Dawn in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo: Claiborne Farms

21 Jan All-Season Lexington, Kentucky

By Carolyn Worthington

When you think of Lexington, Kentucky, images of galloping horses, white running fences, and bourbon may come to mind. These iconic scenes are truly a big part of Lexington’s Bluegrass region, which is rightfully considered the “horse capital of the world.”

Coolmore Farm. Photo: C. Worthington

Year-Round Activities for the Active Traveler

If you aren’t a professional equestrian or horsy fan, you might not know that Lexington is more than just a one-horse town. There are so many things to do all year-round beyond the important equine theme. That includes cultural, walking, local foodie experiences, and more…

In fact, visiting outside of the summer tourist season is the perfect time to avoid the crowds and get a special glimpse of the landscape and local activities.

If you long to get up close and personal with this slice of horse paradise but don’t know where to start, here are some unique and not-so-unique ideas for visiting during any season…

(Clockwise from top left) Keeneland Race Track (Photo: VisitLex.com), start of the race (CWIProPhoto.com); Three-Day Event, Kentucky Horse Park (Photo: VisitLex.com); National Horse Show (Photo: Phelps Media Group)

Lexington Hosts Jewels of Equestrian World

First, about horse heaven…

As the epicenter for, it’s no wonder that some of the major equestrian events are held here.

Visitors to Lexington often come for the big events like the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is going to take place at Keeneland in October 2020. The Breeders’ Cup is an annual series of grade I thoroughbred horse races, the highest caliber of racing.

Since 2011, horse show people and spectators have headed to the National Horse Show, the oldest continually run horse show, which began in 1833 at the original Madison Square Garden in New York City and now enjoys its permanent home at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The Kentucky Three-Day Event is the largest annual equine competition held at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park. It’s one of only six three-day events in the world that are ranked at the highest level, four stars (CCI****). The Kentucky Three-Day Event holds the honor of being the first three-day eventing competition of the year on the international calendar and is held annually during the last weekend of April.

Lexington, KY horse farm. Photo: Deposit Photos

Where to Start Your Plan

The best place to start planning your trip is the Lexington, Kentucky, tourism website VisitLex.com. This is an extremely user-friendly, well-organized tourism site with excellent information and links to all sorts of activities.

Our favorite is its list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Lexington, Kentucky.

Recently, I ambitiously tried to tackle the top 10 over the course of a weekend. To really enjoy kicking off this list, I recommend that you slow down and do it over a week.

Here’s the list of the Top 10 Things to Do, according to VisitLex.com

Top 10 Things to Do

Entrance to Kentucky Horse Park. Photo: Deposit Photos

1. Kentucky Horse Park

See nearly 50 breeds of horses, plus museums, art galleries, shows, and demonstrations at the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park. Its mission is “to celebrate the history of our relationship with horse through education, exhibition, engagement and competition.”

Some of the Park’s Highlights:

Hall of Champions. The excitement of the racetrack is brought to life by the elite group of champion horses that reside at the park’s Hall of Champions. Here, thoroughbred legends Da Hoss, Funny Cide, and Go for Gin; American Quarter Horse Be A Bono; Standardbred Trotter Mr. Muscleman; and Standardbred Pacers Staying Together, Western Dreamer, and Won The West are shown in daily presentations.

Horses of the World at Kentucky Horse Park. Photo: VisitLex.com

Parade of Breeds. From April 1st through November 4th, see the Parade of Breeds with music, narration, and interaction. From the rare Marwari to the iconic American Quarter Horse, breed representatives perform in hand and under saddle.

Every Parade of Breeds show includes an opportunity for guests to take photos, pet the equine performers, and chat with the riders.

Visit the Breeds Barn throughout the day, especially in the morning, to see horses being bathed, groomed, and trained for the afternoon show.

Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center. The Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center (MMSC) is an adoption center for former racehorses that’s located in the Kentucky Horse Park. Horses of all levels of ability learn new skill sets and also transition to loving homes and new careers.

This is an opportunity to learn what it takes to transition a former racehorse to its new career. The tour offered is suitable for all ages. You might see the horses negotiate an obstacle course, or you may participate in teaching a horse to jump for the first time.

Treats are available to feed to the horses.

Horse farm tours in Lexington, KY. Visit Horse Country for booking tours. Photos: CWIProPhoto.com

2. Horse Farm Tour

Meet the four-footed celebrities in their own homes on a Horse Farm Tour. You won’t believe the lifestyle of the farm’s most famous residents!

There are about 450 horse farms in the region, about 150 in Lexington and Fayette County alone. They’re all working farms, which means you should never just “drop by.” Rather, you’ll need to make an appointment.

The best source for booking the horse farm tours is Visit Horse Country Tours. It handles the booking of the tours through its professional website and confirmation service. Tours are generally small groups with plenty of opportunities to ask questions, sometimes stroke a horse, or feed one a peppermint.

This is how you can revisit racing history, see the world’s most fabulous farms and barns, get up close and personal with Kentucky Derby winners, and discover an exciting variety of horse breeds.

Since these are breeding farms, expect a lesson in the birds and the bees of breeding with more nitty-gritty in some details than in others.

3 Ways to Giddyup and Go

There are three ways to visit a horse farm:

• Reserve a seat on a regular guided group tour. • Hire a private guide to conduct a custom tour. • Hoof it yourself by making appointments at specific farms.

Here are three that I visited:

Claiborne Farm (Clockwise from top left) Secretariat, entrance to farm, rows of bridles in tack room, dawn. Photos: Claiborne Farm

Claiborne Farm

Claiborne is a 3,000-acre private working farm with over 50 barns, 450 horses, and 97 miles of fencing. Tours, by appointment only, are guided walking tours and are offered seven days a week, except in January and February when it’s five days a week. There, you can see stallions, the breeding shed, and the cemetery bearing some of the most illustrious racehorses of all time, including Secretariat, Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, Hoist The Flag, Mr. Prospector, Nasrullah, and Swale.

Claiborne has raised 63 champions and 17 horses of the year. Its stallions and progeny have won the Kentucky Derby 22 time, and they have the honor of 19 Preakness wins, 22 Belmont Stakes wins and 29 Breeders’ Cup wins. Six of the 12 Triple Crown winners were sired by Claiborne stallions, most notably Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Current notables include War Front with a stud fee of $250,000, Flatter with a fee of $40,000, and Mastery at $25,000.

Coolmore Farm. Photos: CWIProphoto.com

Coolmore America at Ashford Stud

Coolmore, which also has large operations in Ireland and Australia, is home to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic hero American Pharoah, along with the Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, and record-breaking freshman sire Uncle Mo.

American Pharoah is in Australia from now through the end of the year. So, do check Coolmore’s website if your heart is set on seeing this great stallion within the near future.

(From left to right) Taylor Made Farm barn (EquiSport Photos), California Chrome (Laura Richard); stone stairway at the farm to see on tour (CWIProPhoto.com)

Taylor Made Farm

Taylor Made tours begin in its new visitor center, located in Daddy Joe’s Bar & Grill, which is part of the 18-hole golf course that the farm recently purchased. The tour begins with an inspirational video and a chance to see horse memorabilia like California Chrome’s racing sheets. You then hop into your own car and follow the tour leader to see the foaling quarters, the paddocks, the yearling area, and the stallion complex.

Celebrity stallions include California Chrome, Midnight Storm, Not This Time, Mshawish, Graydar, and coming in 2019, Daddy Long Legs. California Chrome is away for the Southern Hemisphere breeding season and won’t be home until the end of the year.

But you can see a California Chrome look alike: a miniature horse with similar markings to Chrome. The tour guide brings the tiny horse out for petting, which is a fun thing to do if you bring small children and it makes for a great photo op!

When you finish the tour, you can grab lunch or a snack at Daddy Joe’s and choose from its horse racing-themed menu selections, like Preakness mozzarella sticks, Belmont chicken wings, Churchill Downs backstretch burger.

And they’re off. Photo: CWIProPhoto.com

3. Keeneland Race Course

Try your luck at Keeneland Race Course during a race meet, or tour the grounds any time of year. Get up early to see horses working out on the track, then head over to the Track Kitchen for a hearty Southern breakfast. The racing season kicks off in April and ends in October, but you can tour the beautiful landscaped grounds year-round. Keeneland prides itself on offering a venue that showcases “racing as it is supposed to be.”

Once you’ve galloped through the key horse must sees, trot on over to historic homes, the Shaker Village, shopping, bourbon tastings, and amazing restaurants serving up local fare…

4. Historic Homes

Visit four period Historic Homes of the area’s most famous citizens: Mary Todd Lincoln, Henry Clay, John Hunt Morgan, and Joseph Bryan—a grandnephew of Daniel Boone.

5. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Wander through Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the largest restored Shaker village in the world, with 34 original buildings on 3,000 acres.

6. Shopping

Discover handcrafted works from local artisans, unique boutiques, the largest mall in the state, plus the state’s newest retail and dining destination: The Summit at Fritz Farm. A shopping excursion in Lexington won’t disappoint!

Bourbon making tour and tasting at The Woodford Reserve Distillery. Photos: C. Worthington

7. The Woodford Reserve Distillery, Buffalo Trace, Four Rose, Wild Turkey, James E. Pepper, and Town Branch

Celebrate the living history of Kentucky Bourbon at nearby distilleries, such as the Woodford Reserve Distillery, Buffalo Trace, Four Rose, Wild Turkey, James E. Pepper, and Town Branch. These aren’t just “visitor experiences!” These are real working distilleries. I had the opportunity to tour Woodford Reserve Distillery.

8. Bluegrass Country Driving Tour

Explore the scenic beauty of horse farm country with a Bluegrass Country Driving Tour. Call 1-800-845-3959, and it’ll mail you its most popular map.

9. Downtown Lexington

Enjoy art galleries, restaurants, walking tours, parks, murals, bourbon bars, and historic architecture in charming Downtown Lexington.

10. Independently Owned Restaurants

Indulge in delightful dining at one of Lexington’s world-class independently owned restaurants. Yes, it’s “the South,” but its cuisine goes way beyond grits.

When I asked numerous locals for the quintessential Lexington “horsy” pub with great food, the answer over and over was Malones! They were right. A perfect spot to watch races, football, or basketball and have a great meal with local fare or even a burger. Just don’t root loudly for your hometown team if you aren’t from Lexington. This is definitely a hometown place and worth trying to get a reservation or waiting at the bar for a seat.

For a complete listing of Lexington and Bluegrass region attractions, click here.

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