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Bit by bit

If your group wants to experience the grace, beauty and strength that give horses a universal appeal, one of the first places to look is a city that bills itself as the Horse Capital of the World.

“Horse farms are our Hollywood,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Greater Lexington (Ky.) Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They are one of the showcase elements of what makes central Kentucky so different than any other place in the world. Since the early days, horses have been so prominent here.”

Bluegrass horse farms are Lexington, Ky.’s Hollywood. By Jim Archambeault, courtesy Lexington CVB

Horses are a magical draw for travelers, whether they’re touring Kentucky’s scenic Bluegrass horse farm country, watching polo matches and steeplechases in Virginia and South Carolina, marveling at the acrobatic grace of Lipizzans, or expressing wonder at the huge size and gentle nature of draft horses such as the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Lexington, Ky.

“In my opinion, three things you don’t want to miss if you are looking for a wonderful horse experience in Lexington are the Kentucky Horse Park, Keeneland and touring a private horse farm,” said Ramer.

The Kentucky Horse Park showcases more than 50 breeds of horses on 1,200 acres of lush pastureland and is home to the International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddlebred Museum.

“A lot is contained at the horse park, and it just continues to expand and grow, and present itself in so many ways to people,” said Ramer.

The site of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, the horse park recently dedicated two major new facilities, a $25 million outdoor stadium and a $44 million, 6,000-seat indoor arena, along with a major expansion of the International Museum of the Horse to house an extensive collection about Arabian horses.

The park has a special Old Kentucky Night for groups, which includes souvenir bandannas, a hayride, a walking farm tour, a dinner buffet and entertainment such as area cloggers, square dancers and bluegrass musicians.

Ramer said Keeneland Race Course, with its manicured, tree-studded landscapes and stone-faced grandstands, is “a beautiful spot in terms of architecture and grounds.” Although thoroughbred racing is held for only a few weeks in the spring and fall, horses train at the track much of the year, and morning workouts followed by breakfast in the track kitchen are popular.

“The track kitchen is one of the things we hear the most about,” said Ramer. “People love the opportunity to have breakfast next to a trainer or jockey or breeder.”

There are more than 450 horse farms in the region, and several allow visitors with prior arrangement.

“Some farms cater very much to the visitor experience,” said Ramer. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see the operations from start to finish.”

Ramer said Three Chimneys Farm, home to popular Kentucky Derby winners Smarty Jones and Big Brown, is “a gem in the rough.”

“They make access and the visitor experience a top priority,” she said. “It is not just about racing horses for them. They want to be able to share that experience with folks.”
(800) 848-1224

Camden, S.C.

Another place where you can spread out a picnic blanket twice a year and watch world-class steeplechase is at Springdale Race Course, near Camden.

“The Carolina Cup in the spring is the largest,” said Hope Cooper, executive director of the National Steeplechase Museum, which is located at the racecourse. “It is a rite of spring and attracts 65,000 people.”

The race has been billed as the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, with people trying to outdo each other with picnic spreads that can include candelabras, tablecloths and fine china.

“The fall is

Thoroughbreds prepare for a race on the grounds of Keenland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. Courtesy Tempel Lipizzans

much more approachable in terms of how well you can see the horses run and how close you can get to them,” said Cooper. “It only attracts 10,000.”

Cooper said both events are very accommodating to motorcoach groups.

The National Steeplechase Museum is the only institution in the United States that collects and interprets artifacts and information pertaining to American steeplechase.

“We change exhibits about twice a year and have outside exhibits about the different stages of jumping,” said Cooper. “We are not large, but we are the only one of its kind.”

Cooper said the area is excited about the opening of the South Carolina Equine Park, which was scheduled to hold its first event, a competition for Western ranch horses, Aug. 29.

“This is the first phase of what will be a much larger facility,” she said. “It has two main outdoor show rings, two warm-up rings and a covered area. We hope down the road to have more property and be able to get an indoor coliseum.”

Shows for all different disciplines will be held at the facility, which is just off Interstate 20. With no marketing so far, Cooper said 22 events have been booked for next year.
(800) 968-4037

Virginia horse country

Colorful riders dressed in red coats, black hats and white pants following a pack of hunt dogs down Main Street are a sign that you are in the heart of Virginia’s horse country.

“The town of Middleburg is ‘Old Virginia’ through and through,” said Richard Lewis, public relations manager for the Virginia Tourism Corp. “At the beginning of the hunt season, they have a parade and drive the hunt dogs, all barking and yapping, through town.”

Middleburg, which calls itself the nation’s hunt capital, is in Loudoun County, where dry stone walls flanking horse farms and riding establishments greet visitors on its scenic byways.

Although fox hunts are not a spectator sport, groups can watch many steeplechase races during the spring and fall at historic locations such as Morven Park, Glenwood Park and Oatlands Plantation.

In neighboring Fauquier County, Lewis said Great Meadows Event Center holds the two biggest horse events in Virginia: the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup. “The steeplechase races attract 30,000 to 40,000 people, many of whom put out elaborate picnic spreads,” he said.

Polo matches are held every Friday night from April to October at Great Meadow. “A tour operator with creativity could put together an evening meal with Virginia wine and watch polo,” said Lewis.

“However, the biggest and best equine attraction is not in horse country,” he said. “It’s the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington. It’s a huge, magnificent facility with indoor and outdoor areas, a cross-country jumping facility, and rows and rows and rows of barns.

“It started out as a small outdoor arena with a grandstand and one barn and has evolved over the years. It has something once or twice a month. It can be easily reached. It is where interstates 64 and 81 come together.”
(800) 759-0886

Tempel Farms
Lake County, Ill.

Another site that hopes to be in the world equestrian spotlight is Temple Farms, located in northern Illinois about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The farm, famous for its breeding and training of white Lipizzan stallions, has been selected as the site of the equestrian competition if Chicago wins its bid for the 2016 Olympics.

More than $16 million would be spent to build more than 30 structures, many temporary, for the Olympics. “There is a lot of excitement surrounding the bid,” said Courtney Niemuth, program coordinator for Tempel Farms. “This summer, we included an example of one of the Olympic dressage competitions and gave tours of the areas of the farm where the equestrian events will be held if Chicago gets the Olympics.”

The International Olympic Committee will announce the 2016 site Oct. 2. Other sites in the running are Madrid, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Tokyo.

Highly trained Lipizzan stallions perform ballet-style maneuvers during weekly performances at Tempel Farms near Chicago. Courtesy Tempel Lipizzans

Tempel Farms doesn’t need the Olympics to maintain its status as a top equine attraction. “We’ve been around for the past 51 years,” said Niemuth. “We have the largest privately owned herd of Lipizzans in the world.”

About 25 of the 95 Lipizzans at the farm perform on Wednesdays and Sundays each summer in a covered arena. “They [the performances] are modeled after the Spanish riding school in Vienna,” said Niemuth. “They are set to classical music and last about 90 minutes. The riders wear uniforms similar to those of the Spanish.”

Up close with gentle giants



Eight-team hitches of Clydesdales pulling Budweiser beer wagons are popular features at fairs, parades and sporting events around the country. Groups visiting St. Louis have a couple of opportunities to get up close and personal with these gentle bay giants.

About 40 head are quartered at Grant’s Farm, where Budweiser breeds about 15 foals a year. “When people arrive, their first walk is through the historic stallion barn, where they see some of the finest Clydesdales in the world,” said Jim Poole, head of Budweiser’s Clydesdale operations, which includes four hitches that travel full time.

After the barn, groups walk down Clydesdale Alley to see some of the new foals. “You can also take a photo with one of our hitch horses,” said Poole. “We use Grant’s Farm as a rest
and relaxation facility for the St. Louis hitch that travels.”

A tour of Budweiser’s historic brewery near downtown begins in the stables where some of the St. Louis-based Clydesdales are always on hand. “It is a very famous building,” said Poole. “You also see some of the wagons the hitch horses pull, and we have the harness on display.”

Tour guides answer questions, from what the Clydesdales are fed to the strict requirements for making a traveling hitch team.


The performances showcase the training of the horses from the youngest foals to the most highly trained stallions.

“They train in dressage, often called horse ballet,” said Niemuth. “It originated as a military form of riding and has been refined to this art form.”

One of the highlights is where the stallions do a series of leaps and lifts with all four legs off the ground. “It originally was a medieval battle technique,” said Niemuth.
(847) 623-7272

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Locals in Saratoga Springs don’t refer to the Saratoga Race Course as “the August place to be” for no good reason. The historic racecourse, named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 10 sporting venues in the world, is the center of thoroughbred racing during the month, with several major races, such as the Whitney Handicap and the Travers Stakes.

Like Keeneland, Saratoga is a great place for eating breakfast and watching morning workouts, except on Travers Day, when experts tell you about the morning workouts as you partake of bacon and eggs on the clubhouse porch from 7 to 9:30.

Also, Saratoga Restaurant Row, at the track’s courtyard just east of the paddock, features five local restaurants serving their best recipes.

Saratoga, a historic resort for the rich and famous since the 19th century, is not a one-horse town. There are world-class polo matches during the summer on one of the nation’s oldest polo fields, a dressage and carriage show during Memorial Day weekend, a carriage parade during the August race meet, barrel racing events and the St. Clements Horse Show, which features top show jumpers, in the spring.

Rodeos are held in nearby Ballston Spa and Lake Luzerne, and live harness racing is held 11 months of the year at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, which also features more than 1,700 video gaming machines.

Saratoga Springs’ charming downtown features many art galleries, tack shops and Western-wear stores, and the town is the location of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame.

Located across from the Saratoga Race Course, the National Museum of Racing features trophies, silks, memorabilia and an art collection that covers the history of thoroughbred racing.
(518) 584-3255