A Behind the Scenes Look at Kentucky's Horse Country
Everyone knows we have the greatest two minutes of horse racing each year on the first Saturday in May - the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs - but there are lots of great ways to see horses at work and play in the Bluegrass, where there are over a million acres of farm land dedicated to our equine friends. With tours of horse farms, training centers, breakfast at the track and trail riding, there are all kinds of fun and interesting ways to discover exactly why Kentucky is the Horse Capital of the World!
For even more travel ideas, events and attractions that showcase our love of all things horse, visit here.
Kentucky has great Thoroughbred racetracks and several of these also offer opportunities to look behind the scenes into the horse racing industry. The Historic Keeneland Spring Race Meet is held for three weeks in early April, Wednesdays through Sundays. Action begins early with pre-dawn workouts and “Breakfast with the Works” at the track kitchen each Saturday of the meet where there is plentiful food for $7, a chance to Q&A with the jockeys, paddock demonstrations, a handicapping seminar, tours and children’s activities.
At the nearby Thoroughbred Training Center see the champions of tomorrow training today. Thoroughbreds are boarded and trained at this 1,000+ stall facility with two training tracks. Observe trainers as they guide horses through racing prep. Guided tours are available year round.
At Louisville’s famous Churchill Downs, Thoroughbred racing opens the last week of April and runs through July (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). America’s premier race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds - the Kentucky Derby - typically draws 150,000 fans to the historic track. You can also watch the action of the races from the grassy center of the 40-acre infield (tickets first come, first served). Gates open at 8 a.m. and the first race is at 11 a.m.
Kentucky has other horse racing tracks as well. Turfway Park located in northern Kentucky hosts live Thoroughbred racing during two meets each year in December and again January through April. Ellis Park in Henderson offers Thoroughbred racing in July and August.
Take a Tour of the Farms
Lexington is recognized as the “Horse Capital of the World” and has great places to stay while exploring the spectacular horse farms in Central Kentucky. Several tour operators offer escorted visits to farms. For information about coordinated tours of farms that welcome visitors, contact the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Also visit Horse Country Tours, which coordinates farms that offer individual and group tours. They offer tours of working farms, veterinary clinics, nurseries and other horse related businesses.
Visit pampered superstars at a retirement home for horses at Old Friends Retirement Farm in Georgetown. Tours are offered daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., March through early November. Guests come to visit a few former racehorses but leave having been touched by the heart of a Thoroughbred hero. Settle in for the night at the Old Friends Dream Chase Farm Bed and Breakfast, surrounded by 52 acres of tranquil bluegrass countryside.
The Kentucky Horse Park is the only park in the world devoted solely to the relationship between man and horse. There’s no better place to see 35 different breeds and get inspired by daily events. Just north of Lexington, the 1,200-acre park welcomes more than a million guests each year and is filled with attractions that show the beauty, history and importance of these superb creatures.
Shelby County is the “American Saddlebred Capital of the World" where you can visit historic Saddlebred farms by appointment. Tours feature hands-on tour of the grounds and a chance to see a training session. For more information, click here.
Trail Riding and Camping With Your Horses
There are many places to bring your own horse and enjoy trail rides while camping nearby. Listed below are a few examples but click here for a more complete list.
The Mammoth Cave Horse Camp opens in late April and offers scenic beauty on trails that surround the largest explored cave system in the world. Reservations include breakfast Saturday and Sunday mornings and dinner on Saturday night. Be sure to bring your dancing boots to scoot to the music after dinner on Saturday.
Kentucky State Parks offer a variety of horse campsites in certain parks. Carter Caves State Resort Park in eastern Kentucky offers 8 pull-through campsites specifically designed for horse owners included with electric, water, and hitching posts for up to four horses and over 12 miles of horse trails. Further west, Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park also has 8 pull-through campsites with similar amenities and a 1.25 mile horse trail in the campground connects campers with over 40 miles of horse trails in adjacent Pennyrile State Forest.
Creating an unforgettable equestrian experience is also easy in a Kentucky Trail Town. Kentucky’s 18 certified Trail Towns are near the best outdoor action in the state, including hundreds of miles of trails for runners, hikers, cyclists and equestrians. Trail town Livingston is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest and has the Red Hill horse camp where riders can ride into town, hitch their horses and enjoy local sights such as the historic Livingston School and Trail Town Visitor Center.