ASHLAND – Even though the name of Ashland’s annual summer celebration, “Stir-Up,” does not pertain to horses, the community festival has had equine ties.
For many years, rodeos and horse shows were a part of Stir-Up. While these events have disappeared from the schedule, this year the horse connection is back with the screening of a new film on the history of horse racing in Nebraska.
Jody Lamp and Melody Dobson are bringing the latest production from their company, American Doorstop Project, to Ashland. Their film “Born to Rein,” will be shown at Ashland Public Library on Saturday, July 20.
“It is fitting for us to be able to come back to Ashland and show this film because it’s a fascinating history of Nebraska that’s not been told or shared,” said Lamp.
Lamp and Dobson are showing the film in Ashland because the community has many ties to horse racing in Nebraska. At one point, Ashland was called the “Horse Racing Capital of Nebraska” for the many thoroughbred support farms that fed race horses to tracks like Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha.
“Horses were trained and cared for right in this area,” said Dobson.
The sport of kings is still represented in the community today at Anderson Racing Stable north of Ashland, where Dave Anderson trains race horses.
The producers interviewed Jim Anderson (no relation), owner of Anderson Horse Transportation in Ashland. Throughout his career as a professional horse hauler, Anderson has moved a lot of famous thoroughbreds from one part of the country to another, Dobson said.
The idea for the film began almost a decade ago. In 2009, Lamp learned of Nebraska’s ties to Sir Barton, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1919.
Today, these three races make up the coveted Triple Crown. But in 1919, the title was 10 years from being created. Nearly 30 years later, the Jockey Club finally recognized Sir Barton as the first Triple Crown winner.
After his racing career was over, Sir Barton stood stud at a thoroughbred farm in Virginia. In 1932, the horse became a part of the Army Remount Service, part of the United States Cavalry.
Sir Barton ended his Army career in Nebraska at Fort Robinson. A thoroughbred breeder and rancher bought Sir Barton and took him to his ranch outside of Douglas, Wyo., where the horse died in 1937.
Lamp’s interest in Sir Barton began while she researched the livestock industry in Billings, Mont. She learned that a son of Sir Barton was sold at a sale barn in Billings in 1946.
Lamp sat on this tidbit of information for a few years, until she mentioned it to Dobson after the pair began working together.
“I told her, ‘I’ve got a horse story I want to tell you,’” Lamp remembered.
The subject of horses also came up frequently as Lamp and Dobson worked on their book, “A History of Nebraska Agriculture: A Life Worth Living.” The book was published in 2017 and features artwork by Ashland artist Gene Roncka on the front and back cover and inside pages.
As they uncovered more and more information about horse racing in Nebraska, Lamp and Dobson realized that rather than include it as a chapter in the book, they needed to give the subject its own chance to shine.
“The book is a place where we introduce some of the characters and their connections,” said Dobson.
The characters include Nebraska natives, Marion Van Berg, his son, Jack Van Berg and John Nerud. They were horse trainers who were inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
“These guys credit their Nebraska upbringing for their success,” she added.
As Lamp and Dobson criss-crossed the country working on the film, they learned that these three trainers are referred to as “rock stars” of the horse racing world by their peers.
“We met the most incredible people,” said Dobson.
They spent a great deal of time in Nebraska, as well.
“We learned a lot in Nebraska,” said Dobson.
Ashland is one of the first cities in the state where the film will be screened, said Lamp.
It premiered in May in Grand Island, home of one of the state’s best horse racing tracks. The producers timed the premiere of their film to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Sir Barton’s Kentucky Derby win.
The film has also been shown in Scottsbluff near Nerud’s hometown of Minatare and Douglas, Wyo., Sir Barton’s final resting place.
The Ashland screening is a homecoming of sorts for Lamp and Dobson. The pair has located what they call their “traveling office” in downtown Ashland for the past few years.
“This is like a second home to us, our working home,” said Lamp.
The producers will be on hand for a meet-and-greet prior to the 3 p.m. screening and after the credits roll.
The showing is free to the public, but there is limited seating, so the producers recommend reserving seats through the Eventbrite ticketing system.
The Ashland Area Economic Development Corporation sponsored the screening.