Some Odds-On Favorite Ways to Visit the Homes of Lexington's Four-Legged Stars
Beautiful horse farms have been part of the Bluegrass since the region was first settled.
So have horse farm visitors.
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.
|Bluegrass 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.
Three Ways to Giddyup and Go
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.
A 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.
- Blue Grass Tours. (859-252-5744). Two tours daily at 9:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1:30 on Sunday, year round with a minimum of four guests. Tours last about three hours and include a stop at a local horse farm, Keeneland Race Course, and other points of interest. Pick-ups available at several hotels. $35; $25 for ages 12 and under. Call for information about longer tours like “Horses, Hooch and History” which includes a box lunch and at stop at a distillery.
- D.W. Guided Tours. (859-361-4390) Narrated tours are offered Mondays through Saturdays at 9:00 a.m. The van drives through two famous farms and other points of equine, historic and cultural interest and includes downtown. Tour lasts three hours. Pick-ups at local hotels. $30. Children 6 to 12 are $15.
- Horse Farm Tours, Inc. (859-268-2906 or 800-976-1034). Tours are given daily at 8:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. seven days a week year-round. Every tour includes a drive by Calumet, two farms including a walk through one of the region's ultra modern barns, plus Keeneland and lasts about three and a half hours. Tours depart from several area hotels. $34 ($40 in winter). Children under 12 are $25.
- Thoroughbred Heritage Tours. (859-260-8687 or 800-808-9533). Tours are offered daily at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.from central downtown Lexington and several hotels. This three hour tour includes a drive by Calumet, a tour of Keeneland Race Track, a stop at a top notch breeding complex and points of interest from the movies Seabiscuit and Dreamer. $34. Children 12 and under are $24.
- Unique Horse Farm Tours. (859-233-4303 or 800-678-8813). Departing from Kentucky Horse Park, usually three times a day, this tour gives you the behind-the-scenes stories about the people and horses that make Lexington “Horse Capital of the World.” Tour historic estates and new multi-million dollar farms on this two to three hour van tour. Adults are $35. Children 12 years old and under are $15.
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 $100 to $175 for a two or three hour tour for a few people.
Here are companies that offer private, custom tours. All are friendly and knowledgeable. A good way to choose one is to call in advance of your visit to discuss possible itineraries and rates and to get a sense of which guides personality and tour style might best complement your own.
- Blue Grass Tours (859) 252-5744
- Destination Bluegrass (888) 970-3339
- Horses of Kentucky (Lois Hill) (859) 277-4625
- Karen Edelstein, Private Guide (859) 266-5465
- Kentucky Horse Tours (Mary Ann Squires) (859) 312-1124
- Kentucky Living History Tours (859) 293-9367
- Lexington Connection, Inc. (859) 269-4040
- Lexington in Touch, Inc. (859) 224-4226
- Lexington Private Tours (John Midbo) (859) 278-9488
- Mint Julep Tours in Louisville (502) 583-1433
- Scott Goodlett Events (859) 361-3539
- Thoroughbred Heritage Horse Farm Tours (Larry and Linda Miano) (859) 260-8687
- UnBridled Horse Tours (Martha Martin) (859) 255-7863, (859) 333-8940
- Your "neigh"-borhood Horse Farm Tours (Bill Shaw) (859) 227-7159
|Bluegrass Note: When visiting a horse farm, it's customary to tip the groom or farm representative who shows you around, usually $5 to $10 depending upon the time spent with you. If taking a guided or private tour, ask if the fee includes tips.|
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?
|Bluegrass 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 darndest 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. Founded in 1972, it's relatively new, but it has everything you'd expect to see on one of the world's finest horse farms, and some of the super stars of the thoroughbred world! There are beautifully manicured grounds and impressive barns. Famous residents Derby winner Big Brown and 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given. Tours are given March through December, Tuesday through Saturday, usually at 1:00 p.m., and cost $10. 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. Their celebrity horses cause quite a stir! (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. Giant's Causeway, whose stud fee is $100,000, also resides here. 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.
WinStar Farm encompasses about 1,400 acres of majestic Bluegrass landscape, with divisions for stallions, broodmares, foals and yearlings as well as a racing stable. WinStar bred the 2010 Kentucky Derby Winner Super Saver. (As of May, he is still out on the racing circuit.) Public tours meet at the new Stallion barn and are given Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (except holidays and Oaks Day) at 1 p.m. by appointment only. Please call (859) 297-1328 to make an appointment, at least 24 hours in advance.
While the following farms may not have a Kentucky Derby winner, they have their own unique history as well as lavish barns and landscaping.
Magdalena Farm, owned by leading trainer Kenneth McPeek, has an open door policy and welcomes visitors with an advance appointment. The 1959 Kentucky Derby winner Tommy Lee is buried here. Typically the farm is home to about 150 horses that are racing, training or being broken to saddle. A world class turf gallop rings the farm. Magdalena is just north of Lexington on Russell Cave Pike. (859) 254-9969
Claiborne Farm, north of Lexington near Paris, has a strong and unbroken influence on the Thoroughbred industry. Owned by the Hancock family, Claiborne has been a leading Thoroughbred farm for generations. The guided tour includes the simple tombstone that marks the grave of the great Secretariat, 1973 Triple Crown winner (and considered by many to be the greatest race horse of all time). Tours by appointment only. Currently, tours are given seven days a week at 10 a.m and 11 a.m. except during the Keeneland sales. No tours Thanksgiving or Christmas days. (859) 233-4252
Lane’s End Farm. This beautiful farm has been compared to a national park. During the off season, tours are offered on Thursdays at 10 a.m. No tours are available during the breeding season, which runs from February to the end of June, or while the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton sales are taking place. Call (859) 873-7300 well in advance.
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 is now 1,600 acres and 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. Call for an appointment to tour the farm. (859) 885-3345
Normandy Farm on Paris Pike is famous for its unusual L-shaped barn commissioned in 1933 by then-owner Joseph Widener. It is said to be 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. (859) 294-9595
|Bluegrass 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. Call (859) 987-2258 for information.|
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 tours for an up-close encounter with great champions. Meet Eclipse Award winner Sunshine Forever and multiple Grade One winners Ogygian and Special Ring. Celebrity horse Popcorn Deelites, who was cast in the movie Seabiscuit, also resides at Old Friends.Tours are free and are offered seven days a week year round. Tours are at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. March through October. Tours in the winter (November 1 through March 1) tours are at 11 a.m. only. Donations are gratefully accepted. Call ahead for an appointment. (502) 863-1775
While Old Friends focuses primarily on stallions, Mims Retirement Haven, just north of Lexington in Paris, Kentucky, takes care of retired Thoroughbred Broodmares. Calumet’s champion 3 year old filly Our Mims resided on this farm in her later years, and her grandson 1997 Breeder's Cup Sprint winner Elmhurst, lives here now. Meet Bel's Starlet, California Champion, and other great ladies of the industry. Watch the whole herd interacting in the Haven's pastures. Visitors are encouraged, by appointment. Call (859) 227-6304.
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, 1076 Leesburg Road in Scott County (502-863-0416). At the American Saddlebred Museum, adjacent to the Kentucky Horse Park, you can get a listing of Saddlebred farms in your home state.
- Now one of the top consigners of yearlings for all the major North American Standardbred sales, Carter Duer takes great pride in Peninsula Farm. This veteran horseman worked at historic Castleton Farm for over two decades before pursuing his dream of owning and operating his own Standardbred operation. You may visit with advance notice. 2582 Iron Works Road, Georgetown, (502) 863-6742
- For a friendly visit with Morgan horses, Americas 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 1700s. (502) 863-0887
The Kentucky Horse Park. Its not just a State Park, its 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 up to 50 breeds of horse at work and play, including 2003 Derby Winner Funnycide, the Park features a variety of equine presentations along with horse drawn tours. 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.
The grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park are home to the National Horse Center. Many of the top equine management associations and breed organizations have their national or state offices located here. The Center is home to The United States Equestrian Federation, The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, The Pyramid Society, the American Hackney Horse Association, the American Hanoverian Society, U.S. Pony Clubs, Inc., and many more.
Activities at the Kentucky Horse Park will educate and entertain the entire family. The Park is open seven days a week from around March 15 to October 31 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). During the winter the Park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. (800-678-8813 or 859-233-4303) Note: During Rolex weekend each April, the only four star FEI sanctioned three-day event in the Americas, you must purchase admission to Rolex to enter the Park.
September 25 through October 10, 2010, the Kentucky Horse Park hosted the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. With an attendance of more than 500,000 people, this was the first time this event had ever been held outside of Europe.
|Bluegrass 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.|
For more information contact the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-845-3959.
By Teresa Day, a freelance writer based in Georgetown, KY.
Horse Farm Tours updated: November 2013
The latest movie to use the Horse Capital of the World as a backdrop? Disney's Secretariat.
Who loved the movie Seabiscuit? Also filmed in part in horse country!
Don't miss Dreamer, set in Lexington, Kentucky.
Dreamworks' movie starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning is set in Lexington and the incredible Bluegrass Region. Rent the movie, then plan your getaway to the Horse Capital of the World, where the horse reigns supreme!
For a "Dreamer" Driving Tour, click here.
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