By Joseph Clabes
To say Josephine Abercrombie has led an interesting life would be a great understatement. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1926, she has been a songwriter, a ballroom dancer, a boxing promoter, an asparagus producer, founder of the Lexington School and a prolific philanthropist, active in civic affairs.
Through it all, she’s maintained the love of horses that inspired her early success in the Saddlebred show ring and lead her to be among the most prominent owners and breeders of Thoroughbreds.
Ms. Abercrombie’s entry into the Thoroughbred world came in 1949 when she and her father first purchased yearlings at Keeneland. Within three years of those first purchases, they had established Pin Oak, their Woodford County farm, and begun realizing great success on race tracks across North America with multiple graded stakes winners. Among those stakes winners are such names as Make A Play, Roman Patrol and Elocutionist.
This early racing success eventually prompted Ms. Abercrombie to establish in the 80s the current incarnation of Pin Oak Stud on U.S. 60 and create a first-rate breeding operation, which would be home to such sires as Sky Classic, Peaks and Valleys, Maria’s Mon and Broken Vow, along with an outstanding band of broodmares.
As part of the Horse Industry in Kentucky Oral History Project maintained by University of Kentucky’s Kentuckiana Digital Library, Ms Abercrombie provided an interview to Dan Kenny in March of 2007. During the interview, she recounts her introduction to riding Quarter Horses on her father’s west Texas ranch to competing on the Saddlebred show circuit around the country, including New York’s Madison Square Garden. She also discusses the creation of her family’s racing stable, the origins of their farms in Kentucky and the philosophies that guided her breeding success. She also describes her father’s affinity for Pin Oak trees, which inspired the name for their farms.
Listen to this portion of the archived interview here:
KENNY: How did you get introduced to the horse world? And maybe just kind of take it from your earliest memories on through the triumphs in Madison Square Garden. That must have been quite a quite a ride.
ABERCROMBIE: It was. I grew up on a horse. My father loved horses and he had a ranch in west Texas. And I’d go out there with him and I’d ride Quarter Horses with him and herd cattle and do all that stuff from the time I was six. I loved to ride so much, loved horses and I wanted one of my own and he said, “Okay, what do you want?” I would ride you know horses that we’d rent you know in the stables. And then, finally there was a polo pony at the stable and I liked the polo pony so much and I rode her a lot and her name was Lomita and I rode her all the time. I was just six at the time and there was a fire there and they got her out and they were holding her and somebody turned around and she broke loose and ran back into the barn and was killed. Isn’t that horrible?
ABERCROMBIE: And it just broke my heart. I was a wreck. And my father then started buying me, bought me another horse and it was a show horse. A Saddle Horse, so I started there riding Saddle Horses when I was just a child.
KENNY: Taking lessons too.
ABERCROMBIE: Oh, yes. . . And he had a bought a piece of property right outside Houston and he named it Pin Oak because he loved pin oak trees. And he called up the landscape place and said he wanted pin oak trees planted all over the farm so they went out and planted trees all over the farm. Somebody came from New York one time and looked at it and said there’s not a pin oak on here. Those are all water oaks. . . But when we bought this farm we planted pin oaks on this farm so there are plenty of them around. He built a barn there for me, and hired a trainer, and we bought some Saddle Horses and I showed all over the country. I had a very good horse trainer there at the time. And I had Saddle Horses and harness show ponies, and Hackneys and I drove and all that stuff. And we showed all over the country. We went to California, we went to Louisville, we went here, we went to New York. We went everywhere and showed all over the country and were quite successful. We had a very good trainer and it worked out very well so I had a lot of fun. . .
Today, Pin Oak Stud maintains the commitment to continually improving their breeding program and broodmare band. Like Pin Oak Stud’s contribution to the Thoroughbred breed, Ms. Abercrombie continues to make her mark on her community through her civic involvement and philanthropic efforts. Thanks to her energy and vision, Ms. Abercrombie and Pin Oak Stud have made an indelible mark on the Thoroughbred industry and Central Kentucky.
Listen to the full oral history interview with Ms. Abercrombie here.
Photos from Pin Oak Stud.