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Henry Clay took his farm seriously. Farming got in his blood during his youth in the Slashes of Virginia, where he grew up on a large farm. At Ashland, Clay was as interested in financial gain as he was in improving farming and breeding techniques. He was scientific in his methods and became one of the most respected farmers in the United States.
Henry Clay’s livestock were his pride and joy. He said that he never went out of his house, “without meeting with some of them to engage agreeably my attention.” He kept meticulous records on all of his stock, some of which may still be found in his stock book on display at Ashland.
Henry Clay introduced Hereford cattle to the United States from England in 1817. He ultimately gave up Herefords in favor of Durham cattle, which he determined were more suited to Kentucky. His favorite was a Durham bull named Orizimbo, whose death he announced in the Senate in January 1838.
Henry Clay successfully entered many of his animals in stock shows and often acted as a judge. In 1834, he won the prize for best Saxon ram at a Kentucky breeds show.
Clay’s most lucrative livestock were mules and he became one of the most successful providers of mules to the South. He imported donkeys –jacks and jennies –from all over the world and bred them with his horses to create mules, which were ideally suited for the hard, hot work on southern plantations.
Of all of Henry Clay’s stock, none left the legacy that his horses did. He began his horse business in earnest by joining with four other men to purchase the English stallion, Buzzard, in 1806, the first such Thoroughbred syndication in America.
As a horseman, Henry Clay played a central role in Lexington becoming “The Horse Capital of the World.” His prominence as a public figure combined with his love of horse racing made it socially attractive for his fellow Kentuckians to do the same. He established Ashland Stud in 1830. Though most of Clay’s horses produced important bloodlines, the three that Clay received as gifts in 1845 were outstanding: mares Magnolia and Margaret Wood, and the stallion, Yorkshire. Margaret Wood and Magnolia appear in the bloodlines of eleven Kentucky Derby winners and the blood of all three horses appears in numerous major stakes winners, still running in the best Thoroughbreds today.
Of the many accomplishments of Clay’s life, his contributions to farming, animal husbandry, horse breeding and racing rank among the most important.