From Horseback to Million-Dollar Champions
Kentucky’s moderate climate and rolling hills of well-drained lush grasses make the state one of the absolute best places for raising and breeding horses. Horse farms are particularly ubiquitous in Central Kentucky, which is referred to as horse country. When embarking on adventures throughout horse country, you can visit museums and other historic horse education venues, including horse farms. You may also take a tour of some of the top racing facilities, mount a horse to take off on some trails, and dine and rest at your choice of the finest bed and breakfasts. From horseback riding to attending million-dollar champion races, soaking in horse country history and supreme dining experiences, Kentucky has all of it in spades.
The relationship between humans and horses is almost as old as civilization itself. Horses are magnificent animals with 360-degree vision, symphonic grace, speed, emotional intelligence, and a deep connection to humans. Horses have been a treasured part of Kentucky since early pioneer settlers rode into the state on horseback. Racing and breeding of horses began almost immediately and has continued ever since. My family owned a farm when I was growing up and I can attest to the fact that once bonds are formed with horses and nature, the connection and appreciation for the beauty in all of it is something that continues to live in you throughout your life. As a mom, my love of horses and nature is something I now proudly share with my son. The rides we go on, through woods and streams, in the mountains and across fields, are beyond special.
Despite the treasured historical relationship between horses and humans, there is still so much about these amazing animals that remains unknown to so many. Visiting museums and racing facilities will give you and your whole family a chance to not only travel to the past and learn about the rich history of horses in Kentucky, but also get an up-close view of some of the most legendary racing horses and where they are trained. Through tours, you are introduced to some of the most famous horses in the state, including thoroughbreds, saddlebreds, trotters, and pacers. The Kentucky Horse Park is a prime spot to begin your adventure.
There have been horses on the grounds of Kentucky Horse Park for over 200 years. Ownership was transferred through sale to the Commonwealth in 1972 and it was opened to the public in 1978. Since then, Kentucky Horse Park has been at the center of the state’s horse country, celebrating horses through educational programs, exhibitions, and competition. KHP features training facilities, trails, campgrounds, the International Museum of the Horse, and the Hall of Champions. Whether you want to ride the trails, watch a show, immerse yourself in the museum’s 60,000 square feet of exhibitions, camp on some of the finest grounds in the state, or all of the above, KHP allows for a beautiful journey through time that spotlights the extraordinary bond between horses and humans.
In addition to making your rounds at KHP, well-established horse farm tour companies like Blue Grass Tours and Heritage Horse Farm Tours offer complete experiences that include private and custom tours guided by friendly and knowledgeable guides. Custom planned full-day or multi-day tours may include a combination of horse farms and racing venues with tastings on the Bourbon Trail and a walk-through of a vineyard. These activities can be bundled with transportation, hotel accommodations, meals, and more to commemorate special events or to simply make for a worry-free trip.
For those whose interest is peaked by horse racing, a visit to some of the top race courses is a must and fans wanting to take in live racing in Kentucky are lucky enough to be able to do so almost year-round. Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Turfway are a few of the top race courses. Some of the racing facilities have museums, libraries, and other activities to take part in. For example, Churchill Downs is also home to the Kentucky Derby Museum.
To add to the excitement that awaits you in Kentucky’s horse country, Keeneland and Kentucky Downs have joined forces and recently broke ground on a new horse racing and gaming facility called The Cumberland Mint in Southern Kentucky. They are expected to break ground on a second facility named Cumberland Run in coming months.
After experiencing the thrill of the race courses, exploring new terrain and enjoying a horseback ride in nature is a wonderful way to wind down. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding atop a horse surrounded by Mother Earth’s splendor and there are many self-guided riding trails as well as tours led by professionals who will help you saddle up and explore Kentucky’s many scenic wonders.
Whisper Valley Trails provides one of the most stunning trail rides in the state. It is located in the canyon system adjacent to Daniel Boone National Forest and the trail follows a creek where you are able to see waterfalls and caverns beneath a lush canopy of forest. Whispering Woods Riding Stables also offers riding paths. There are 250 acres of trails through untouched wooded areas with hills, creek crossings, and an abundance of wildlife. Mammoth Cave National Park is another amazing destination for trail riding with dozens of miles of backcountry trails through beautiful wooded areas and options for riders of all skill levels and ages.
To top off all of the adventures, there truly aren’t enough food, overnight stay, hospitality, or atmosphere ratings to fully credit what you can find in the Bluegrass State. You can choose from a wide selection of bed and breakfasts, such as the exquisite Bluegrass Country Estate, located on a horse farm with the most stunning grounds and amenities of a luxury resort. Or you can opt for a charming inn or quaint cottage on a farm where you will have the whole place for yourself and your family to enjoy.
For dining, Kentucky Horse Park and several of the race course venues have onsite dining options. There are also many mouth-watering dining options dotted throughout horse country, like the Holly Hill family of restaurants, ranging from the Windy Corner Market and Restaurant featuring delicious homemade breakfast and dinner to Holly Hill Inn with a menu focused on fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers.
Kentucky is inarguably the global epicenter of the thoroughbred industry. The state’s rich, rolling hills of bluegrass and magical natural areas also make it one of the best places in the world to take to the trails for a ride. From taking slow, meditative trots along some of the most stunning trails across the United States to visiting working horse farms and horse-themed parks or getting all dressed up and taking part in tradition-rich festivities centered around million-dollar champion races, Kentucky has it in spades. Local support for carrying forward equine-related education and tradition, combined with thoughtful hospitality, is happily shared with visitors and residents alike across Kentucky. If you’re looking to dive into all things horse country and immerse yourself in all the sweetness that it offers, the Bluegrass state awaits with an open heart.
Written by Magaly Fuentes January 17, 2022