Kentucky is known for its bourbon, blue grass and famed Kentucky derby, where prized horses gallivant around trodden tracks racing for a chance at the coveted gold trophy. Horses have always been an integral part of Kentucky’s culture, especially in Lexington, “the horse capital of the world”. I knew one day I had to get there. In my youth I used to ride, galloping across open fields with freedom in my lungs. Years had gone by since I felt my feet slip between the stirrups, or had brushed a horse’s silky mane.
Yet there I was standing in the Ruler of Dubai’s barn surrounded by award winning stallions, each one with his own acclaimed pedigree. Jonabell Farm is home to the Darley stallions. Over a dozen majestic stallions reside at picturesque Jonabell, each prized beauty is one worth over an astounding million dollars – like former Derby winner “Street sense” whose spirited personality was hard not to miss. The farm offers exceptional daily tours, allowing for a true glimpse inside Kentucky horse country. I absorbed more equine jargon then I thought possible.
Driving along the country roads just outside of Lexington is pure magic. Green grass sways in the wind, and everywhere white fences stretch out far across the bucolic landscape where horses graze. Wallace Station Deli and Bakery is located smack dab in the heart of horse country. Once a former store and gas station with a strong railroad community history, it is now a popular spot for some of the best grub and made-from-scratch desserts around. You can’t go wrong with the bourbon trail Triple Crown, piled high with turkey, bacon and cheddar and complete with homemade bourbon BBQ sauce and kettle chips on the side. The Bluegrass Benedict Panini, made with scrambled eggs, country ham, hollandaise butter and tomato, is a local favourite too. Save room for a slice of Kentucky heritage pie, like the pecan made with real butter!
Off to the Races
I arrived at famed Keeneland Race Course in the early morning. It’s the time when the horses workout, training for the next big race and is the best time of day to avoid the crowds. You can watch the horses filled with vigor strut with agility and grace around one of the best racetracks in the world. Listening to the sound of the hooves hitting the dirt track brings a certain calm to the day. It’s hard to imagine that the quiet grounds will be filled with throngs of spectators for the esteemed Fall Race Meet running from Oct 7-24. Keeneland also boasts the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house, which has surpassed 500 million in sales. It’s open all year round with free admission.
Blue Kentucky Horses & City Fun
While strolling along the quaint streets of Lexington you may stumble upon a blue horse. Legend has it that a horse named “Big Lex” grazed on a bit too much bluegrass over the years in the nearby pastures. The grass is said to have a touch of blue in it during the spring, and after one to many blades ole’ Big Lex turned blue. The visitor centre has a wonderful Big Lex statue on display and you can take home a smaller version of Big Lex as a souvenir. If you can’t get enough blue, head to Lexington’s newest hotel Museum 21c, a boutique hotel and free art gallery showcasing various exhibits throughout the year. This unique concept creates a definite conversation piece, especially when I was greeted in my room by a large (almost five feet tall) plastic blue penguin designed by several Italian artists. Museum 21c is the perfect place to slumber and enjoy the local attractions in the downtown core.
Shaker Village & Pink Lemonade
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is a superb way to cap off your Kentucky adventures. The drive from Lexington to Shaker village is about forty minutes, and from the time you arrive at this magical place you won’t want to leave. Three thousand glorious acres stretch out before you, filled with restored 18th century buildings, each one reflecting what was once was the third largest Shaker village in America from 1805-1910. The coolest thing about it is you don’t even have to make it just a day visit, you can actually sleep there in one of the old buildings that have been refurbished. Each room is simple in decor as it would have been back then, yet charming in its on right.
My room overlooked the farm and I loved being able to hear the cows and chickens cluck in the morning. All year long events take place; from horse drawn wagon rides to music on the lawn. Be sure to hike down to Shaker Landing and hop on the riverboat Dixie Belle. The historical cruise passes stunning limestone cliff formations. Limestone is an integral part of Kentucky’s bluegrass region. The water that filters out feeds the soil and grasses the horses graze on, creating brawnier horses than anywhere else in the world.
The Trustees table is where to dine. Located in one of the grand buildings, the restaurant setting is filled with tranquil ambiance. The menu pulls from the traditional Shaker village roots, with many of the dishes serving fresh veggies from the farm garden when in season. Locals love to pop in for the southern classic dishes like Mrs. Kremer’s fried chicken and the best coleslaw I have ever had. Wash it down with pink lemonade, which seems to be a favourite drink. I must confess it was hard to leave Shaker village and the wholesome simplicity. I felt as though for a few days I got lost in the past, shaking away the stress and embracing the serene ebb and flow.
For all things Lexington, the “horse capital of the world”, go to visitlex.com.