When you think of Kentucky, what are the top three things that come to mind?
If you're like me, you said horses, bluegrass and bourbon. And you'll find plenty of all three during a visit to the Lexington area, also known as the Bluegrass Region.
The 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington is an equine theme park and competition facility dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. Horses of 50 different breeds call the park home. It features the International Museum of the Horse, the Hall of Champions, the American Saddlebred Museum and is host to scores of horse shows every year, including in 2010 the World Equestrian Games.
Kentucky is the horse breeding capital of the world, and with the addition of a 7,500-seat outdoor stadium that opened April 22 at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington, it will have the ability to attract large horse shows that previously were held in other states, said Cindy Rullman, spokesperson for the park.
"This will definitely make us the horse show capital of the world," Rullman said.
The stadium opening was a grand affair attended by the Gov. Steven L. Beshear and his wife, Jane, herself "an avid and accomplished horsewoman," according to John Nicholson, the park's executive director.
The Kentucky Horse Park is open seven days a week March 15 through Oct. 31, and Wednesday to Sunday, Nov. 1 through March 14. Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for children
7-12. Children 6 and under are admitted free of charge. Admission includes the International Museum of the Horse - in association with the Smithsonian Institution - and the American
Saddlebred Museum & Gift Shop.
The park is located at 4089 Iron Works Pike,
Lexington, KY 40511-8462. According to MapQuest, it is a five-hour drive from Wheeling via Interstates 70 West, 270 South, 71 South and 75 South. Take Exit 120, Kentucky 1973-Iron Works Pike, and it is about a mile on 1973 West.
For information, visit www.kyhorsepark.org
The Kentucky Horse Park opened in 1978 as the world's only park dedicated to man's relationship with the horse. For 220 years prior to its opening, horses roamed this parcel of bluegrass located about 10 miles north of Lexington in Fayette County. The land once belonged to then-governor of Virginia Patrick Henry's brother-in-law, as a reward for his service in the French and Indian War.
Down through the centuries, horses were raised on the farm - thoroughbreds, saddlebreds and standardbreds among them. A wealthy coal baron named Capt. Sam S. Brown created a stud farm with a Kentucky Derby Winner, Buchanan, in 1884.
After Brown's death, Lamon V. Harkness bought the farm at auction and built it up from 450 acres and 12 mares in 1894 to 2,000 acres and 100 mares in 1904. To house his stock, in 1897 he built one of the largest horse barns ever, the Big Barn, which is still at the park, according to a history of the park at www.kyhorsepark.com. Future genreations of Harknesses owned sections of the farm until Mary Edwards sold her part in 1972 to the commonwealth of Kentucky, which opened the horse park six years later.
The park drew 900,000 visitors last year, Rullman said, and its expansion plans - including the stadium and a new 6,000-seat indoor arena which will open in June - are an investment in attracting even more in the future. It already is scheduled to host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, and its new arena is booked with shows through the summer.
Additional expansion plans include:
In down economic times, the work at the park is providing stable, steady jobs for laborers, Rullman said.
While the horse shows will draw thousands, the regular, daily attractions are what bring most visitors to the park.
You will find year-round horse-drawn trolley rides, pulled by draft horses; the Parade of Breeds and Hall of Champions shows; guided horseback rides, pony rides; the International Museum of the Horse; the American Saddlebred Museum and the Memorial Walk of Champions, final resting-place of such racehorse greats as 1976 Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes and eight-time Eclipse Award winner Forego.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can delight in the beauty of the youngest horses during the Mare and Foal Show daily at 11:45 a.m.
On the other end of the spectrum, pay a visit to the draft horse barn, where you will meet residents Andy, Kirby and their neighbors, all giants of the horse world. I think Kirby's head was as big as my 2-1/2-year-old daughter.
The Hall of Champions is home to horses with storied pasts, like 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Alysheba, a gift to the park from his previous owner, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The stallion died at age 25 on Friday, March 27. A public memorial service will take place Wednesday, April 29, at the Hall of Champions.
The Bourbon Trail
Starting in the Lexington area, head west toward Louisville and you run smack into bourbon country, which brims with historic distilleries. There are eight distilleries on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a distinction created by the Kentucky Distillers' Association in 1999 to help bring tourists to the area.
In the state capital Frankfort, the Buffalo Trace Distillery operates on the same land that has held a distillery for more than 200 years, making it the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. Just south of there in Lawrenceburg are the Four Roses Distillery, with its distinct Spanish architecture, and the Austin Nichols Distillery, where the famous Wild Turkey is made. The Woodford Reserve distillery is located in nearby Versailles. It's a National Historic Landmark that houses the only working traditional copper pot still in bourbon country.
Farther west, not far from Bardstown, is the famous Maker's Mark Distillery, also a National Historic Landmark, where master craftsmen still make bourbon and hand-dip bottles in Maker's Mark's signature wax.
Head back north toward Louisville to visit the Jim Beam American Outpost, the visitor's center for the world-renowned Jim Beam Distillery. The center operates the 1800s Cooperage Museum and Beam Home, and exhibits include a genuine moonshine still.
"The distilleries are mostly located in nice countryside, among rolling hills. It's not a bad place to spend some time," said Ed O'Daniel, past president of Kentucky Distillers' Association.
"Visitors will not be disappointed. Each distillery is unique. They are each a distinct setting and different types of buildings, some more rustic looking, some that have aged really nicely, some new facilities," O'Daniel said.
Bourbon, he said, "is by federal law a distilled spirit made from at least 51 percent corn, not more than 80 percent corn; distilled at not higher than 160 proof and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels."
O'Daniel said to be considered "Kentucky bourbon," the spirit must be aged at least four years, "but no distillery is going to sell you four-year-old bourbon." The longer it is aged, the "oakier" it tastes, he said.
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival takes place every September in Bardstown. The festival offers bourbon, historic tours, food and entertainment and will be held Sept. 15-20 this year. For information, visit www.kybourbonfestival.com.
The Bluegrass Belt
The Lexington area is at the heart of what is known as the Bluegrass Region of the state, according to the Kentucky Department of Travel.
Bluegrass has its roots in the dance music and ballads of Ireland, Scotland and England, as well as the gospel and blues music of African-Americans, according to the International Bluegrass Music Association.
Bluegrass got its name when Bill Monroe, a mandolin player from Kentucky, started a country band called Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, which first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, playing its unique hard-driving sound with distinctive vocal harmonies. Banjo player Earl Scruggs later joined the band and helped solidify what we know today as bluegrass.
The International Bluegrass Music Museum is located in Western Kentucky, in the river town of Owensboro, but there are plenty of places closer to Lexington to enjoy the music form.
Venues include the Country Place Jamboree in Frankfort; the White Barn in Waynesburg; the Singletary Center for the Arts on the University of Kentucky campus; and the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonburg.
The Festival of the Bluegrass, which was started by a couple of bluegrass music lovers in 1974 and earned the IBMA Event of the Year designation in 2007, takes place every June at the Kentucky Horse Park Campgrounds.
This year's dates are June 11-14. Artists include J.D. Crowe, Monroe Crossing, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Seldom Scene, IIIrd Time Out and Blue Highway.
For information, visit www.festivalofthebluegrass.com.