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Touring Kentucky Bit by Bit


Kentucky’s economy has long been fueled by horse power. Thoroughbreds, quarter horses, Clydesdales, Arabians: They all live and work in the state. And there are many ways to meet them, from trail rides through dense forests to face-to-face meetings across a fence at a park or at one of the state’s many racetracks.

Rocking U Stables

Never ridden a horse? Then Rocking U Stables in western Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes is just your speed.

“For 95 percent of our riders, it is either their first or second time on a horse,” said owner James Upton.

Trail rides that last 45 minutes or 90 minutes take riders through some of the 170,000 acres on this sliver of land between Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

Each horse has its personality. Sonny, a 10-year-old dun, “is really friendly and wants to please you,” said Upton. Scout, 34, refuses to retire and is now in charge of transporting hyperactive 6-year-olds. The seasoned trail horse refuses to be riled by their kicking, beating and banging.

Before hitting the trail, riders learn how to guide their horses and what to do if problems arise. A loading stand makes it easy for riders to get aboard and dismount.

Nervousness is common as rides begin. “We take off through a pasture that’s as long as a football field, and the nervousness dissipates. I love the kids who are terrified but then when they make it back, they don’t want to get off,” said Upton.

The stable is open March through late October and has seven rides a day that leave on the hour. Reservations are advised no matter the size of the group.

In addition to being aboard a beautiful animal, riders see a pristine landscape, Upton said. “We cross streams and see beautiful trees — old, old hardwood, not scrubby trees but great big, pretty trees that have never been touched. You see all kinds of wildlife — deer, turkey, coyote, rabbits, even armadillos that just moved into this area a few years ago.”


Kentucky Derby Museum

Watching the Kentucky Derby Museum’s 360-degree film “The Greatest Race” is so much like being at the Derby that museum visitors will wish they had brought a fancy hat.

Thanks to the museum’s Hatitude event, a popular add-on at the museum, they can whip up one on-site. “We have more than 20 different hats for them to choose from — fedoras to fascinators — and all kinds of feathers, jewels, ribbons and other items to decorate them with,” said Erik Brown, sales director.

It’s just one way to get “the flavor of the day,” said communications manager Lindsay English, at a museum on the grounds of Churchill Downs that is devoted to telling the story of America’s best-known Thoroughbred race.

Through December, a special exhibit celebrates American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, before the museum even opened. Everyone associated with the champion enthusiastically loaned items for the exhibit. The result is a display that shows the quirky personalities involved, from trainer Bob Baffert’s trademark sunglasses to one of the costumes jockey Victor Espinoza wore during his twirl on “Dancing With the Stars.”

The museum will also take groups beyond its walls to give them behind-the-scenes experiences, like a breakfast at Churchill’s track kitchen, located at the track’s far turn, during morning workouts from March through early December. Access to the track’s backside, where the kitchen is located, is limited to those with racing licenses, so the tour offers special access. “The track kitchen isn’t open to the public, and it is nothing fancy, but it is a unique experience,” said English.