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Kentucky Derby side trip: Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park

The Kentucky Horse Park
The Kentucky Horse Park
Photos by Kevin Wierzbicki

If you’re thinking about heading to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby (May 3 this year) you should know that there are some really nice horses waiting to meet you at the Kentucky Horse Park in nearby Lexington. The park is a horse-lover’s delight that houses several museums, a memorial lane for famous race horses and amazing art in the form of equine statuary, all situated on bucolic grounds full of pastures for the residents to graze on and play in. But the real draw at the Kentucky Horse Park is the ability that visitors have to get close to and interact with horses.

Lots of visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park like to tour the facility in a horse-drawn trolley, fun in its own right but this is also where there’s a chance to meet some really magnificent animals. The park uses a variety of big breeds like Percherons, Belgians and Clydesdales to pull the trolleys and while the draft animals are being hitched up and prettied up for the day’s work there’s an opportunity to pet and pat the big fellas and get a picture or two. And gentle as these giant (some tower over a six-foot-tall person) horses are, this close-up visit offers a chance to get a real sense of what power these muscular beasts have. Another good time to meet horses is after the Horses of the World show; first you’ll see riders promenading and doing tricks on breeds like the Arabian, American Cutting Horse and Appaloosa and afterwards they all line up in a special meet-and-greet area and here visitors can pat the animal's heads, get photos and maybe receive an appreciative nuzzle. Then there are horses in barns and corrals and being led around by their trainers and you never know just exactly “who” you might run into. For those who feel like saddling up, the Kentucky Horse Park has lots of bridle trails and horseback riding opportunities.

Complete with a life-size statue, the memorial to the great thoroughbred Man O’War is a must-see as is the monument to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba. Famed race horses, their jockeys and trainers are feted in various places with the most poignant area being the Memorial Walk of Champions where you can walk alongside the final resting places of champs like Bold Forbes and John Henry. Over at the farrier shop you can see horses being shod, and should you have a horse of your own back home there’s a well-stocked tack shop on hand. To see trophies, learn about breeds and the lineage of various champions and see just about everything that has to do with famous horses, visit the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum and the Arabian Horse Galleries. There’s also a display of horse-drawn farming equipment. The Kentucky Horse Park is the kind of place that has that magic that turns adults into kids again, but for actual children there are pony rides, a kid’s barn and a playground.

With a few exceptions, the Kentucky Horse Park is open just about every day of the year short of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays. Special events and competitions are held at the park on a regular basis. For more information including the event schedule, visit the Kentucky Horse Park website.

Lexington is about 75-miles from Louisville.

For help in planning a trip to Kentucky visit the Kentucky Tourism website.

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