A Derby Hat for Barbaro

My love for horses began when I was a little girl. I watched every horse race that was televised as well as any movies about horses. I had friends who had horses and visited them every chance I got.

But it was the story of Black Beauty that made a real impact on my life. Told from the horse’s perspective, the story made me aware of the living situations of horses and our responsibility for taking care of these wondrous creatures who possess not only individual personalities but also spirit, emotion and memory.

Growing up I watched the Derby every year on television and in 1969 Majestic Prince was the first horse I ever witnessed attempting to win the coveted Triple Crown. Just a few years later I watched Secretariat make Triple Crown history (1973) and like so many I was captivated with him. However, it was following Ruffian’s tragic 1975 breakdown in her match race with Foolish Pleasure that I temporarily turned away from horse racing, heartsick about the harsh reality that not all racehorses’ lives have happy endings.

Then came Barbaro.

Barbaro, post parade at the 2006 Preakness - Photo by Lydia A. Williams
Barbaro photo by Lydia A. Williams

The undefeated bay son of Dynaformer and La Ville Rouge, Barbaro soared to the finish at the 2006 Kentucky Derby and made many of us believe that Triple Crown history was about to be made again. After the race, his jockey Edgar Prado spoke of how “dreams come true” and analyst Gary Stevens used the word “superstar.”  Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson and trainer Michael Matz knew they had something once-in-a-lifetime in Barbaro.

Barbaro at Fair Hill - Photo by Lydia A. Williams
Barbaro at Fair Hill, photo by Lydia A. Williams

It was just two weeks later at the Preakness that Barbaro’s tragic breakdown occurred. In the following weeks and months, I watched like many others for news of Barbaro’s courageous battle for survival at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Barbaro endured nearly a dozen surgeries and lived in and out of a sling to treat the laminitis. His veterinarian Dr. Dean Richardson said that Barbaro knew they were all working to save him and ensure him a good quality of life. Still, in the end all of the best efforts weren’t enough; on the morning of January 29, 2007, Barbaro’s condition took a bad turn and he was humanely euthanized with those who loved him by his side.

Following his death, I felt compelled as an artist and a horse lover to create something to honor this amazing equine athlete whose life had so deeply touched me. In a surge of creative inspiration, I took bolts of deep reddish-brown dupioni silk and black satin and fashioned a hat foundation to reflect Barbaro’s bay coat and dark mane and tail.

The "Barbaro" Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®
The “Barbaro” Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®

I used chiffon for the red Derby roses; eight to reflect Barbaro’s post position in the Derby. Black chiffon was used for the sash and long blunt cut tails; a mixture of green shantung and metallic taffeta were used to fashion the leaves. The hat was stitched together with a lot of love and more than a few tears.

The "Barbaro" Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®
The “Barbaro” Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®

And that was just the beginning. Barbaro’s courageous spirit ignited a fire within me to promote horse welfare. As a first step I created a new webpage at maggiemae.com called “Hats and Horses: A Lifelong Love Affair” to showcase various horse welfare organizations around the country. In 2008, I teamed up with Thoroughbred Charities of America and Foxwoods Resort Casino of Connecticut for a Derby Day fundraiser for the Eight Belles Memorial Fund, to create and donate a very special one of a kind hat in celebration of Eight Belles for the event’s auction. Between 2009 and 2011, I created Derby hats to honor Rachel Alexandra, Secretariat and Majestic Prince for the Kentucky Derby Museum’s Annual Hat Contest Exhibit.

"A Dozen Roses for Rachel" Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®
“A Dozen Roses for Rachel” Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®

Then, in the fall of 2009, I created the concept of “Hats Off to he Horses: The Road to the Derby”, an annual fundraising project that would target one Thoroughbred retirement facility to raise funds for their retirees and help to educate the public about the specific needs of retired racehorses. I contacted Alex Brown of Alex Brown Racing to get his recommendation for a retirement facility. Alex suggested Michael Blowen at Old Friends in Kentucky. Michael’s dream for a retirement haven for retired racehorses was coming true and I was thrilled when he agreed to join me for the inaugural year of the project which has now become an annual event with them that has raised over $31,000 for their facility.

The "Rapid Redux" Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®
The “Rapid Redux” Hat by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®

In May of 2006 Barbaro captured the hearts of a nation when he won the Kentucky Derby; when he died, he moved a nation to act. Barboro’s story captivated people, many of whom had never known much about racehorses. As a result of his catastrophic racing injury and subsequent death, steps were taken and continue to be taken to help racehorses have a better quality of life, including funding laminitis research and dealing with the issues of track safety and illegal doping. This to me is his greatest legacy.

The Barbaro Memorial Scultpure-Alexa KingWhen people ask me how I got started supporting the retired racehorses I
simply tell them, It all began with Barbaro. What started with one hat created to honor a racing champion has become a life’s work devoted to helping horses. And on this day, the anniversary of Barbaro’s death, I am proud to say that I’ll continue to support the horses, one hat at a time, thanks to him.

Please enjoy this special slideshow of the “Barbaro” Derby hat design. Special thanks to Lydia A. Williams for generously sharing her images of Barbaro with us. Please visit Lydia’s website to see more of her work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please note: the original “Barbaro” hat design is not for sale.

And if you would like to view the Derby hats that have been created for our four years of the “Hats Off to the Horses” auctions for Old Friends, please visit the Old Friends Hat Auction Portfolio webpage!



28 Replies to “A Derby Hat for Barbaro”

  1. Your words and photos pulled me into Barbaro’s world and filled me with awe – his beauty took my breadth away – as well as sadness for the fate of this magnificent horse. My eyes were not left dry by this tale…

    I think your chapeaux pay great tribute to all those horses, and demonstrate so well your love for them.

    Thank you for sharing this story, Sally, it was another wonderful read!


    1. Céline, thank you for your kindest message. Barbaro has had such an amazing effect on so many of us – his beauty, his story – so captivating, so brief, so inspiring. This blog is giving me the chance to finally share a bit more about these amazing horses and how they touch my life. They are to be cherished. Thank you always for all your wonderful comments and beautiful words, Céline ,I appreciate them more than I can say…


    1. Susan, your words are so perfectly chosen to describe this amazing horse. And indeed, who would ever have imagined what he would come to mean to us all after the Derby, and hat his greater purpose would be? Thank you so much for reading my blog and for sharing…


  2. Wow!! So beautiful & God bless you for supporting the horses!! I have also been fascinated with Thoroughbred racing, “The Sport of Kings”, (I personally wish they would add Queens to that title), since around the age of 7 – 8 yrs. old. I remember doing a book report in the 4th grade about Man o’ War & even though book reports were not among my favorite assignments, I managed to get an A because I was so into the research of one of the great Thoroughbreds; if it had been another subject, I most likely would have received a C or D! Lol! I have too many favorite Thoroughbreds to even begin to talk about, but I too, fell in love with Barbaro, followed his progress in recovery & was devastated when they had to let him go. Thank goodness I did not witness the tragedy with Eight Belles, but I totally stepped away from the sport. In 2009, my dad, may he R.I.P., really wanted to watch the Kentucky Derby (major horse lover), so I reluctantly decided to watch. I was totally clueless as to any of the horses’ records, names, etc. Then I saw that little gelding from New Mexico that nobody noticed wearing post position # 8, & for that reason only I chose him to be the winner (didn’t place a bet). So glad I watched for several reasons; it was the last Derby my dad watched b/c he passed 10/27/09 @ the age of 85 yrs., MINE THAT BIRD was amazing & ridden by one of my dad’s favorite jockeys, Calvin Borel, as my dad is from New Orleans, really felt the power of that awesome equine angel, Barbaro & it sparked my interest in racing somewhat, then there was Zenyatta, who made racing such fun, & I still follow the sport today, not only b/c of the fact it still thrills me, but mainly not to bury my head in the sand & watch out for anything negative going on, etc. I’m just a regular person & do not make much money, but sponsor & give what I can to various, reputable horse rescue organizations such as TROTT, etc. My 2 daughters are now grown & I have 4 grandchildren & one very special little off-track Arabian gelding who will be 11 yrs. old 03/19/13, but still acts like a 2 yr. old. Lol! Yes, I spoil him but he is my best friend, therapist, partner, etc. It’s amazing how I can be down about something or having a terrible day, but the minute I get around him & the horses where he’s boarded, total peace takes over. Sorry for such the long post, but it has been an emotional week, but mostly good b/c I keep getting winks & signs from one of God’s equine angels, Barbaro!! Thank you so much for sharing!! 🙂 ♥


    1. Thank you for your kind words about the blog for Barbaro. It made me remember how amazing that victory was when Borel came flying thru’ on the rail (Borail) on Mine That Bird from way at the back of the pack. On of those Derby moments you never forget. And I so well understand how these horses – and our other critter family members, too – can absolutely fill our lives & hearts with joy, comfort, and love. Thank you for sharing all that you have with all of us who visit this blog, as we continue to learn so many of the lessons that Barbaro gave to each and every one of us…


  3. Your blog has brought me to tears again over the loss of our boy Barbaro. I absolutely love your Barbaro hat — you’ve captured his essence in such a beautiful way and I admire your creativity. How wonderful to find such a unique way to express your love for Barbaro and all the horses! You are a true horse hero! We’ve all been called to continue Barbaro’s legacy of love and caring and friendship and helping to rescue horses and other critters, trying to end cruel horse slaughter and help find a cure for dreaded laminitis. That is Barbaro’s legacy. I’m proud to be a Fan of Barbaro (FOB), and we’ll continue to carry out his legacy. Barbaro, we love you and miss you. You’ve changed our lives for the better!


    1. Trish your message has touched me so beautifully today. Thank you for all your kind words and for sharing your feelings about Barbaro. And I so agree about Barbaro’s legacy. We all can indeed play a part in carrying it in our lives, wherever we are and whatever we may do in life. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I feel to him and to all those like you who have been so instrumental in spreading the word about his extraordinary life. We are all in this together, Trish, and that gives us all the strength and vision to keep moving forward and improve the lives of all horses, everywhere…


      1. @ Hats and Horses, So touched by all your words & you’re such a talented person; I was just wondering if you ever sell anything you’ve designed (or copies of originals) to the public? I collect Thoroughbred racing photos, along w/ photos of my own little off track Arabian gelding who is retired & will be 11 yrs. old on March 19th (he’s so good in dangerous or difficult situations, was lame for over a year when I was able to get him for a small fee since the Arabian racing is not even close to being anywhere like the Thoroughbred race horses, but he’s never forgotten the track & most the time he acts like a 2 yr. old. LOL!) Sorry to talk so much about that, but he’s kind of like a son to me!! Very happy to have found your link & also the wonderful, wise words of the people following this blog!! Thank you so much! 🙂


      2. Thank you so much for your response to the Barbaro story. His life and legacy truly do live on and inspire us all to keep working to make te lives oif all hoses better.

        It was wonderful to read about your Arabian gelding, what is his name? And I do indeed have a complete hat business, MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS, where I sell all kinds of hats at the following link if you’d ever like to visit – http://www.maggiemae.com. I sell Derby hats, hats for Royal Ascot, weddings, and just about every kind of special occasion you might imagine. I have also created hats to honor other racehorse as requested by people who would like to purchase/order them as custom items.

        In the meantime, I am thrilled that you are enjoying my new Hats and Horses blog, and am I corect in guessing that our name is Cara? I hope to hear from you again soon, and feel free anytime to email me at sally@maggiemae.com!



      3. Good morning! My horse’s name is Jolly Roger (I nick named him Farhan Jawad which I found in a book of translations for Arabian names for horses; still have so much to learn about this breed even though I’ve had him 5 yrs. now). I’ll e-mail you his Winners’ Circle photo when he won his Maiden race in 2006 & belonged to Sunnyland Arabians). Thank you so much for the compliment!! 🙂 Yes, you have my name right; my full name is Cara Ezzell; e-mail address: cara.ezzell@houstontx.gov. So very happy I found your blog & I am really enjoying it & will check out your website!! Thanks again!! 🙂


      4. Good afternoon! I e-mailed you yesterday, but it came back saying it was undeliverable. I’m not sure if I made a mistake, but is your e-mail address still sally@maggiemae.com ? I had attached about 5 photos; some were taken about 5 yrs. ago & @ least one just a few months ago & also a copy of his pedigree. I had sent his Winners’ Circle photo to a friend that does cartoon drawings of all the famous Thoroughbreds, but I requested she do one of Jolly & I must have moved that particular photo (gosh, I can be such a computer dummy!), but I do have a print & it’s also on a flash drive that I just haven’t gotten around to putting it back on my hard drive. I thought I would find out if your e-mail address had changed first. Thank you so much for your interest in Jolly!! It’s an honor to meet you on your blog which is fantastic so very unique!!! When the dates Jan. 29th & then April 29th come each year I get so sad & feel like it’s just happened, but I have to remind myself that Barbaro did not die in vain & is doing things that might not have been accomplished or looked into further had it not been for his great legacy. I find it so ironic that his sire, Dynaformer, who had lived a good life, but as with age had developed some physical ailments, but they said for a couple of weeks he was feeling pretty good & then on April 29th, the anniversary of his Superstar colt’s birthday, he left suddenly. I was also very glad to hear you are doing something for Eight Belles, which, thank goodness, I did not see & refuse to watch…I’m not sure if you’ve heard the story of Dyna King sired by Dynaformer, 1/2 brother to Barbaro, was rescued by Heart of Tucson. Someone had left him in the desert to die & the Director of Heart of Tucson along with one of her volunteers discovered him almost gone. They immediately brought him to their rescue facility, called in some veteranians & started to rehabilitate him; he was named Gifted b/c other than that dang laminitis fought like a warrior & was returned to good health & had @ least 2 very happy years @ HEART. At some point after they rescued him & he was recovering, they discovered a tattoo inside his upper lip, which as you know, all horses from the track have one. They traced it only to find out his real name was Dyna King & what his bloodline was. He didn’t do much on the track, so I’m guessing some evil being just dumped him in the desert to die. He was doing really well & I took a great interest in him & was kind sponsoring him with as much as I was able to afford b/c I knew he was in a battle with laminitis which they were able to control & pretty much tried everything they could, but after several years it took over until he reached a point, just like Barbaro, it was time to go…this last fall he was humanely euthanized & has joined his sire & 1/2 brother…right before his laminitis got to the point it was getting out of control, the Director, Judy Glore, went to the doctor & out of the blue they discovered she had lung cancer…they believe they were able to catch it in time & she is back @ home slowly recovering & feels Dyna King’s presence all the time & believes he crossed over when he did to be strong enough to pull her through. HEART of Tucson is a very reputable operation & Judy, along with many amazing volunteers, rescue as many horses as they can take in, but do not overload by bringing in more than they can handle b/c it would be too many to handle. Every horse @ HEART receives the best care possible & they are happy in free to just be a horse. The other main one in charge is Geevers who is some type of Shepherd & just a little over 2 yrs. old! LOL! If you would like to read the story their website is http://www.heartoftucson.com (or .org – sorry for my short-term memory loss – LOL) & they also have a Facebook page called Heart of Tucson. Like I said, I’m still grieving over the loss of Dyna King, but I have chosen a horse named Domino to continue the sponsorship. I just wish I could save every horse in need, but like a good friend says “one horse at a time”. Sorry for rambling on, but my passion has always been horses; they are a gift from God. Let me know about the e-mail address if you like & thank you so very much for listening. Have a great evening & God bless! 🙂


      5. Good morning, Cara! Thank you for sharing about your sweet horse Jolly. The email is crrect, and I tried sending a quick email right from the linked email address here on this blog and it worked just fine. I hope you can get your message through if you try again, I would love to see the photos. Have a great day! 🙂


      6. Good morning! Thank you so very much & I will attempt to send you the photos again! It may work better if I just reply to your e-mail, but I’ll do it both ways. Sometimes this computer @ work does that when photos are attached, but I only had five. I still need to download his Winners’ Circle photo from his Maiden race from a flash drive today, but I’ll send you the ones I did the other day to start with. Thank you for taking interest in my little Arabian gelding!! Have a nice day & great weekend!! 🙂


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