To start - my experience with horses is very limited. It’s very likely that if not for my oldest daughter being completely infatuated with them as a child, I would know even less. With that being said, I’ve always tried to take an interest in whatever my girls enjoyed. I had no idea how much I would actually enjoy these amazing animals myself. It didn’t happen the same way for me that it did for her, but I’ve definitely found myself in awe.
For her, it was all about Breyer horses as a child. I would buy her one for pretty much any special occasion. If somehow she had any of her own money she would want to spend it on a new Breyer. Somehow she knew who most of these horses were. She must have been researching and deciding which ones she wanted. However she was doing it, I was impressed.
Next thing I know, she came to me asking to go to the Kentucky Horse Park for the BreyerFest. It was a festival where they bring a lot of the real horses, some that she had models of, so you can meet them in person. She was saving money and planned to buy the tickets if I would take her to Lexington, Kentucky. We live in central Indiana, so it’s just a few hours away; of course I agreed to take her.
We were on our way and I can’t say that I was excited about the festival. Instead, my excitement was coming from the fact that I was going to have this opportunity to bond with my daughter. It was going to be fun either way. A few hours later as we arrived her excitement was building. She was about to see so many beautiful horses and get a chance to pet them and talk to them. At this point in my life even I was excited to get a chance to pet my first horse.
We got in to the park and had an amazing time. Everything was perfect; the weather was great and there were so many horses to visit and pet. We were also able to tour the entire grounds of the Horse Park while we were there. It was definitely one of the highlights of her life to that point. I would have to say I was equally impressed. Once I realized that they had barns that held former Kentucky Derby winners and you could see and meet them, I was sold. I’d watched the Derby a few times and even watched it with my daughter, just to relate with her. I came away from that two-day festival with a new appreciation for horses, horse racing, and especially the Kentucky Horse Park.
Little did I know my first experience in Lexington would lead me to so many amazing things. Later I learned you could visit so many places with similar experiences. You could actually meet so many champions. I’d never thought of it like in comparison with other sports, and their stars. This made me realize that these horses are the Michael Jordans and the Lebron James’ of the racing world.
Several years after the BreyerFest, we were back in Lexington for our first Horse Country tour. This time we were there because that same daughter of mine never stopped loving horses. She not only just loves the animal, she also loves thoroughbred racing. By this time she could pretty much tell you every winner from every Derby and Triple Crown race since the first one she watched. Now she is a writer and has her own media company. We were back in Kentucky for her to learn more and grow the love even deeper - Horse Country tours are the perfect place for that.
Now we were going to the famed Claiborne Farm, the home and resting place of the most famous horse of all time, Secretariat. I had no idea how incredible one of these major farms would be. She tried to tell me, and I’d seen pictures, but until you are there, you can’t imagine it. It all starts with the winding roads, leading you through tunnels of trees, and rolling hills of blue grass. Miles of black fences line the fields and if you’re lucky enough, you may get to see a few of Kentucky’s best athletes galloping around out there.
Then you pull up to the gates of one of these farms, and see the actual enormity of them. In this first case it was Claiborne Farm. A beautiful place with pristine white barns with yellow and black trim. You enter the gates, park, and go into the waiting area for the tour. Right there you get the vibe of what you’re in for and see little bits of the history that you are about to experience first hand.
The tour starts and the guide takes you through a wonderful and very interesting tour. It includes lots of info about how the breeding is set up and how it’s actually done. I was surprised to learn so much about the business side and the actual moments when a future champion might be conceived.
Claiborne was exceptional with the way their tours are set up. They had plenty of great info, champion horses, and a lot of opportunities to take pictures and interact with them. I highly recommend visiting them!
Claiborne is not the only farm you can tour - there are literally so many amazing places offered through Horse Country. The have countless farms, adoption centers, and equine clinics and hospitals. The Hagyard Equine Medical Institute was very informative about how they take care of the minor issues as well as some really major stuff. It’s pretty wild to see how they can work with these huge animals so safely. You can also tour factories that make and ship all the important feed to these farms. You can’t feed a thoroughbred just anything; these horses have to have special diets to get the most out of their training! There are so many ways to learn and so incredible athletes to meet, not to mention you get to see and meet the people who work at these farms and clinics taking care of these horses everyday.
One of the best things about visiting multiple farms in one day is the opportunity to take the back roads between the farms. We always change our GPS to avoid highways when we go on Horse Country tours. This will take you on quite the adventure of its own; Kentucky really has some of the best landscapes I’ve ever seen. Some of them will even take you along the bourbon trail. The distilleries are great places to stop in for pictures, plus you may want to check out the gift shops and you might find a new favorite drink! When you think of Kentucky, you will surely be picturing it a lot different. But take the back roads, you won’t be disappointed!
I have to say, coming from a guy who had a small amount of interest in horses, these Horse Country tours and Lexington in general has really given me a deeper appreciation and love for the animal and the athlete. If you’re looking for a way to connect with nature and learn about one of the world's most popular sports, make sure you look into booking a tour. If you’re just planning on passing through Kentucky, I would advise taking a side trip. I know I can’t wait for my next one.
About the Author: Justin is an Indiana native who enjoys spending time with his three daughters, traveling (especially to Kentucky), and watching sports. He is a team member of Champions of the Track.
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