SPAC Stories

SPAC, Horses, Saratoga

by Clare Smith

Beyond Health, History and Horses

“As you know, Saratoga Springs is as famous for thoroughbred racing as it is for its performers at the Saratoga Performing Art Center…”

Ed Lewi, 1970[1]
The Saratogian, Special Insert, 1963[2]

While Saratoga Springs has always been known for “Health, History and Horses,” in 1966, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) entered the scene to add one more thing for Saratoga Springs to be known for: “Culture and Education.” Mindful of its predecessors, SPAC soon forged partnerships with existing organizations, like the famed Saratoga Springs Race Course and Skidmore College.

Performers at the Race Course

Can you imagine going to a racetrack and seeing your favorite performing group? Well, in 1970, thanks to SPAC, you could!

In that summer of 1970, the five-year old SPAC was building a close institutional relationship with the 107-year-old Saratoga Race Course. The relationship between SPAC and NYRA (the New York Racing Association) has its origins in the beginning of SPAC in the 1960s when both sides envisioned a close relationship. Both organizations advertised in each other’s programs and their staff enjoyed a close correspondence. Ed Lewi, SPAC’s legendary original publicist who also worked for the Saratoga Race Course, recruited several famous performing groups and musicians to showcase that connection by presenting a trophy after a race. [3]

These groups included the popular folk music group Peter, Paul, and Mary, musical icon Leonard Bernstein, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and the pop music group Fifth Dimension, listed among the distinguished artists presenting at the track in an August 1970 New York Times article. [4]These musical groups were popular and frequent performers at SPAC in its early years and their presence at the famed historic Saratoga Race Course in the summer of 1970 cemented the strong relationship between the two community institutions.

An “Extensive Educator”

While SPAC brought musicians to the Saratoga racetrack, the American Dressage Institute brought horses to the Spa State Park! Surviving photos show dressage horses in front of the Hall of Springs and around the Park. In the 1960s and 1970s, leaning into its mission to become an ‘extensive educator’ as well as ‘excellent entertainer,’ SPAC hosted summer institutes in the performing arts, including the Choral Institute and School for Orchestral Studies.

In addition, the art of equestrian display also found a place as the American Dressage Institute based itself at the Riding Hall of Skidmore College’s New Campus and hosted demonstrations at SPAC. The strong community relationship between the American Dressage Institute and SPAC symbolizes not only SPAC’s cultural connection with horses, but their strong commitment to Education.

An Enduring Partnership

The relationship that existed between SPAC and horses in the 1960s and 1970s, as exemplified with a cross-audience building partnership with the Saratoga Race Course and American Dressage Institute offer one example of the close relationships SPAC has built with community institutions in Saratoga Springs and beyond. Renewing those ties remains part of SPAC’s story again in recent years with renewed mutual support between the Race Course and SPAC. Through its partnerships with many community institutions from the very beginning, SPAC has certainly followed the prediction of the 1963 Saratogian Cover and added “Culture and Education” to Saratoga Springs’s iconic motto “Health, History, Horses.”

[1] SPAC Archive, Misc Cat-G, Correspondence Fifth Dimension NYRA, 1970. 

[2] SPAC Archive, 1960s -1965, “To Health History Horses,” The Saratogian, May 21, 1963.

[3] Paul Grondahl, “Ed Lewi, Public Relations Legend, Dies at 81,” Times Union (Times Union, August 30, 2015),

[4] Frank Sullivan, “‘They’re Off’ at Saratoga,” The New York Times, August 2, 1970, (

[5] SPAC Archive, Misc Cat-G, Correspondence Fifth Dimension NYRA, 1970. 

[6] SPAC Archive, Education Program Dressage, 1970s.