Sondra Battaglia has lived in the Bluegrass state long enough to know what makes Kentuckians proud. “I’ve lived here about 50 years,” she says. “I feel like I’m a Kentuckian now.” Battaglia, who works in the gift shop at the Kentucky Horse Park, has sold her share of Secretariat T-shirts, souvenir magnets and postcards of horse-racing champions. She knows the state’s iconic touchstones — from horse racing to bourbon, bluegrass music and basketball. And she suspects people are most proud of the horses. “I mean, it’s horse country,” agrees Emily Thomas, who also works at the park. “People just love the horses.” Working at the equine theme park gives them an advantage when it comes to dishing out tourism advice, too.
START HERE: THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK
At the Kentucky Horse Park (4089 Iron Works Parkway), Battaglia would tell horse lovers to start at the park’s Hall of Champions. Some of the top racetrack champion horses are buried along the lane around the Hall of Champions barn and pavilion. “We do have the oldest living derby horse, Go for Gin,” Battaglia says. “A lot of people want to leave here either with a halter one of the champions has worn or a picture or some little souvenir.” Thomas directs people to the museums. Others come for horse demonstrations and shows, trolley or barn tours, pony rides or selfies with the park’s horse sculptures. Some horse enthusiasts even hold their weddings there. The park is also the home of the American Saddlebred Museum, where the gift shop is a niche for Saddlebred and equestrian items. Jared Turpin, the clerk there, is a fan of the horse life.
NEXT STOP: KEENELAND
Like any college-age Lexingtonian, Turpin likes to dress up (well, khaki pants count, right?) and go to Keeneland (4201 Versailles Road). “I just like going and walking around,” he says. “You can see the horses even when they’re not racing.” Lexington horse enthusiast Meghan Blackburn says everybody’s a fan of the iconic racetrack, but not everyone knows there’s more to it than races. “At Keeneland, you can go really early in the morning to eat breakfast at the track kitchen, and you can watch the race horses workout,” she says.
VISIT MASTERSON STATION PARK
Insiders like Blackburn also know where the locals hang out, like Masterson Station Park (3051 Leestown Road). “If people are coming into Lexington and they want to get a feel for all the horse stuff that we have here, it’s not too difficult to find yourself in a place that is either related to horses or is actually a horse business,” she says. She got her start racing and riding around the age of 11, when someone gave her the first in a series of books about horses. She was hooked. She ended up riding on the equestrian team at the University of Kentucky. Along the way, she came to know other horse show venues and gathering places around town. “There’s a place in town called Masterson Station, and it’s a park,” Blackburn says. “There are a lot of local horse shows that go on there and a lot of equestrians coming in town. Or if they live here, they also have a cross-country course out there. It’s free to take your horse out there and jump around the obstacles.”
EAT WITH THE LOCALS
Blackburn runs her own facility now, Tullamore Farm, a small, private farm where she boards and trains horses. When lunchtime comes, she knows where her counterparts will be. “There are two really great kind of restaurants, but they’re almost like markets,” she says. “They’re both in the middle of Horse Country, and they’re frequented by horse people because they’re convenient to where we’re riding or working. They’re also delicious, and they’re basically surrounded on all sides by horse farms.” “One of them is called Windy Corner Market, and that is on Bryan Station Road and Muir Station,” at 4595 Bryan Station Road, Blackburn says. “And that’s surrounded by horses, too. If you’re sitting outside, you’ve got horses all around you. You’ll always find horse people there.” “The other one is called Wallace Station,” (3854 Old Frankfort Pike, in Versailles) she says, “and they’re actually owned by the same person, but it’s on the other side of town on the Old Frankfort Pike area. You can always find somebody in breeches and a wearing hat that has a horse on it. You can tell that everyone has come from the barn, and those are great places to go for sure.”
TOUR A FARM
Historically, there hasn’t been a really good, engaging way to get people onto the farms around Lexington, says Stephanie Arnold, marketing and member services director at Horse Country, an organization that started giving tours in 2015, the year thoroughbred American Pharoah won the American Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Before Horse Country began helping more than two dozen members offer tours, “you would have to know to call the farm,” Arnold says. “You may or may not get to visit. You may or may not have a great experience. This has been a real effort from the industry to welcome people and to tell the stories.” Tourists can book tours directly through visithorsecountry.com. “We have daily tours at places like Claiborne, Taylor Made, Mill Ridge Farm,” Arnold says, with experiences that range from visiting stud farms to medical clinics or feed mills. “We find a lot of folks are looking for a horse experience,” she says. “They’re looking for some kind of on-farm experience where they can see and ideally touch horses, is what we get a lot of. We do have a portion of the market who are looking for a very particular farm or horse, so they want to go see their favorite race horse.” Stud farm tours are the most popular category they book. “That’s where you’re going to find the stallions who have recently, or not so recently but famously, been at the track,” Arnold says. “So, Coolmore, Winstar, Godolphin, Taylor Made, any of those in that stud farm category are going to be driving a lot of the ticket sales. Then you’re going to have horse fans who know that they want to see other things, so they’ll go to some of those other categories.” Arnold likes to elevate the awareness of smaller categories of tours that horse fans might not otherwise experience.
MAKE A MEMORY
Visiting Kentucky was kind of a bucket list item for Kevin Blanchard and his wife, Robin, who are from Anderson, Calif. Blanchard, a retired postal clerk who officiates high school sports, and his wife, a teacher’s aide, love horse and love visiting states. They’ve been about everywhere but Alaska and North Dakota. They took a quick vacation to see Kentucky’s Noah’s Ark-themed Ark Encounter (1 Ark Encounter Drive, Williamstown, Ky.) and realized they were just a 40-minute drive from Lexington. So, they decided to take a horse farm tour to round out their trip at Horse Farm Tours (3429 Montavesta Road). “We were blessed to have former professional jockey Ernie Flynn as our guide,” Blanchard said. “His experience in this field made for an exceptional and memorable morning.” The Blanchards also visited Keeneland and toured the countryside in and around Lexington. It’s not something they’ll soon forget, so they keep telling people about it, he says. “We always love sharing our fun times.”
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Local Lexington is for people who live in, around, or want to visit the Lexington, Kentucky area. An insider’s look at what is best about Lexington and the Bluegrass area. We focus on local places, local people, local independent businesses, and local events.
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