Horse Farm in Kentucky
Beautiful horse farms have been part of the Bluegrass since the region was first settled.
Early 19th-century travelers remarked on the beautiful country estates of the Bluegrass noting, as one put it, “a handsome horse is the highest pride of a Kentuckian.”
When great 20th-century Thoroughbred Man o' War retired to stud in the Bluegrass, visitors from around the world flocked to see him. Man o' War's groom, Will Harbut, kept ledgers for visitors to sign. When Man o' War died in 1947, there were 63 ledgers containing over 1.3 million names.
Ready to do your part to uphold this great Bluegrass tradition?
Visiting a horse farm while you're in town is a uniquely Bluegrass kind of experience you'll long remember. And it's easier than you might think.
There are about 450 horse farms in the region (about 150 in Lexington/Fayette County alone). They're all working farms— which means you should never just “drop by” —but more than a few allow visitors by appointment or through arrangements with professional tour companies.
Blue Note: Horse breeding has been an important Bluegrass industry since the area was first settled. Daniel Boone himself introduced a bill for "improving the breed of horses" at Kentucky's first legislative assembly.
Here's how you can revisit racing history, see the world's most fabulous farms and barns, get up-close-and-personal with Kentucky Derby winners, or discover an exciting variety of horse breeds.
There are three ways to visit a horse farm:
You can reserve a seat on a regular guided group tour; Hire a private guide to conduct a custom tour; or Hoof-it-yourself by calling farms and asking for an appointment.
Guided Tour: A Quick and Easy Overview
If your interest is general and your time limited— or if you're shy about calling a horse farm on your own— consider taking a regular guided group tour. The itinerary is planned by the tour company to offer an overview of Lexington and its horse farms. Many farms allow visitors only through tour companies.
On the other hand, three hours on and off a bus is probably not the best option for those with restless youngsters. And since horse farms may be just a small part of the itinerary, ask in advance what the tour will include to see if it has enough horse stops to satisfy your interest.
Although offered daily most of the year, reservations are still needed for the tours. Make them as far in advance as possible since tours sell out, especially during peak visitor times.
If you like to travel at your own pace, have specific farms, horses and attractions you want to see— or want the added allure of “insider” knowledge and access— you can hire a private guide for a custom tour.
This is the luxurious way to go. Most private tour companies have access to a wide variety of farms not open to groups or do-it-yourself tours. You can make pit stops or photo stops as often as you like. And your guide should entertain you with all kinds of fascinating facts, legends and lore.
As you might expect, private, custom tours cost more than guided group tours but may turn out to be a somewhat comparably priced alternative if you have more than a few people in your family or group. In most cases, custom tours are offered as a “step-on service” — the guide joins you in your vehicle. Some companies will provide transportation, especially for groups.
What you'll pay for a custom tour can vary widely depending upon the tour company, the length and content of the tour, the number in your party, and whether you use their transportation or yours. Minimum prices recently quoted ranged from $75 to $150 for a two or three hour tour for a few people.
Booking Your Own Visits
If you're the independent type or short on time and just want to visit one farm, doing it on your own is a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable option. Farms don't charge admission (although a tip is customary if a farm representative spends time showing you around).
A number of farms— from Thoroughbred showplaces to smaller farms specializing in a range of other horse breeds— welcome individual tourists, families and other small groups. Policies vary from farm to farm, but usually there's no great trick to getting in. Just follow the first commandment of horse farm sightseeing:
Thou shalt call first .
While it can be said with absolute surety that no farm in the Bluegrass welcomes unexpected guests, other visitor policies will vary from time to time and may vary from season to season.
Some farms allow visitors only on certain days or limit tours at certain times of year such as breeding season (February through mid-July), Kentucky Derby time, during the horse sales, or during race meets. Most likely, you'll need to check in at the farm office first. Some farms allow you to get out and tour the barns; others allow drive-through visits only.
Some horses may not be on view to visitors, so if you're hoping to see a particular horse, inquire about its status in advance.
Don't feel intimidated if your knowledge or interest isn't that specialized. Most visitors aren't quite that savvy; they just want to see the world's most beautiful horses and horse farms. Need we say that you've come to the right place?
Blue Note: Here are some horse farm visit basics, no matter how or when you visit. You can take pictures.
You can take your children, but you should, for their own safety, keep a close rein on them. (And only you can decide if they are ready to hear an often-detailed description of how horses breed; those adult tourists ask the darnedest questions!)
Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes.
No feeding or petting the horses. Horse personalities, like human temperaments, vary widely. They may bite or kick.
The farms just look like parks….no picnics.
You won't be able to sit on or ride the horses.
Most of the living Kentucky Derby Winners are retired to Bluegrass farms. Here are the homes of living Derby winners that allow tourists. If you want to tour just one farm or several, the following are some excellent choices:
Three Chimneys Farm, located on Old Frankfort Pike in Woodford County, west of Lexington. Though not as steeped in tradition as some farms (founded in 1972, it's relatively new), this Thoroughbred farm has everything you'd expect to see on one of the world's finest horse farms. There are beautifully manicured grounds and impressive barns. Famous residents include 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given. Tours are given year-round, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. A farm representative gives a guided tour of the stallion complex, breeding shed and mare receiving barn. Tour size is limited, so call well in advance for reservations, especially if you plan to visit in April or October. Derby week books up months in advance. Smarty Jones continues to create quite a stir! Call ahead for information. (859) 873-7053
Ashford Stud , near Versailles (859-873-7088), is home to 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus as well as 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch and will show their majestic stallions by appointment. Like a growing number of stallions, many of Ashford Stud's travel to the Southern hemisphere after the Kentucky breeding season ends, so they may not be at home July through January.
While the following farms may not have a Kentucky Derby winner, they have their own unique history as well as lavish barns and landscaping.
Normandy Farm is famous for its unusual L-shaped barn. Commissioned in 1933 by then-owner Joseph Widener as an exact replica of a barn in Normandy, France, where he sought refuge after his plane crashed during World War I, the barn features a clock tower. Its roof, gables, cupolas and dormers are adorned with ceramic cats and other animals. The farm also includes an interesting cemetery, in which a life-size bronze statue of Thoroughbred champion Fair Play overlooks the graves of Fair Play and Mahubah, sire and dam of Man o' War. Tours by appointment only, Monday through Friday.
Taylor Made Farm. Taylor Made Farm was created in 1976 to provide care for mares shipped to central Kentucky to be bred to stallions standing here. The Farm, which began as 120 acres, has expanded its scope and its acreage. It has grown to over 1,600 acres and is now one of the leading sales agencies in the world. In 1999, three Taylor Made graduates won races at the Breeder's Cup--a feat unparalleled in racing history. Northern Afleet and Unbridled Song are among the top stallions in residence. During breeding season in the spring the farm is extremely busy and they may not be able to accommodate visitors.
Blue Note: The Center for Women in Racing at Bethlehem Farm near Paris can provide a unique hands on experience with one of their retired race horses. Donations go to help the women and horses in their program.
Champions in Retirement:
What happens to our Thoroughbred stars when they begin to fade on the race track or in the breeding shed? “Old Friends” is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a dignified and comfortable retirement home for racing’s elite. Based at Dream Chase Farm near the Kentucky Horse Park. “Old Friends” offers free daily tours for an up-close encounter with great champions. Meet Hall of Fame Champion Precisionist, Eclipse Award winner Sunshine Forever and mulitple Grade One winners Ruhlmann, Ogygian and Special Ring. Celebrity horse Popcorn Deelites, who was cast in the movie Seabiscuit, also resides at Old Friends.
Blue Note: A more expanded listing of farms, along with histories of some leading farms, can be found in the book Horse Farms and Horse Tales of the Bluegrass by Wilma Beale, available at local bookstores.
Horses of All Types:
You may think that a horse farm is a horse farm is a horse farm, but it just isn't so. Most farms specialize in a specific breed of horse.
Most Bluegrass farms are Thoroughbred operations, breeding and training horses primarily for racing. Kentucky produces more Thoroughbreds than any other state. But you can also see many other kinds of horses in the “Horse Capital of the World.”
American Saddlebreds, used for show and pleasure riding, are Kentucky's only native breed of horse. Saddlebred farms that allow visitors by appointment include Werkway Stables. At the American Saddlebred Museum, adjacent to the Kentucky Horse Park, you can get a listing of Saddlebred farms in your home state.
Come out and watch the horses being worked at Watermark Farm located at the corner of Russell Cave and Ironworks Pike. At this breeding and training facility you'll find Hackney Horses and Hackney Ponies as well as American Saddlebreds.
For a friendly visit with Morgan horses, America’s first breed of horse, visit Bonnie and Fred Neuville's Burr Oak Farm in Scott County. The Morgan horse sprang from a single stallion raised in Vermont in the late 1700’s.
Blue Note: On December 6, 2005, Kentucky was awarded the 2010 World Equestrian Games. All events will be held at Lexington's own Kentucky Horse Park. This extraordinary event will attract approximately 300,000 visitors. This is the first time the competition has ever been held in North America. Click here for information about the FEI Games.
The Kentucky Horse Park. It’s not just a State Park, it’s a working horse farm, too! And much, much more. The 1,200 acres that comprise the Kentucky Horse Park have served as an active horse farm since the 18th century.
Featuring more than 50 breeds of horse at work and play, the Park features a variety of equine presentations along with horse drawn tours and carriage rides. The park is home to The International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddle Horse Museum and hosts a multitude of prestigious equine events throughout the year.
In 2010, the Kentucky Horse Park will host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Expected to draw around 300,000 people, this is the first time this event has ever been held outside of Europe.
Activities at the Kentucky Horse Park will educate and entertain the entire family. The Park is open seven days a week from March 15 to October 31 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). During the winter the Park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Blue Note: Call the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau and ask for the Lexington Walk and Bluegrass Country Driving Tour map. One side is a walking tour of historic downtown Lexington. The other side is a scenic loop around Lexington with suggested side trips. These self-guided tours are designed to be followed at your own pace and can be adapted to your own schedule.