Situated along Interstate 75 between Cincinnati, Ohio and Knoxville, Tennessee just north of Lexington, Kentucky is a theme park that focuses just as much on providing its visitors with an educational experience as it does entertaining them. The Kentucky Horse Park gives shelter to retired race horses allowing them to live out their remaining years well cared for, features equestrian attractions, displays and exhibitions, and hosts national and international competitions in dressage, racing, steeplechase, and other events. My kids learned a lot of interesting information about horses when our family visited the place and were thrilled by the personal interactions they were able to have with these incredible animals while we were there.
This sci-fi fan was impressed that we were greeted by Captain Kirk when we arrived! Star Trek actor William Shatner, who has garnered a reputation as a venerable equestrian, narrates a documentary that explores the world of horses which is playing in the visitor center. There is also a well-stocked gift shop in the building filled with souvenirs. The twins persuaded me to purchase for them some miniature horse toys which they carried around with them throughout our visit.
Next we were off to the Breeds Barn which houses a multitude of different varieties of horses from around the world. Wow! I had never heard of some of the types of horses that were being stabled here. You can walk around the barn viewing the horses and reading informational plaques about them. Then twice a day the various horses are brought out for a half-hour presentation where riders wearing traditional costumes from the regions the animals originate parade them through routines before audiences within a presentation area outside the barn. After the Parade of Breeds, you can pet your favorite horses and talk to their handlers. Horses included in at the barn and within the parade include Akhal-Teke, Andalusian, Appaloosa, Arabian, Chincoteague Pony, English Shire, Fell Pony, Friesian, Gypsy Vanner, Haflinger, Icelandic, Lipizzan, Marwari, Mountain Pleasure Horse, Norwegian Fjord, Palomino, Percheron, and Shetland Ponies.
The Kids Barn provides interactive displays that allow children to learn about things such as how horses are measured using a unit of measurement called “hands,” taking care of the animals, and grooming techniques. There is also an old horse-drawn buggy kids can climb into and saddles on barrels that allow them to pretend to ride a horse. Also for an additional fee beyond your admission ticket, you can arrange to take a horseback riding tour around the park or let your youngster have a pony ride. There is also a miniature steeplechase course setup next to the Kids Barn that lets children run and jump through it as if they were horses themselves.
The Hall of Champions is the home of several retired Kentucky Derby winners and other elite champion racing horses. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon they are brought into an exhibition area for a presentation that tells guests each of the horses’ stories and see the animals in person. A video shows footage of actual horse races involving the residents of the Hall of Champions then each one is paraded around while a trainer chats with the audience.
After the show, people can go to the stables to meet and pet the horses. With the aggressiveness and intensity of horse racing, I was actually amazed at how docile and friendly these animals were. They weren’t skittish at all and were welcoming of being touched by people. Petting these horses was the highlight of our visit for my kids. They were thrilled to get so close to real race horses and are still talking about the experience with friends and family.
Other activities going on at the Kentucky Horse Park include taking a horse drawn trolley ride tour of the grounds and a draft horse demonstration. The draft horse demonstration takes place in the Big Barn. The park property had originally been a successful horse breeding farm until it was sole to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to preserve it for future generations and to promote equestrian history. The farm’s historic barn was the largest horse barn in America for a period of time and some of the country’s best race horses were sold within its auction area. In addition to checking out the draft horses that now reside there, take some time to explore this incredible structure that has been restored by the Kentucky Horse Park.
In addition to being a home for retired horses the Kentucky Horse Park is also the final resting place for them. There are grave sites honoring horses, such as Cigar who lived there final years in retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park, spread out across the park’s grounds. At his retirement from racing, Cigar was the all time leading money winner having earned more than $9 million during his career. He was inducted into the National Thoroughbred Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
The most famous horse buried at Kentucky Horse Park is the legendary Man o’ War. The horse is honored at the entrance to the park with a stunning memorial sculpture over the grave site. He is buried alongside his son, Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Next to them lies the grave of Isaac Burns Murphy, one of the greatest horse racing jockeys of all time and the only human laid to rest at the Kentucky Horse Park. There are also some incredible statues honoring remarkable horses from history that aren’t buried at the park as well including a life size bronze of Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. The statue of Secretariat stands before the property’s old farm house that now serves as the park’s administrative offices.
In addition to checking out the artwork and activities at the Kentucky Horse Park, you’ll also want to walk through the International Museum of the Horse. This Smithsonian Affiliate, takes a look at how horses have interacted with humans throughout history. View clothing, carriages and equipment associated with horses’ role in transportation, farming and sports from throughout the years. View a gallery of donated racing trophies that really shines. Learn about how horses helped ancient civilizations and were transported across the sea to help with colonizing America. There are some intricate displays full of interesting information to learn about while exploring the International Museum of the Horse.
We enjoyed our visit and if you are in the area encourage you to gallop over to the Kentucky Horse Park and check it out. Normal hours are 9am to 5pm and the park is open seven days a week during the summer season and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter. Summer season admission prices (April 1 – October 31) are adults $20, children (6-12) $9 and under 5 years old FREE. Winter season (November 1 – March 31 ) admission is adults $12, children (6-12) $6 and kids under 5 years old are FREE. Plus there is an additional $5 charged for parking per car in addition to the ticket prices during a visit. Admission tickets are good for TWO DAYS though so keep that in mind if you are planning going to the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Kentucky Horse Park is a very nice way for the state to promote and honor its agricultural and horse racing heritage. It really is an impressive place to visit. Plus the up close encounters with horses really make for a memorable experience. For more information, please go to kyhorsepark.com