Barn was a full-blown factory. In June 1945, the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation shut down all regional and state fairs due to wartime transportation needs.
When the war ended, rumor had it that the government might buy the Horse Barn and other livestock buildings, or attempt to claim them through eminent domain. As it turned out, though, the government negotiated payment for damages, removed all factory equipment, and returned the buildings to their original use. There was great fear among state fair planners that the barns wouldn’t be ready in time for the 1946 fair. But in the end it didn’t matter, the 1946 fair was cancelled due to the polio epidemic.
You are a Horse Judge
You’ve been hired as a judge in the horse shows! Which horse gets your blue ribbon?