Monday, August 9, 2010

Lexington, KY: Start at the Horse Park

If you love horses, you have to visit Lexington. If you love good food and drink among beautiful scenery and congenial people, you need to visit Lexington, too.

I did, as a guest of Visit Lexington to preview the Alltell FEI world Equestrian Games in September-October, but any undue influencing already had been done. One of my early memories was sprawling on the floor listening to a radio program that was interrupted to announce the death of the great race horse Man o' War.

That was Nov. 1, 1947, I was 6 and could recite the wins of Big Red and the one horse that ever defeated him, aptly named Upset. You could say I was predisposed to like Lexington, at least the horsey part.

I was delighted to find that Lexington, one of the most influential sires in American Thoroughbred history, has been miniaturized, dyed blue and become the infectious logo for Visit Lexington, promoters of the center of Kentucky's famed bluegrass and Thoroughbred industry. Also liked that we were staying at a hotel filled with equestrian images, Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, and that the rooms featured Tempur-Pedic beds, a Lexington-made product.

Visiting the Kentucky Horse Park was both a joy and a pilgrimage. Rain didn't douse my enthusiasm as I paid homage to Man o' War and the great African-American jockey Isaac Burns Murphy at their grave sites; met the racing legends Funny Cide and Cigar and American Saddlebred champ CH Gypsy Supreme in the Hall of Champions.

The park is working horse farm, theme park, education center, museum, competition facility, headquarters for 33 equine organizations and showcase for up to 53 different breeds. Non-horse fanciers find the International Museum of the Horse fascinating and enjoy the different skills displayed during the Parade of Breeds. Art connoisseurs will appreciate the equestrian bronzes, many life-sized, around the park.

You can try riding to a walk, trot and canter on the simulators (like the ones used filming Seabiscuit) at the Morgan Horse Exhibit or schedule a ride on the real thing (for an additional cost).

Tip: The terrain is mostly flat with a few gentle hills and smooth or paved for walking, but you will walk a lot. Take the free, horse-drawn tour of the main part of the park to orient yourself and decide what you want to see. You walk to but get to sit during the Parade of Champions at the Hall of Champions. You'll walk around  meeting residents of the Breeds Barn but you'll sit during the Parade of Breeds when the horses show off their strengths.

If you aren't a horse nut, the Park will entertain you for a full day, especially if one of the many competitions held there coincides with your visit. If you neighed before you talked or spent childhood afternoons galloping around the neighborhood, you will want more, much more.

And much more to come about Lexington, its Thoroughbred industry, fabulous food and drink and truly hospitable residents.

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