Oh look it’s me again.
So I know I took a little bit of a break over here and it’s been a little tough to get back in the swing of things. Not like you’ve been waiting around but just as an FYI of where I’ve been, here you go. Drew and I took a two-week anniversary trip to Europe (Rome, Florence and Prague – so good, more coming soon on that front) and while I intended to keep blogging, I ended up deciding to just let it go and enjoy the trip. And then last week, with Halloween and getting back into the swing of things, it went dark over here. I’m back though and I’m also planning a little blog refresher in the next few weeks so I’m attempting to get it together. Send prayers.
But that’s neither here nor there in relation to today’s post which is one I am SUPER excited about. Earlier this month, I took a day trip to Lexington to explore Horse Country as part of my on-going partnership with America’s Best Racing and thankfully had Sarah from Space, Place and Southern Grace (and an incredible photographer) come along and document it all. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the photos to share it all with you guys. So settle in, this may be a little bit of a longer post but I promise the gorgeous horse photos will make up for it.
So Horse Country isn’t just a way to describe the gorgeous farms outside of Lexington. It’s an organization of horse farms, equine medical clinics and equine attractions focused on giving people an inside look inside Kentucky’s equine industry. Their whole focus is to give people a more complete picture of the industry than just race tracks. It’s a way to get one-on-one with the people who spend their lives working with horses and more than that, it’s a very cool way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the industry.
It’s basically like doing a trip to Bourbon Country but instead of visiting distilleries, you’re getting to visit and tour breeding farms, auction companies, Keeneland, equine rehabilitation facilities and horse farms.
When America’s Best Racing invited me to do my own day in Horse Country, I expected it to be cool but I had no idea how much fun I would have. As someone who feels like they know more than the average bear about the industry, it was an eye-opening experience seeing how much I didn’t know. More than that, it was so incredibly fun. I did things that pushed me WAY outside my comfort zone (and have the pictures to prove it), laughed and just had an incredible time learning about the industry.
Doing one of these tours is SUCH a good alternative to doing another day of distillery tours. So if you’re looking for a good corporate outing or something to do with friends or family visiting, this is it. It’s totally unique to this area and you can even mix a distillery into the mix so that you can check off both boxes. They can help you plan your day, or you can map it out on your own. Can’t recommend it enough.
For my day with Horse Country, we got to get a look at the life-cycle of a race horse – from a breeding farm to Keeneland to a rehabilitation center. We didn’t add in the auction tour or training process but we got a pretty good look at the entire process. Better than the tours were all the incredibly interesting, dedicated, wonderful people we got to meet. So let’s get to it.
You’re probably thinking, “Keeneland? Why did you need to go to Keeneland?” You guys, it was SO cool to explore Keeneland first thing in the morning.We were met by Amy Gregory, the Director of Communications, and she took us through the entire track and grounds. First off, Keeneland first thing in the morning is GORGEOUS. Second, Amy shared a lot about the track I never knew and had never seen before.One thing I didn’t know was the track’s recent focus on expanding its culinary offerings. So while we all love the classic burgoo, their Food & Beverage Director is working to put their modern take on Kentucky classics and featuring lots of Kentucky-made products. We scoped out all the best picture spots – the balconies above the paddock, by the jockey statues and of course, by the clock.
We also got the scoop behind preparations for next year’s Breeders’ Cup. You can bet that I am going to make plans to attend because Keeneland in the fall is already epic, then add in the pomp and circumstance of the biggest race of the year – yes please.My personal favorite part of the tour was our walk on the grounds exploring the barns. When I got invited on this tour, I told the PR contact (shout out to Meg – she’s the real MVP) that I didn’t want to ride a horse. Well, I got convinced to “ride” one, and I say ride in the loosest sense of the word because, mostly, I just sat on the horse with a mix of anxiety, fear and excitement.
After my stint riding a horse, we checked out the Keeneland Track Kitchen which is a little gem.The track kitchen is a little diner-style eatery open to anyone but most people aren’t aware that you can just walk in and grab a bite. If you want a really unique Keeneland experience, get to the track early and head over to the Track Kitchen for breakfast before tailgating. You may end up sitting next to an owner, trainer or jockey and getting a hot tip on a horse.
Amy let us know that they have, including one where you get to be an owner for the day – so you get to do all the things and go all the places, including the winner’s circle, an owner goes. This would be fun to do if you’re coming in for a Kentucky or Louisville game and want to do something unique to the region while you’re in town.
Our next stop was Saxony Farm. First impression, it is gorgeous. Even in the midst of a drought, the farm is gorgeous. We were immediately greeted by Broussard, the owner, who made us feel so welcome and it only took a couple minutes to know this was truly a family affair.Broussard took over the farm from his parents, who started it in the 60’s, making it one of the region’s newer farms. He and his wife Rosie live there with their three girls, running all aspect of the property which include a breeding farm, an event venue (The Polo Barn) and a Bed and Breakfast. As someone who knows what having three kids is like, I have no idea how they do it all. And I can say firsthand, he made it look easy. Clearly it’s a labor of love.
Our first stop was meeting a sweet mare carrying one of American Pharoah’s foals. No big deal.
Then we took a walk through the property while he broke down the entire breeding process and shared the history of their farm. I don’t want to steal the tour’s thunder but it is really cool to hear about it all first hand. A lot of times, the thoroughbred industry can feel closed off and elitist but that was not the case here. Broussard explained everything in a down-to-earth style and the whole thing felt very casual so we were comfortable asking all kinds of questions that he was more the willing to answer. His passion and love for the business were palpable and it made the experience so much more enjoyable. You could tell he gets a kick out of sharing their business and that it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Obviously the best part was getting up close and personal with so many gorgeous foals. Cuteness overload.If you do a Horse Country tour, Saxony Farm is a must. You’ll love it.
After a quick lunch, our last stop was the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park. Tip: if you’re heading here, make sure to pay attention to the signs in the park because it’s easy to miss a turn and get turned around.A quick intro: the Secretariat Center’s goal is to provide education to former racehorses and prepare them for new careers and new owners. They basically learn about the horses to determine where their strengths lie and then pair them up with owners who best fit their specific skills and personalities.
It’s 20 acres of paddocks, a ten-stall barn, an outdoor arena, a round pen, a Hitchcock pen, and a small cross country course. At any time it houses 10 to 20 Thoroughbreds all in different phases of the Horse Centered Re-Schooling Program (SM) and all of the horses are available for adoption.
We were met by the center’s director, Susanna Thomas, and program coordinator, Catherine Flowers. Within the first thirty seconds you can tell how passionate Susanna is about the center’s work. We should all find careers that elicit such strong enthusiasm and dedication. Beyond that, she is incredibly knowledgeable about the industry. She knows her stuff.
The thing that sets this group apart from other center’s is their dedication to each individual horse. They spend an enormous amount of time learning about the horse’s past and then commit to keeping track of each horse for its entire life – even when it changes owners. Each horse has its own biography – large binders packed with health information, breeding details, race results, medical records and more.
The group takes all that information and then couples it with one-on-one time spent with the horses, learning about their likes, dislikes, personality, tics and more. And it should be noted that the majority of these horses were no slouches on the track. We saw a few with more than $1 million in winnings, so these are some serious race horse.
When we entered the barn, the first thing I noticed was how gorgeous the horses were. I mean, these are some stunning animals. When you’re standing so close to them, they are even more breath taking. We got the run down on some of the horses and then they took me out to the ring.
So here’s the second spot where I was pushed outside of my comfort zone. I’m definitely not going to describe this perfectly but in the ring I got to learn how to “speak horse.” It’s the opportunity to establish your dominance over the horse and get them to follow your directions around the ring. While I sat in awe watching Catherine, she talked me into giving it a try myself.
This was one of the coolest experiences ever. I was pretty terrible at it and certainly needed LOTS of coaching but it was the moment of the trip when I was extra happy to have photographic proof that this happened. Catherine coached me through the steps of approaching the horse, blow in their nose (yup that’s what you do) and then take charge by using the lead to direct the horse in different directions throughout the ring. If you go, you HAVE to do this.
Being that close and in-tune with such a majestic (and super tall, and strong, and imposing) creature, was an incredible experience.
All in all, this was a day I’ll never forget. I would love to do this with the kids when they get a little older. Would be really cool to stay do a couple of tours, stay at the Saxony Farm Bed and Breakfast, eat at some of Lexington’s delicious restaurants and then do a day at Keeneland.
Like I said earlier, this would be so good for a corporate or group outing. The bourbon distilleries are something to be seen but once you’ve seen them, you’ve seen them. This gives you a totally different look at one of Kentucky’s signature industries.