AT THE RACES – Activity Ideas for May

Best known as the “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the first jewel in the Triple Crown is the Kentucky Derby. For most race fans, the derby is a day-long affair of sipping on mint juleps, wearing classy hats, placing bets, and watching celebrities strut along the track. But for the owners, the “Run for the Roses” is the first race to determine whether their thoroughbred has a shot at the crown. While tickets to the Kentucky Derby are nearly sold out, don’t let that stop you from bringing the race to your community. Incorporate the ideas below into a month-long celebration themed “At the Races.”

FOOD: Coordinate with your dining team and host a special “At the Races” luncheon at your community. Think southern comfort foods, such as cheese grits, sweet potato hash, pulled pork, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes. Visit for authentic derby recipes. Decorate the dining room with checkered tablecloths and vases filled with roses as centerpieces. Ask residents to help you make flower arrangements for the tables and finalize the menu. Serve mock mint juleps with the meal.

CRAFTS: “At the Races.” Create derby hats with your residents. All you need is butcher paper, patterned duct tape, silk flowers, markers, scissors, hot glue, and a medium-sized bowl. Cut a large piece of butcher paper, about 3 feet long. Place the bowl bottom side up on a table. Center the paper on top of the bowl and gently press down, forming the shape of a hat. Continue to hold the paper down while using duct tape to tape the hat into shape. This works best with two people–one to hold the hat in place, the other to tape. Then, use scissors to trim the hat to the desired shape. Decorate the hat by creating a design with markers and hot gluing silk flowers along the band of the hat. Use caution when working with hot glue. You could also tape the flowers to the hat.

MUSIC: Sing or listen to some songs about horses and riding: “Good-bye Old Paint,” “A Horse With No Name,” “Jingle Bells,” “The Old Grey Mare,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “Back in the Saddle Again,” “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” “Camptown Races,” “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” “I’m an Old Cowhand.”

SPIRITUAL: Much has been written about horses and spirituality. In legends told throughout the Far East, central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, horses were considered mediums between the Spirit and Material Worlds. Native American traditions refer to horses as their spirit guides. Whatever your beliefs, there is something mystical about being up close and personal with a horse. This month, plan an outing to a local horse stable. Many offer equine therapy or therapeutic riding. Whether your residents are able to ride horses or just visit, they will experience a mystical moment. If you can’t take your group out, ask a local stable to bring a gentle horse or pony to your facility for a visit.

FUN & GAMES: Participants will feel as if they are at the track when you play the game, “At the Races.” Purchase foam board or poster paper from a craft supply store. Create a grid with six columns and eight to ten rows, depending on the size of your board. The cells should be large enough to hold a token or small horse figurine. On one end of the board, write “START” and at the other end of the board write “FINISH.” Label the first cell at the “START” numbers one through six. Gather six game tokens; you can purchase small horse figurines at a party store, or use different colored buttons, coins, or construction paper cut into squares. Whatever you choose, all six tokens should be different. To play the game, you need six players, six tokens, and one die. Have each player select a token. Going around in a circle, have participants place their token on one of the start cells. Two tokens cannot be placed on the same number. Pick a player to start the game. The numbers on the die coincide with the numbers of each cell. The first player rolls the die. The player whose number is shown on the die moves his/her token one cell space. Then, the next player rolls the die, and so on. Continue the game until a player has crossed the “FINISH” line with their token. You can continue the game to determine a second and third place winner. For larger groups, make multiple boards and play tournament style. The winners of each game move on to play one another, until you have final winner.

FOR THE MEN: Host a special Men’s Club and play the game “At the Races” with just the men. Provide fake money for the men to place their bets. Then, play several rounds of the game and determine a winner. Purchase first, second, and third place prizes ahead of time, such as boxed candy, socks, or aftershave. Serve finger foods and mock mint juleps.

REMINISCING: The theme, “At the Races” offers many opportunities to reminisce with group members all month long. Encourage the sharing of moments they’ve experienced at the racetracks. Perhaps someone in your group has been to the Kentucky Derby or other races in the Triple Crown. Lead an interview-style conversation with that person as a group activity. Encourage others to share their experiences with horses; expand to include pets of all kinds. As we also celebrate Mother’s Day in May, reminisce about mothers. Use open-ended questions such as, “tell me about…,” or “describe a time when….”

SENSORY KIT: This month, create a reminiscing sensory kit devoted to pets. Include a soft pet brush, pet towels, pet toys for cats, dogs, and/or birds, collar, bone, and photos of animals. During visits, encourage participants to feel each object and describe how they would use that object on a pet. Reminisce about their favorite animals or pets. Have group members sort the pet toys by the types of animals that would use them.

INTERGENERATIONAL: In honor of Mother’s Day, celebrate all moms with an intergenerational Mother’s Day Fairy Garden Party. Invite the children, grandchildren, nieces and/or nephews of your residents. Purchase terra cotta saucers, pebbles, small stones, sand, and dirt from your local garden store. Purchase unpainted miniature birdhouses, dried moss, and other fairy garden miniatures from your local craft store, as your budget allows. Gather materials such as paint, paint brushes, cups for water, paper plates for paint, glitter, glue/hot glue, and paper towels. On the day of the event, instruct family groups to create one fairy garden per family unit. Participants first paint the birdhouse. While the birdhouse dries, have participants assemble their fairy garden. Take one saucer and pour sand or dirt in the bottom of the saucer. Leaving room for the birdhouse, arrange pebbles as pathways and use small stones as boulders in the garden. Glue dried moss to the roof of the birdhouse and use pieces of dried moss throughout the garden to add greenery. If your budget allows, provide small house plants per fairy garden and have participants place the house plant in the garden as well. Sprinkle “Fairy Dust” (or glitter) over the entire garden to encourage the fairies to visit. During the event, serve miniature foods, such as finger sandwiches, petit fours, hot tea, and sparkling cider. Remember to include all women at this event as even those who never had children were most likely a mother to someone in their lives, be it a niece, family friend, or neighbor.

CELEBRATION: “At the Races” wouldn’t be complete without a Kentucky Derby Viewing Celebration! Held on May 7 this year, check your local TV listings for broadcast times. Then, plan a party around that time. Hold your own Kentucky Derby Hat Parade and parade with members of your community; encourage them to wear the hats they created. Play “At the Races” games while you wait for the actual race to begin. Encourage group members to predict the winner of the race. Serve mock mint juleps. Then, watch closely and don’t blink since the race comes and goes in less than two minutes. Continue the theme and host the Preakness Viewing Celebration, held on May 21. The Preakness is the second jewel in the Triple Crown. The celebration can pour into June with the final jewel, the Belmont Stakes, held on June 11.



  1. There are three races in the Triple Crown. Name one of them. Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, Belmont Stakes
  2. Which of the three Triple Crown races is the oldest? The Belmont (First run in 1867, the Belmont predated the Preakness by six years and the Kentucky Derby by eight years.)
  3. Which horse race has the largest attendance in the United States? The Kentucky Derby
  4. Who was Secretariat? A Triple-Crown winning horse (in 1973)
  5. How many horses and jockeys have ever won the Triple Crown–seven, eleven, or 22? Eleven
  6. Which flower is showered upon the winner of the Kentucky Derby? Roses
  7. How old are the horses that compete in the Triple Crown? Three years old
  8. Which Triple Crown race is the shortest distance? Preakness
  9. What is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby? Mint julep
  10. What song is played by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses step onto the track for the Kentucky Derby? My Old Kentucky Home”



“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” ~ Winston Churchill

“At the Races” written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2016 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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