I can remember exactly when I first stepped foot onto the soil of the Kentucky Horse Park.
I had moved to Lexington, Kentucky 0n September 12th, 2008. My father had passed away on September 5th, and following his funeral and wake, I had packed my clothes, my cat, and my college degree and began the 7 hour drive down I-75 to the bluegrass.
I arrived with nothing. I knew no one in this town, and promptly quit the job I had lined up as a small animal vet tech. I had about $1,000 to my name that I had saved up as a bar back during the preceding summer, and was as depressed as a person could get.
But what did I have? I had the Kentucky Horse Park. Because I had Funny Cide.
I would find myself waking up day after day and climbing out of my bed with one plan for my day – one mission alone – to go visit Funny Cide.
He had become my favorite racehorse after I watched him streak to a victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby alongside my father. We had loved Funny Cide because he was the peoples horse. He wasn’t owned by a Sheikh or a wealthy business tycoon. He was owned by a group of men who lived just miles from where both my father and I had attended college in upstate New York. And because of that, we cheered him across that finish line until our voices were hoarse.
And so day after day, I would drive myself to the Kentucky Horse Park to whisper sweet nothings to Funny Cide, and feed him a peppermint. I didn’t have a horse of my own, and with no job, he was as good of a motivator to wake up as it got. And by residing in the Hall of Champions – just one aspect of the education department at KHP, he was accessible to all.
Possibly more importantly, he was accessible to me.
And I slowly realized that just as I had campaigned for him during his highest moments in life, Funny Cide was now supporting me as I attempted to reenter a happy life.
This morning I learned of a strategic planning meeting at the Kentucky Horse Park that had occurred last night. I read mixed reviews about the meeting – both from those who thought that it went well, and those who thought that not enough horse enthusiasts had come. And both speaking of how important it was for our government officials and our fellow equestrians to understand why the Kentucky Horse Park is an important part of our culture. Our economy. Our lives.
Most of us understand that we currently have an administration in our state government which is not very equine-centic, and they are at odds with those of us who are – and in the middle of this conversation is the Kentucky Horse Park. It might not profit the state of Kentucky a large amount of funds, but it has always been there for us as riders, horse lovers, and as an educational tool for those millions of Americans who have never even seen a horse up close.
And as I read the statuses about fear of the Kentucky Horse Park morphing into something we don’t even recognize, I couldn’t help but think about Funny Cide. And how many of my friends have a similar story, a similar affinity to a specific aspect of the Kentucky Horse Park. It offers so much to our community, in addition to the world at large. It is a premier destination to so many – both equestrians and not – to share one thing, and one thing only – a desire to learn more about, do more for, and work alongside the horse.
But what Bevin, and many people in this state don’t realize is just how much the Kentucky Horse Park encompasses. So here are just a few things available to us because of The Kentucky Horse Park, in no specific order:
Just as I spoke of before, the Hall of Champions is an amazing destination for anyone who has any interest in horses. Stalls filled with the greats – from thoroughbred racehorses to standardbred harness horses, it allows you to interact with millionaires. As the able handlers bring them out for their parades, you can see the horses chests fill with pride as if they are in the saddling enclosure once again. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
The only FEI 4* event in North America, Rolex is by far one of the greatest weekends in Lexington, Kentucky. Premier riders from around the world travel to our little town to compete for the title of “The Best.” And yet Rolex is not just for venters, with the shopping, the eating, and the accessory shows entertaining for all. My entire family loves coming on this weekend, and I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t.
This is an amazing educational experience for those of us who don’t personally own horses, and yet have craved riding once since birth. The capable handlers and equestrians of the KHP staff will teach you about general horsemanship and tack, and then lead you on a trail ride throughout the horse park in a once of a lifetime experience.
Over 350 equestrians of all disciplines ranging from eventing to barrel racing come to the Kentucky Horse Park to compete for the title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred. With $100,000 in cash prizes in addition to the bragging rights, it is also a great show for anyone who loves horse racing and wants to interact with the animals that they adore as they transition to a new career.
The sport of royalty is brought into our backyard with weekly polo games with players of all levels – from a half goal to 10. And it is free for any citizen who wants to have their Pretty Woman moment to attend. So grab a flute of champagne and a floppy hat and go be your best Julia Roberts as you watch some of the most fit and trained horses gallop at breath taking speeds while their riders keep their eye on the ball.
What was once a destination show at Madison Square Garden is now located right here at the Kentucky Horse Park. And the elite hunter and jumper riders travel here to win the most prestigious of year end awards. In addition to the general classes is the Puissance, an evening of death defying leaps over a (foam) brick wall that keeps getting higher. Paired with your favorite microbrews from around town, it is an evening that even your husband will enjoy.
An FEI event in its own realm, the elite combined drivers travel to the Kentucky Horse Park for a weekend of the highest level of competition. Watch as the drivers convince their teams of carriage horses navigate obstacles that would make most Rolex horses blush at breakneck speeds. Agility and endurance are combined with the most heightened levels of training on this special weekend.
One of the oldest and most refined breeds of horse comes to the Kentucky Horse Park for its premier show. The Eqyptian Event is for the specific horses that can trace their lineages back to the roots of the breed – dating back thousands of years. And they open their doors to explain what exactly encompasses the traits that these breeders are looking for, and how those correlate with their ability as endurance mounts.
What horse lover didn’t own one of these statues at a young age? Breyerfest is literally Christmas Day for the pony-obsessed child, as they get to interact with the horses that these statues are mimicking. Fun demonstrations, great shopping, and meet and greats for those starstruck children make the event truly one of a kind.
The United States Pony Club is one of the oldest organizations that stands upon proper education and safety of all riders, and at the pinnacle of its foundation is the Pony Club Festival. Riders from all regions of this country compete amongst each other to be selected to represent their club and region at this nationwide event, and it happens right here in Lexington. Be prepared to see a lot of khaki shorts and knee high socks, but no saddle will have a speck of dust on it that weekend.
Lying alongside the outskirts of the Rolex XC courses main field is a turf track that might go unnoticed on most weekends at the Kentucky Horse Park. But for one weekend in May, it will be adorned with timber and brush jumps and lined with cars. Twelve hundred pound thoroughbreds will come careening down the turf as they find their stride to the jumps as the crowd of tailgaters cheer them towards the finish line.
A weekend devoted to the starting of usable horses, Road to the Horse is a favorite for many equestrians around the world and fills the stands of the Alltech arena. Skilled trainers are selected and then matched with young horses with no prior training and compete with each other to show which persons techniques and ability is the best. By the end of the week, the teams are able to perform at a level that most riders would be jealous of.
While you can find the Horse Park full of Range Rovers and wide brimmed hats on many weekends, on this particular one you are more likely to find a dually and a Stetson. Come watch great cowboys attempt to stick on for 8 seconds, wrestle a steer, or tame great beasts. Its a fun-filled evening for the entire family, and for a great cause.
For the equestrian in us who loves the American Quarter Horse breed, there is the Kentucky Classic. A four day show that encompasses all classes from halter, to hunt seat, and western, it is a destination show for so many within the Quarter Horse breed. So grab your rhinestones and polish your silver, and head down to the Kentucky Horse Park.
Quite often at the Kentucky Horse Park, one will find themselves traveling to their competition arena and pass what appears to be herds of small ponies with abnormally tall teenagers alongside them. If you see these mounts, decked out in matching polos and colorful saddle pads, you should turn around and follow them. Watching these skilled riders and their faithful companions challenge each other in their mounted games within the Rolex Arena is mesmerizing – a day well spent for any horse lover.
The Kentucky Horse Park means so much to so many of us – from a show grounds for premier shows to an educational tool of our local school system. It is a part of our trainers and horsemens business plan, a destination for our families vacations, and a place that we as young children dreamed of visiting.
The horse industry in Kentucky has a 3 billion dollar economic impact on the state, and it is understandable that so much of that is in the breeding, selling, and racing thoroughbreds.
But so much of it is also in exactly what the Kentucky Horse Park exists for. The local jumper trainer. The 4-H participant. The little girl whose family can’t afford riding lessons, but who put a Breyer under the tree every year. And someone like me, who was a little lost in the world, but who knew that her love of horses would guide her way back to happiness.
We need our government officials to understand just how truly special this facility is to us as horse-enthusiasts, and exactly why we need it. So please, click on the link below and sign our petition to keep the Kentucky Horse Park as a place for all things horses, and then comment below with your story. What makes the Kentucky Horse Park special for you? Why do you want to keep horses in the Kentucky Horse Park?