Whether you’re coming into Kentucky from the north, south, east, or west, or southeast, like Mara Adkins, you’ll notice the horses right away. After all, Kentucky’s logo “Unbridled Spirit,” boasts a racehorse. Kentucky produces more thoroughbreds than any other state.
But that’s not all. There are over 450 horse farms in the region and most are working farms. These are not all race horses, but saddlebred as well. The Bluegrass Region lies in the heart of Kentucky, and includes Shelbyville, Frankfort, Lexington, Georgetown, Harrodsburg, Richmond, and Berea.
From its earliest days, Kentucky has supported the horse breeding industry. Daniel Boone introduced a bill for “improving the breed of horses” at Kentucky’s first legislative assembly. And it’s not just thoroughbreds. Shelbyville, Kentucky is known as the saddlebred capital of the world.
I love to drive Old Frankfort Pike between Lexington and Frankfort. The narrow road winds beneath a canopy of maples and is often flanked by hand-piled rock fences. The beauty of the gently rolling green pastures is only outdone by the animals who graze there. It’s part of the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour. If you take this drive, be prepared to stop often. The roads are narrow, so do be careful, but don’t worry about the horses, they’re used to gawkers.
Mara visited the Bluegrass during July, so she missed the gorgeous daylilies in bloom. They line the drives of some of the well known horse farms, as well as the entrance leading into Keeneland, Lexington’s racetrack.
She didn’t get to see much beyond the inside of the barn she worked in, thanks to July’s bachelor. But if you plan to visit, I can suggest a few sights not to be missed, if you’re a horse enthusiast.
The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is the place to go if you love history and want to see the horses up close and personal. Or you might want to book a couple of nights at a bed and breakfast that’s also a working horse farm. You can do that.
There is plenty to do in the Bluegrass region. If your pockets are deep and you plan well ahead, you can book a night at the Storybook Inn in Lexington. But if you visit in spring, you probably won’t get a room. There’s the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland in April, and that other big race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the first Saturday of May.
There is even a burial place for horses at Normandy Farm in Lexington. Normandy was part of the historic Elmendorf Farm, owned by Daniel Swigert. Fair Play and Mahubah, sire and dam of Man O’War are buried there.
Many of the horse farms do allow visitors, but don’t just show up. You have to call ahead. And if you decide to visit a farm, here’s a little-known fact (or horse country etiquette). When visiting a horse farm, it’s customary to tip the groom or farm representative who shows you around, five or ten dollars, depending on time spent with you. On guided or private tours, always ask if the fee includes tips.
One thing you’ll notice and it’ll be abundantly clear after the drive, many of these horses live better than we do. Their stables are state-of-the-art. Some are air-conditioned and they even have hot tubs and swimming pools. Those are for exercise and rehab, of course. And don’t be surprised if you find a television or a dog or a goat in a horses’ stall. Horses seem to like those things. There are divas in the equine world, oh yes.
I hope you’ll stop in, next time you’re in the area. Cruising down I-75 or across I-64, you can’t miss it. You’re bound to fall in love with the scenery and the animals, but if you wander into Lexington, sorry about the traffic. With all the horse farms, and the world famous University of Kentucky, it’s a fact of life there.
So, I’m off to check on Mara. I know she left out of here in a big hurry, but I’m wondering…will she be back? I hope so. I’d sure like to meet her.––Betty Owens