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Escape to a Special Place: Shelbyville & Shelby County

  • Shelbyville Horse Show
    Shelbyville Horse Show

By Marty Rosen

A driver on a mission can zip along I-64 and get to Shelbyville in a hurry. I can understand the rush. When you’re escaping the frenzied pace of the workaday world, all you want to do is get away as fast as you can. And a place like Shelbyville is as fine an escape plan as a person could want. It’s a place where traditional small-town values and contemporary sophistication blend seamlessly to give visitors a mix of old world comforts with modern touches.

Still, if you take the time to come in on one of the two-lane highways (U.S. 60 or 55) that divide Shelby County into four areas, you’ll come to know the lay of the land – the gentle rolling textures to the west, the narrow ridges to the east.

And if you’re in the mood for exploring, you might search out mysterious Jeptha’s Knob, the highest point in the Bluegrass Region. Long believed to be a “cryptovolcanic” structure, recent research suggests that this circular formation (about a mile south of tiny Clay Village, some eight miles east of Shelbyville) was actually created millions of years ago by a massive meteorite strike.

Saddlebred Capital of the World

Shelby County is known as the “American Saddlebred Capital of the World,” and for good reason.

The annual Shelbyville Horse Show, a four-day event around the beginning of August each year, sounds like a local affair. So does the Shelby County Fair Horse Show in mid-June. But bear in mind that some of the world’s most distinguished horses – and their owners, trainers and riders – hail from Shelby County. In any given year, Shelby County horses account for a big share of prizes earned in the prestigious Saddlebred “Triple Crown.” events.

And the folks who show up at these “local” shows aren’t just celebrities among the horse set. On any given night there’s a good chance you’ll catch a glimpse of famous riders (like William Shatner and Carson Kressley) whose celebrity transcends the equine world.

At other times of the year, visitors can watch from scenic roads as horses frolic in their pastures. But for a truly close-up experience, contact the Shelbyville/Shelby County Visitors Bureau to arrange a guided horse farm tour – totally free if you’re staying in one of the county’s fine hotels, inns or B&Bs. And if you’d like to saddle up, several stables in Shelby County offer riding lessons and camps for all skill levels.

Fine Wines & Fresh Food

Soil that produces great horses, it turns out, also makes for fine wine. The Bluegrass Region was home to the first commercial winery in the U.S., and these days visitors to Shelby County can visit the Shelbyville tasting room of national award-winning Talon Winery or visit nearby New Castle, where Smith-Berry Winery offers not only tastings of national award-winners, but also a summer weekend series that includes concerts, superb farm-to-table cuisine and wines to pair with it.

Speaking of cuisine, Shelby County is home to classic regional specialties. Nothing says Kentucky like fried chicken, and there’s serious completion among local restaurants here to turn out a good plate.  Claudia Sanders’ Dinner House, founded by Colonel Sanders and his wife in 1968, dishes up old-school meals for busloads of visitors. In Simpsonville, the Old Stone Inn, a splendid carved limestone structure that dates back to the 19th century, offers classic and modern fare in a gracious, intimate setting. The Bell House Restaurant is younger, but has made its mark with an eclectic mix of Mediterranean and comfort foods. 

Superb Shops & Galleries

And any visit to Shelbyville ought to include a visit to Science Hill, where the salty, peppery fried chicken earned praise from no less than Julia Child – and where before and after their meals, visitors can browse the outstanding Wakefield Scearce Galleries and the Shops of Science Hill for superb antique furniture, silver and beautiful home accessories.

In fact, Shelbyville has developed a reputation for its many shops that offer furnishings, collectibles and crafts. And it’s possible to spend many a fascinating hour – between meals, of course – in the city’s convenient, friendly shops.

The Shelbyville/Shelby County Visitors Bureau is a great place to plan your visit and gather information, and it’s your point of contact for arranging a free horse farm tour. Stop by 316 Main St, call 502-633-6388 or visit www.visitshelbyky.com/horse-farm-tours.

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