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A Visit to Kentucky Horse Park

entrance exhibit


The state of Kentucky was a stopping place on this nation’s relentless march west but by the end of the Civil War the former slave state’s plantation economy was in a shambles and it was viewed as a backwater. Horse breeding and racing were centered in the eastern states and although Kentucky was great horse country, it lacked the top breeders, top studs and the financial power to back the development of the local equine industry. Undeterred and through a concerted effort Kentucky gradually built its equine industry to the point that it is now the center for horse breeding in the United States.

Historical exhibits include many cultures.
In celebration of its accomplishment the state and local citizens created Kentucky Horse Park which might be viewed as a theme park devoted to horses in general. The vision of the park was to create an attraction that not only has equestrian activities and exhibits but also hosts world class equestrian events. It is still very much a work in progress, and since opening in 1978 this 1,200 acre park has been steadily expanding its facilities and the scope of its operation.

Being a history buff I was very impressed by the extensive museum exhibits created with the assistance of the Smithsonian Institution and chronicling the history of the horse. However, the park is not just fixed exhibits: it also features live horses. The Parade of Breeds is held in a stadium and features different breeds of horses that are ridden around the arena by costumed riders as the commentator explains the background of the breed. After the performance the visitor can go backstage and see the horses and talk to the riders.

The Parade of Breeds included a Connemara, Arab and Haflinger among others
Funny Cide 1 Funny Cide 2 Funny Cide 3

Another area is called the Hall of Champions, and in this more intimate pavilion a visitor is introduced to a series of famous retired horses. Big-screen television monitors mounted on the ceilings show short clips of exciting moments in the horse’s career, and the animal celebrity is walked around the center of the pavilion only feet away from the audience. When you hear about equestrian greats you except to see a seventeen-hand animal breathing fire, but in their retirement they surprisingly look every much like a nice horse your neighbor might be riding on a trail ride. In another life they might have been your horse or mine, but instead they were propelled to equine greatness. We saw Cigar, Funny Cide, Da Hoss, Western Dreamer and Mr. Muscleman. All of them famous and now retired to the park.

Retired 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide entertains the crowd
Funny Cide 1 Funny Cide 2 Funny Cide 3

The park offers rides on horseback and tours in horse-drawn carriages. The park makes a concerted effort not to focus on any given breed of horse or type of equine activity, but rather to present a balanced presentation of equestrianism across the board. I believe anyone with an interest in horses should make this a “must see” stop on a future trip if you have not been there already. You will find some interesting things and be glad you went.

The Stallion Bask by Bogucki
Statue 1
Frisky Filly and The Promise by Reardon
Statue 2

The Accidental Horseman.

Offical Web Site of Kentucky Horse Park
Funny Cide's Derby Run
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