A visit to Kentucky’s Horse Country
By Barbara Barton Sloane
I recently found myself thinking about horses — a lot. Maybe it was the particular 2014 brouhaha that surrounded California Chrome, that lovely chestnut colt with four white feet who had, at best, a most unlikely bloodline. Chrome, though he came from the wrong side of the tracks, didn’t know he was no blue blood. That was part of his charm. That’s what won our hearts.
At about the same time that he’d won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, I happened to be reading a biography of Queen Elizabeth II and learned that she has had a keen interest in horses since, at age four, she was given a Shetland pony named Peggy. This diversion developed over time into one of her main leisure activities with a particular emphasis on the breeding of thoroughbreds. I learned that she sometimes sent her horses to be bred in Lexington, Kentucky, home of the top horse farms in the country, as well as the famed Keeneland horse auctions held each autumn. The queen’s prized horses right here on our own soil? Intrigued, I decided to pay a visit to Kentucky for some authentic equine excitement.
Gentle voices are silenced
As it turned out, during my sojourn I saw these majestic creatures wherever I looked. Lexington is horse country in every sense of the word and, on my drive from the airport, I was enthralled with the spectacular scenery: the rolling hills of Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region with pretty red barns, fields and meadows sprinkled with wild flowers and encircled by miles of white horse fencing that enclosed beautiful thoroughbreds and their foals. At Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Lexington, the picturesque scene continued. Meandering tree-covered lanes, a pasture with two elegant white horses that moved in tandem, seeming to pose for my camera, and across the lane, colorful Highland cows, their long russet coats flowing in the breeze.
A real treat was the appearance of a rare Randall cow – one of only 300 in the world. She was large, white and regal with splatterings of black across her face and back. After lunch in the Village dining room, I took a leisurely cruise down the Kentucky River on the Dixie Belle paddle-wheeler, one of the Village’s fun activities. The green of the river matched the verdant forest on either side as the afternoon sun played upon the water.
Shaker Village is the largest Shaker community in the world with 1,900 acres of farmland and 34 restored 19th century buildings. The Shakers were a religious sect that flourished in the 18th century but owing in part to their belief in celibacy the sect became extinct towards the end of the 19th Century. Luckily, Shaker Village is, once more, a flourishing property with a lively community of people dedicated to preserving the Shaker lifestyle.
I spent the night in an authentic home: separate doors for men and women to enter and ascend stairs to their separate bedrooms (is it any wonder that Shaker communities eventually died out?). There are 70 guest rooms, suites and private cottages on the property. My room was large, with Shaker reproduction furniture, hardwood floors, private bath and – icing on the cake – a memory-foam mattress atop my king bed. The next morning I had a walking tour of the village and I felt the Shaker presence strongly when I entered each building. The sparsely furnished rooms had a pervasive mood of solitude which made me wish that these celibate people had figured out, before it was too late, that they needed to loosen up a bit and for heaven’s sake, procreate!
Kentucky bourbon, y’all!
No visit to Kentucky would be complete without visiting some of their famed bourbon distilleries, and Buffalo Trace Distillery is one of America’s oldest. On the tour, I observed the entire process of turning corn, rye, and malted barley into world-renowned Kentucky bourbon. At the Woodford Reserve Distillery, I learned that it is the only facility in the state making bourbon with the original Scottish “pot still” method. There were some fine exhibits on the history and heritage of this beloved beverage, and lunch on the front porch was a great way to end the distillery tours – topped off, natch, with a splash of pure, perfect Kentucky-b.
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