A visit to Kentucky’s horse country makes a lot of horse sense
If You Go
Lexington, Ky., Tourism: www.visitlex.com
Buffalo Trace Distillery: www.buffalotracedistillery.com
Woodford Reserve Distillery: www.woodfordreserve.com
Unique Horse Farm Tour: www.uniquehorsefarmtour.com
Kentucky Horse Park: www.kentuckytourism.com/Horse-Park
The Kentucky Derby: www.kentuckyderby.com
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Special to The Vindicator
“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”– W.C.Fields
I recently found myself thinking about horses – a lot. I happened to be reading a biography of Queen Elizabeth II and learned that she has had a keen interest in horses since, at age 4, she was given a Shetland pony named Peggy. This diversion developed over time into one of her main leisure activities with a particular emphasis on the breeding of thoroughbreds. I learned that she sometimes sent her horses to be bred in Lexington, Ky., home of the top horse farms in the country, as well as the famed Keeneland horse auctions held each autumn. The queen’s prized horses right here on our own soil? Intrigued, I decided to pay a visit to Kentucky for some authentic equine excitement.
As it turned out, during my sojourn I saw these majestic creatures wherever I looked. Lexington is horse country in every sense of the word and, on my drive from the airport, I was enthralled with the spectacular scenery: the rolling hills of Kentucky’s famed Blue Grass region with pretty red barns, fields and meadows sprinkled with wild flowers and encircled by miles of white horse fencing that enclosed beauteous thoroughbreds and their foals.
Kentucky Bourbon, Y’all!
No visit to Kentucky would be complete without visiting some of their famed bourbon distilleries, and Buffalo Trace Distillery is one of America’s oldest. On the tour, I observed the entire process of turning corn, rye and malted barley into world-renowned Kentucky Bourbon. At the Woodford Reserve Distillery, I learned that it is the only facility in the state making bourbon with the original Scottish “pot still” method. There were some fine exhibits on the history and heritage of this beloved beverage, and lunch on the front porch was a great way to end the distillery tours – topped off, naturally, with a splash of pure, perfect Kentucky Bourbon.
Kentucky Horse Park
A highlight of my visit was the Kentucky Horse Park that is dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. The park is one of Kentucky’s premiere attractions and unlike any other in the world with its showcase of museums, galleries, theaters and working farm exhibits. Fifty breeds graze on its 1,200 acres of lush pastures, and everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the horse is here, including a working farm, the Hall of Champions and the Horses of the World exhibit. At the park, one can take Shaun Washington’s Unique Horse Farm Tour. Knowledgeable in all things horse, and particularly Kentucky’s history of horse-racing and breeding, his behind-the-scenes tour of famous horse farms and equine-related facilities is absolutely not to be missed.
Washington began his tour by taking us to the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. He explained that this is one of the foremost equine hospitals in the world, established in 1986 – a leader in equine veterinary care.
As we walked into the reception area, we faced a large window to one of the operating rooms. A masked and gloved nurse was readying the room for doctor and patient. Within moments, double doors swung open and there on a gurney-cum-operating table was a sight I found somewhat alarming – a totally sedated horse lying on its back, his hind legs drawn up almost to his stomach and his left front leg strung up straight and fixed in place. The surgeon then drilled a screw into the horse’s ankle which would ultimately adjust its abnormal gait. This was a once-in-a-lifetime sight that was difficult to watch but utterly fascinating, start to finish. Shaun Washington is wildly entertaining and enlivens his tours with his vast knowledge of horse history and fascinating tidbits that one would hear nowhere else. Our behind-the-scenes tour brought us up close and personal with the celebrated stables of Calumet Farm and Keeneland, and we visited million-dollar thoroughbreds with their adorable two- and three-week-old foals.
A History-Rich event – Coming Up!
The Kentucky Derby is an event replete with many traditions, from sipping mint juleps and donning big, beautiful hats to singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” All this fanfare elevates the race from just another sporting event to a celebration of Southern culture, making it a true icon of Americana. The race is the nation’s longest-running sporting event, and the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place this year on May 5.
Lexington: Horse Capital of the World
I came away from this engrossing equine experience with a firmer knowledge of what goes into the fine and exacting art of horse breeding. I was gripped by the towering Man ‘O War statue at the entrance to the Kentucky Horse Park. I will always remember the classic and classy Calumet Farm (but will try to erase the vision of that farm’s particular stall where the great Alydar met his tragic end); I’ll have a finer appreciation of horse racing and the complex business of breeding these wonderful animals. But above all when I remember Kentucky, my thoughts will return to my peeking into pristinely kept stalls and finding tiny, just-born foals lying languidly as their elegant mothers protectively hovered over them. The tenderness of those images will stay with me forever.