Before vacation season ends, experience wonders close to home

August 12, 2014

140731Maker'sMark0168This art glass installation in the ceiling of a barrel warehouse is the newest visitor attraction at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Marion County. Below, Ward Hall in Georgetown is a Greek Revival masterpiece. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

There’s a chill in the air this week. Schools are back in session. Fall is beginning to arrive.

But if you want to stretch vacation season a little longer, here’s an idea: Find time to visit some Central Kentucky wonders. You know, the places tourists come from around the world to see but locals often forget about.

Here are a few suggestions. For more details on many of them, go to Visitlex.com, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website.

Horses. This may be the horse capital of the world, but when did you last see one? Spend a day at the Kentucky Horse Park (Kyhorsepark.com) or visit a Thoroughbred farm. Several farms welcome visitors who schedule in advance. Or you can do like out-of-towners do and book a horse farm bus tour.

Keeneland Race Course is the best place to see Thoroughbreds in action. The park-like grounds are open year-around. The yearling sales are Sept. 8-21. The fall racing meet is Oct. 3-25. More information: Keeneland.com.

Bourbon. More than 90 percent of this globally popular whiskey is made within a short drive of Lexington. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is becoming a major tourist draw. My favorite distilleries to visit include Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Wild Turkey and Four Roses near Lawrenceburg, Maker’s Mark near Lebanon and Woodford Reserve near Versailles. More information: Kybourbontrail.com.

Country roads. Some of my favorite places to enjoy Central Kentucky’s beauty are the country roads that connect the region like a vast spider’s web. These are perfect for scenic drives. I like to go by bicycle, but it takes experience to know which roads are safe and comfortable for cycling. The Bluegrass Cycling Club has well-managed group rides each week. Check the calendar: Bgcycling.net.

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.comArchitecture and history. This was a rich agricultural region before the Civil War, and remnants of that era can be seen in Central Kentucky’s grand mansions. Architectural styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival.

Many historic homes are still private residences, but some of the best are open for tours. Among them: Ward Hall in Georgetown, White Hall in Madison County and these in Lexington: Waveland, the Hunt-Morgan House, the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Other must-sees: Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County and the Old Capitol in Frankfort.

Nature. Perhaps the least-known attractions in Central Kentucky are natural areas, but they can be spectacularly beautiful. I especially love the Palisades region of the Kentucky River, which stretches from Boonesboro to Frankfort.

Lexington’s Raven Run park is the most-visited natural area in the Palisades region. Others include Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve (lowerhowardscreek.org), Floracliff Nature Sanctuary (Floracliff.org) and Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary, all of which have more-limited public access.

Julian Campbell, a botanist and authority on native Kentucky plants, has begun leading monthly hikes to promote awareness and conservation of natural areas. More information: Bluegrasswoodland.com or email campmeet@gmail.com.

But you don’t have to go hiking in the woods to see Central Kentucky’s oldest and most magnificent natural specimens.

A unique feature of the Bluegrass landscape is huge burr and chinkapin oak, blue ash and kingnut hickory trees, some of which are thought to be 300-500 years old. Tom Kimmerer, a forest scientist, has launched a non-profit organization to study how to better care for these “venerable” trees, as he calls them. More information: Venerabletrees.org.

Because Lexington has literally grown up around these old trees, they can be found in some strange places.

Recent brush-trimming has highlighted a magnificent burr oak that Kimmerer is conserving for Ball Homes beside a new subdivision at Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike. In the 1990s, a parking structure for medical offices was built around another huge oak tree, near the corner of Harrodsburg and Mason Headley roads.

Other notable examples can be found in front of an Avis car rental office on South Broadway; on the lawns of Sullivan University and the mansion at Griffin Gate; and scattered among new buildings along Sir Barton Way in Hamburg.

Here’s an idea: as you drive around on your weekly errands, start an ancient tree scavenger hunt! Anything to make the lazy days of summer last a little longer.

140807Gainesway0018This burr oak tree on Gainesway Farm is likely several hundred years old. 


Lexington native takes active role in New York carriage horse fight

April 29, 2014

hansenChristina Hansen, a driver and spokeswoman for New York City carriage drivers, returns Star to a stall in New York’s Clinton Stables on Jan. 28. AP photo by Richard Drew.

Christina Hansen grew up in Lexington liking horses, but not having much to do with them. She didn’t learn to ride until she went to graduate school in North Carolina.

Hansen now earns a living as a horse carriage driver in New York’s Central Park and has become the public face of opposition to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages that have long been a fixture in the city.

Animal rights groups back de Blasio’s plan. But Hansen’s allies include actor Liam Neeson, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the American Horse Council and the editorial pages of New York’s three big newspapers, which rarely agree on anything.

The scrappy tabloid New York Daily News has turned the issue into a crusade, with almost daily reports labeled, “Daily News Save Our Horses Campaign.”

Quinnipiac University’s respected poll recently reported that New Yorkers want to keep carriage horses by a three-to-one margin.

“He had no idea what he was getting into,” Hansen said of the new mayor. “It’s a lot harder to eliminate a business that’s been there for 156 years and is heavily regulated than he thought.”

I caught up with Hansen, 33, on Tuesday. She was back in Lexington to see her mother, Elizabeth Hansen, chair of Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Communications, inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. It was clear that some of her mother’s media savvy had rubbed off on her.

Hansen became a carriage driver almost by accident. After graduating from Emory University, she went to the University of North Carolina to study history, thinking she would be a college professor like her parents. Her father, Gary Hansen, teaches sociology at the University of Kentucky and is chair of the Community & Leadership Development program.

After earning her master’s degree, Hansen decided academia wasn’t for her. When her husband, art historian Peter Clericuzio, went to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, she followed him to Philadelphia. With an interest in history and horses, she found work as a carriage-driving tour guide.

Hansen loved the job, but was shocked when people would roll down their car windows and curse her for “animal cruelty.” It made her realize that many people outside Kentucky never see horses or know anything about them.

In 2009, Hansen helped a friend, fellow Philadelphia carriage driver Pam Rickenbach, start Blue Star Equiculture in Palmer, Mass. The non-profit helps working horses in need of rescue and is a retirement home for Philadelphia and New York carriage horses.

That was Hansen’s introduction into advocacy, and she soon found herself recruited by friends to attend meetings of an anti-carriage group in New York to learn their strategy. The following year, she moved to New York to drive a carriage.

Soon after she arrived, there was a well-publicized accident involving a carriage horse that dumped his driver and two passengers in Columbus Circle. Nobody, including the horse, was seriously hurt, but the accident became a turning point in the debate.

Because other industry spokesmen were unavailable, Hansen drove her carriage to Columbus Circle and offered herself for interviews. The next day, drivers welcomed the media into their stables to show how well the horses were being cared for.

Since then, Hansen has been a principal spokesman for the city’s 300 carriage drivers, who earn middle-class livings by working their 200 horses. The two men Hansen drives for are second-generation carriage owners and drivers.

Animal rights groups, including the ASPCA and PETA, claim carriage horses are being mistreated and have no place in a crowded city. The mayor has suggested replacing horse-drawn carriages with electric, antique-looking cars, which has drawn opposition from the Central Park Conservancy.

Hansen argues that horses have been living and working in New York as long as people have, and the carriage industry has a good record for safety and horse care. The city regulates stable conditions and requires that horses get five weeks of pastured vacation each year and retire at age 26.

“The best way to insure the welfare of a horse is for them to work, to have a job,” she said. “This is what they have been trained to do.”

Hansen’s media experience over the past two years could position her well for a career in public relations. But she plans to continue driving a carriage.

“This is what I was meant to do,” she said. “I’m still teaching history, to people who are on vacation and happy, and I get to hang out with a horse all day. The carriage is my desk and I have an 834-acre cubicle that is one of the greatest parks in the world.”

 


Kentucky Derby infield tamer than my first one, but still a wild party

May 4, 2013

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 Patrick Just of Louisville takes a turn on an improvised water slide during an afternoon downpour in the infield at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. “You don’t do Derby,” he said. “Derby does you.”  Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Like many people, I attended my first Kentucky Derby as a college student in the infield. Except I was an intern for the Associated Press, assigned to write a feature about one of the world’s biggest and wildest parties.

It was 1979, when Spectacular Bid won the 105th Derby, then the Preakness and fell just short of the Triple Crown. But that’s not what I remember most.

Derby Day was sunny and hot, and the infield was a “boiling sea of people”, just as Hunter S. Thompson described it in his famous 1970 essay, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Alcohol flowed freely and, as the afternoon wore on, many a young woman became separated from her clothes. As I wrote in my story that day, the infield was a place where “you are liable to see almost anything — except perhaps the Kentucky Derby.”

I have been to 16 Derbys since then, and each year the infield seems to get smaller and tamer, even as the admission price has risen from $10 to $40. But the 139th Derby was proof that the infield is still quite a party — even on a day like Saturday.

For most of the day, it poured rain, but that didn’t keep people away. The Derby Day crowd was more than 151,000.

The wet weather wasn’t a problem for big-ticket Derby patrons, who enjoyed catered food high and dry in enclosed luxury suites above the track. Saturday was a good day to be rich or famous — or a guest of someone who was.

Outdoor grandstand seats were problematic. But the infield crowd just got wet. Very wet. Not that anyone seemed to mind.

The steady downpour quickly turned the infield into swamp. In the past, that wouldn’t have been a big problem. Although umbrellas have always been banned, infield regulars usually come equipped with large picnic tents.

But this year, citing security concerns in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Churchill Downs banned tents and coolers. Still, many people brought tarps that became makeshift tents, attached to the chain-link fence along the track’s edge or propped up on folding chairs. A few people managed to sneak in forbidden tent poles and stakes.

“I knew people would get creative,” said John Asher, the Churchill Downs spokesman.

While some in the infield tried to find shelter, many others didn’t bother. People walked around, drank and danced in the rain and mud.

“You’ve got to do it,” said Cathy Hanrahan of Louisville, who has been to six or seven Derbys and was enjoying this one dancing in the infield with friends while wearing a hat that looked like a lamp shade. “You can dry out tomorrow.”

Still, even on a dry day, the Derby infield isn’t what it used to be.

For one thing, the infield is a lot smaller. A big chunk of the real estate was taken in 1985 when Churchill Downs built the turf track inside the dirt oval. The whole front side of the infield is now taken by two-story enclosed and tented luxury boxes. And, each year, more and more vendor tents compete with fans for space.

The infield also is a lot tamer. Although it is harder to smuggle in booze, Churchill Downs makes it very easy to buy alcohol, from beer to mint juleps to champagne. But a multitude of cops keep patrons’ good times from getting out of hand.

There is little nudity anymore, even on a warmer, drier Derby Day than we had this year. Before Churchill Downs’ most recent renovations, the Herald-Leader’s work room was next to a room where Louisville police with high-powered binoculars scanned the infield looking for nudity and other misbehavior.

But none of this seems to have stopped the infield crowd from having a memorably good time, year after year.

“I heard it’s the most wild time you could find,” said Jesse Jerzewski, 26, of Buffalo, N.Y. “And I’m not disappointed yet.”

Jerzewski’s first Derby was doubling as his brother’s bachelor party. They and their poncho-clad friends were especially fond of mint juleps.

A big crowd of young people gathered around a huge plastic sheet, which became a well-lubricated water slide in the heavy afternoon rain. They dared each other to give it a try. Patrick Just of Louisville was among those who accepted the challenge.

“You don’t do Derby,” he said. “Derby does you.”

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Hippotherapy uses horses’ movement to help heal people

May 1, 2013

130329Hippotherapy-TE0310

Hallie Adams, 7, sits atop Wanda, a Norwegian Fjord horse, as she is led around the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope facility at the Kentucky Horse Park. Martha Wiedemann, hidden, Nancy Herring, front, and Kassie Smith lead the horse while therapist Lisa Harris, center, works with Hallie to improve coordination and balance and strengthen her muscles. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

This is Kentucky Derby week, the time each year when everyone is focused on horses that run fast for a living. So I thought I would write about horses whose job it is to walk slowly.

T-Ball and Wanda are hefty Norwegian Fjords who work at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope at the Kentucky Horse Park. They help heal the clients of Lisa Harris and Becky Johnson, two therapists at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital.

It is called hippotherapy — hippo is Greek for horse — and it is a relatively new method of therapy that is struggling for recognition with the insurance companies and government agencies that pay most medical bills in America.

Hippotherapy is not the same as therapeutic riding. In hippotherapy, a patient sits or lies on a horse’s back and does movements under the direction of a therapist as the horse is led around slowly by a handler and a side walker.

“The horse’s pelvis creates a movement that is very similar to our walking,” said Harris, who has been on the board of the American Hippotherapy Association. “Its motion is our strategy.”

130329Hippotherapy-TE0213The horse stimulates movement by the patient on its back. Hippotherapy helps many patients improve balance, flexibility and strength, especially in the neck, chest and abdomen. Core strength is important not only in helping patients walk, but in speech therapy, Harris said. The hippotherapy environment also can help improve sensory perception in children who struggle with it.

“It can be very helpful as part of a full treatment plan,” Harris said. “We have seen some adults and kids who haven’t walked before take their first steps, or haven’t spoken before say their first words.”

Harris has ridden horses since she was a child. Her mother, Nancy Herring, was the first executive director of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, which since 1981 has offered other healing-related activities involving horses, including work with military veterans disabled while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Her father is George Herring, a noted historian and author at the University of Kentucky.)

In addition to a master’s degree in physical therapy, Harris has a master’s in equine biomechanics and a bachelor’s in animal science. So she naturally became interested in hippotherapy after it was introduced in this country from Germany and Austria in the 1990s.

Harris began offering hippotherapy in Lexington in 2002 after Cardinal Hill formed a partnership with Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, the state’s only premium accredited therapeutic riding center. She and Johnson, an occupational therapist, use the methods with about 25 clients a week.

Many of Harris’ clients are children. Hallie Adams, 7, of Paris, was born with cerebral palsy. Her mother, Ginger Adams, said the sessions have helped make her daughter much stronger. Once around Wanda, Hallie becomes more motivated to work her muscles.

“She’s super engaged on the horse, so anything the therapists ask her to do, she will do,” Adams said.

Carlos Taylor, 34, of Winchester, is using hippotherapy to help recover from a 2005 construction accident. He was helping to build a log house when scaffolding collapsed and injured his spine, causing him to lose feeling in his lower legs.

“I never thought I would get on a horse again,” Taylor said with a laugh. He said he twice tried horseback riding before his injury and was thrown off both times.

Taylor receives several kinds of therapy, but he said that after he began hippotherapy last year, he quickly noticed improvement in core strength and muscle control.

“It has helped a lot,” he said. “I never thought I would be where I am today.”

The American Hippo therapy Association is trying to increase awareness of its methods so more insurance companies and other health care reimbursement agencies will pay for patients to get it.

“There’s a lot of confusion out there about hippotherapy and how it is different from therapeutic riding, which is done by a riding instructor and not a therapist,” Harris said.

She said about half the insurance companies in Kentucky will reimburse for hippotherapy, but unlike many other states, Medicare and Medicaid in Kentucky will not.

“This is the horse capital of the world,” Harris said. “Not saying yes to this treatment strategy is kind of crazy.”

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Marketing campaign hopes to attract millennials to horse racing

April 9, 2013

130408HorseBus0020

America’s Best Racing’s ambassadors, left to right, are Hallie Hardy, John Cox, Jose Contreras, Mary Frances Dale, Chip McGaughey and Victoria Garofalo. The bus tour began in March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, and ends at the Breeders’ Cup in Los Angeles in November. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

The centerpiece of The Jockey Club’s $5 million marketing campaign to attract more young fans to Thoroughbred racing rolled into Lexington this week.

A brightly painted hospitality bus with six horse-racing “ambassadors” between ages 22 and 27 is on a national tour. The tour began in March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, and will end in November at the Breeders’ Cup outside Los Angeles.

Before leaving Lexington for Louisville on Sunday, the bus will be at The Red Mile on Wednesday for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club meeting, at Thursday Night Live at Cheapside with some well-known jockeys, in the parking lot of Tin Roof on South Limestone on Friday night, and at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday.

Kip Cornett, president of Lexington-based Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, said the campaign grew out of a McKinsey & Co. study that The Jockey Club commissioned three years ago.

It concluded that one of racing’s biggest opportunities to increase the fan base was by doing more with special events, such as the Kentucky Derby. The research showed that 1.8 million people ages 18 to 34 watch the Derby on television, yet they pay little attention to Thoroughbred racing most of the year, Cornett said.

So the Jockey Club created a strategy similar to ESPN’s GameDay events to reach young people. That included an advertising campaign; a website, Followhorseracing.com; and the bus with six ambassadors chosen from 150 videotaped applications.

Three of the ambassadors are from Central Kentucky; the others are from California, Georgia and Tennessee. All plan careers in the Thoroughbred industry and hope this gig will help them learn and make good contacts.

During the 17-stop bus tour, the ambassadors are trying to attract peers not only to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, but to the fashion, celebrity and party “lifestyle” surrounding it. They have given away a lot of souvenir jockey goggles and have registered hundreds of people for a contest to win an all-expenses-paid trip for four to the Derby.

The ambassadors identify young leaders and those with big social media followings in each city, take them to the local track and show them a good time in the hope that they will encourage their friends and social media followers to try racing.

The ambassadors also scout popular venues to take the bus — “places where people like us would hang out,” said José Contreras of Long Beach, Calif., who said he “started reading the Daily Racing Form before I could read books.”

“I’ve been surprised by how many people really want to talk to us,” said Hallie Hardy of Frankfort, an equestrian for most of her life.

When the bus was at the Florida Derby last month, Chip McGaughey of Lexington said young Miami leaders were given behind-the-scenes tours of Gulfstream Park and showed how pari-mutuel betting works. Based on the initial efforts, the strategy seems to be working.

“Winning them some money definitely helps,” McGaughey said.

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New Keeneland president wants to strengthen ties to community

October 1, 2012

Bill Thomason in the Keeneland Race Course paddock. Photo by Tom Eblen 

 

Bill Thomason was on Keeneland‘s payroll for only a couple of years before he was tapped to become the association’s seventh president. But, without realizing it, he had been training for the job for more than three decades.

After finishing degrees in accounting and business at the University of Kentucky, Thomason went to work for the accounting firm Alexander Grant & Co. Soon, he was spending most of his time working for one client: Mill Ridge Farm.

Thomason left the firm in 1980 to become financial and administrative manager at Mill Ridge, where he worked closely for 28 years with owner Alice Chandler, a Thoroughbred industry leader and a daughter of Keeneland founder Hal Price Headley.

“We just really hit it off,” Thomason said. “What a great way to get involved in the business, to have a mentor like her. The way that she looked at life and the business, so forward-thinking. The way that she looked at the importance of the horse, which was the priority the farm set for everything we did. The way she thought through things, the way we thought through things together.”

Thomason, 56, spent those years racing and consigning horses for sale at Keeneland. But he said it wasn’t until he joined the organization as vice president and chief financial officer in 2010 that he realized how similar Chandler’s values were to Keeneland’s, especially when it came to service in the industry and community.

“I thought I knew Keene land from the outside, but I had no idea until I got in here the pride that everybody takes in this place and the obligation that they feel to this community,” he said.

Thomason has caught some lucky breaks since succeeding Nick Nicholson as president on Sept. 1. The Thoroughbred business is bouncing back after several tough years. Average and median prices were up by double-digit percentages during Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale. Keeneland says the 3,958 horses catalogued for the November Breeding Stock Sale show high quality.

I caught up with Thomason during the busy break between the September sale and the fall racing meet, which begins Friday. I wanted to hear his thoughts about Keeneland as a community institution, a role he said has changed little since Headley and others built the track 75 years ago during the Great Depression.

The founders’ goal was to create one of the world’s best race courses, serving the “horse capital of the world” with both quality entertainment and charitable giving.

The Keeneland Foundation has given more than $18 million in direct contributions to local charities over the years, although contributions have been down in recent years. With the economy improving, Thomason wants to do more, including bringing more segments of the community into Keeneland’s facilities.

“We’ve got 1,100 acres of an arboretum here that’s open 365 days a year; there are no gates and locks,” he said. “It’s a place the community feels an ownership in, and we take great pride in that.”

Keeneland now hosts several community events, including Picnic with the Pops and more than a dozen annual charity runs and walks. One of the biggest ones yet is planned for March 30, when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon comes to Lexington. Thomason hopes to open the Keeneland Entertainment Center and recently restored Keene Mansion to more local groups.

Keeneland has formed a partnership with Greg Ladd of Cross Gate Gallery to host an annual sporting art auction, beginning in the fall of 2013, Thomason said. Keeneland hopes to leverage its auction staff and well-heeled clientele to eventually make it the world’s premier auction for equine art.

“We think it’s a natural fit for Keeneland,” Thomason said. Keeneland’s share of the profits will go to charity.

There also is a new Keeneland Library and Museum Foundation, created to accept donated collections and raise money to support and increase public access to the Keeneland Library’s vast equine archives. For example, the Daily Racing Form archives are being digitized for easier public access.

“We’re finding a lot of unique ways to use our existing plant for the benefit of community groups, to continue to let them touch this place and to be involved with the horse,” he said. “We are simply the caretakers of this very special place for the community and the industry. That’s how we see our role here.”

Bill Thomason

Background: Born September 1956; raised in London

Education: Bachelor of science in accounting, 1977, and MBA, 1978, both from University of Kentucky

Family: Wife, Barbara, and three daughters, Marcie (1980-2006), Melissa and Laura.

Community involvement: Former chairman, Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce (now Commerce Lexington) and First United Methodist Church board. Board service has included Bluegrass Tomorrow, Volunteer Center of the Bluegrass, Greenspace Commission, Lexington Philharmonic.

 

 


Quillin Leather & Tack has kept owner in harness for 30 years

August 12, 2012

Wayne Sterling sewed one of the 17,000 horse halters that Quillin Leather & Tack makes each year. Below, owner Ralph Quillin. Photos by Tom Eblen

PARIS — Ralph Quillin grew up in Lexington as the son of a doctor. While studying at Sayre School and Transylvania University, he thought he would become a doctor, too. Then, he said, “One thing led to another.”

He got married, had three children and became a paramedic with the Lexington fire department, where he worked for 23 years.

On his days off, Quillin taught himself leatherwork. Preppy leather-and- needlepoint belts were popular in the late 1970s, and Quillin and his wife, Sally, made and sold a lot of them.

Then, after he bought a farm in Bourbon County, Quillin figured he could teach himself to make horse halters. He was soon making and selling so many that his wife evicted his noisy sewing machine from the house.

Quillin rented a shop in Paris and outgrew it, then rented another and outgrew it.

Now, he says, Quillin Leather & Tack is the nation’s largest mom-and-pop harness shop, celebrating 30 years in business.

Since 1988, Quillin and his 10 employees have worked from an old house that has been enlarged every way it can be. The main floor is a sprawling showroom. In a cramped basement workshop and former upstairs bedrooms, workers hand-craft 17,000 halters a year, plus thousands of belts, key tags, dog collars, checkbook covers and other items. All come with custom-engraved brass plates.

After halters, the company’s most popular items are harness-leather belts with brass plates for the owner’s name. Every man in Central Kentucky seems to wear one, a handy precaution against bourbon-induced memory loss.

The company has outfitted such Thoroughbred greats as Secretariat and Storm Cat. Regular customers include Claiborne, Stone and Darley farms. But most sales now come from beyond Kentucky — half by mail and phone and a quarter online at Quillin.com.

Quillin attributes his company’s success to high-quality products, reasonable prices and good customer service.

The shop goes through about 450 cowhides and 1,500 pounds of brass a year, Quillin estimates. Each piece of leather and brass plate is hand-cut and shaped. A computerized engraving machine personalizes each plate, which is then drilled, polished, inked and riveted in place by hand.

Harness leather comes from Thoroughbred Leather in Louisville. It is thicker than normal and tanned so it turns just the right color of brown when dipped in oil. Other leather and most solid-brass hardware comes from Weaver Leather in Ohio.

While there are about a dozen popular sizes and styles of halters priced from about $20 to $80, Quillin says the shop regularly makes about 200 variations. “We’re like short-order cooks,” he said.

Custom orders have included elaborate horse-rescue slings and halters for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ giant Clydesdales. “Damn, those were big halters,” Quillin said.

The three sewing machines that are used to make halters were patented in 1904, but business systems run on a network of Apple Macintosh computers. Employees, not machines, answer the telephone, and email and Facebook queries usually get a response within a couple of hours.

“People are dumbfounded,” said Quillin, who answers email some evenings. “What else am I going to do? There’s nothing on TV.”

Quillin said annual sales are now in the low seven figures after a rough few years. The 2008 economic crisis led to a dramatic decrease in Thoroughbred foal crops. Then, Sally Quillin died of breast cancer in May 2010.

There is now a breast cancer awareness sign on the company’s front lawn. For the past two years, Ralph Quillin has made pink halters for the fillies running in the Kentucky Oaks.

Sally Quillin was always “the face of the company,” he said. “You just don’t realize how much your wife does until she’s not there.”

At age 61, Quillin figures he has a few more years of harness-making in him. One of these days, he might take on a partner to run the business. Then he can spend more time raising prize Angus cattle on his Bourbon and Nicholas county farms.

Quillin’s two daughters and his son have successful careers, and he knows none of them wants to come home to run a leather shop. Hillary is a meteorologist in Texas. Katherine is senior field engineer on California’s Oakland Bay Bridge. Ralph Cutler Quillin Jr. is a surgeon in Cincinnati.

“My dad’s a doctor and my son’s a doctor,” Quillin said. “I’m either the dumb one in the family or the smart one.”

 


Five generations of family vets have cared for horse racing’s stars

July 30, 2012

Luke Fallon of Hagyard Equine and intern Jackie Snyder check a mare in foal at Castleton Lyons farm. Alicia MacDonald holds the horse. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Dr. Luke Hagyard Fallon is a fifth-generation Lexington horse doctor. What led him to keep up the family tradition?

“Lack of originality,” he joked.

“We never learned any better,” added his father, Dr. Edward Hagyard Fallon.

But his mother’s explanation seems more logical.

“It’s in our bloodline,” Priscilla Fallon said.

That’s the way it works with successful horses, so why not with the people who care for them? Luke Fallon, one of 17 partners in Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, has a pedigree that’s hard to beat.

The institute, which calls itself the world’s oldest and largest equine veterinary practice, was founded by Fallon’s great-great-grandfather, Dr. Edward Thomas Hagyard. It is considered the third-oldest family business of any kind in Lexington, after Milward Funeral Directors and Hillenmeyer Nurseries.

E.T. Hagyard was a British-born doctor’s son who studied veterinary medicine in Scotland and Canada before being summoned to Kentucky from his Ontario home in 1875 to save a prize shorthorn bull in Winchester named the Eighth Duke of Geneva. Hagyard did such a good job treating the bull’s gastrointestinal distress that local cattle and horse breeders persuaded him to stay.

Hagyard opened a veterinary practice in Lexington in 1876 that has been operated by his descendants and their partners ever since. The family’s patients have been a who’s who of Thoroughbred racing history: Man o’ War, Domino, Whirlaway, Citation, Affirmed, Secretariat, Storm Cat and many more.

But Luke Fallon’s pedigree doesn’t stop there. His parents grew up on legendary Lexington horse farms their fathers managed.

Ed Fallon, 80, who retired from veterinary practice more than a decade ago after developing Hagyard Equine’s 108-acre campus on Iron Works Pike across from the Kentucky Horse Park, grew up on Beaumont Farm, then the 2,400-acre spread of Keeneland founder Hal Price Headley.

Priscilla Fallon’s father, Arthur Roberts, a well-known American Saddlebred trainer, managed Winganeek Farm. Her family also includes top Thoroughbred trainer John T. Ward Jr., a third-generation horseman and executive director of the state racing commission.

“All of that comes together to create a nice tradition in Central Kentucky that I’m privileged to be a part of,” Luke Fallon said.

Fallon, 42, joined the Hagyard practice in 1996 after graduating from Cornell University’s veterinary school exactly 40 years after his father. In the span of their two careers, equine medicine has changed dramatically.

Hagyard treats all breeds of horses “and the occasional llama,” Luke Fallon said. But when Ed Fallon started out, he treated a lot of work horses and trotters, whose numbers have declined dramatically.

Now, after decades with Thoroughbred breeding as the focus, the practice is working more with sport and pleasure horses, with five of the firm’s more than 60 veterinarians devoted to them.

A big part of Hagyard’s business now is preparing more than 700 horses a year from the Keeneland sales for international shipment— something all but unheard of a few decades ago.

Equine medicine has seen big scientific advances, too.

“When I got out of school, we did everything out of the back of our car,” Ed Fallon said. Surgeries were rare because almost all work was done in the field.

Hagyard vets did some of the first equine surgeries, such as taking bone chips out of racehorses’ ankles, the Fallons said. Medical advances have enabled pregnancies to be diagnosed earlier and mares to be bred more often.

Field work is still a backbone of the practice, with Hagyard’s 36 vehicles logging more than 1.6 million miles annually. But about 6,500 surgeries are performed each year at Hagyard’s high-tech clinic, which has MRI machines for spotting leg injuries and a hypobaric healing chamber big enough for a horse to stand in. The practice treats about 2,500 internal medicine cases and about 500 critical-care foals.

“We now have a lot more tools at our disposal,” Luke Fallon said. “And we’ve been blessed with good owners who have been very trusting and let us try new techniques.”

Although Central Kentucky’s horse industry faces many economic challenges, Fallon expects it to rebound and continue benefitting from advances in veterinary medicine.

But will there continue to be a Hagyard descendant treating those horses?

The odds might be good. Fallon has two sons and a daughter, ages 3, 5 and 8.

“They all love horses already,” he said.

 

 Fifth-generation equine veterinarian Luke Fallon, right, with father, Ed, and mother, Pricilla.

Luke Fallon and Jackie Snyder unload equipment for checkups at Castleton Lyons Farm.

Luke Fallon checks a 45-day-old horse fetus during an exam of a mare at Castleton Lyons Farm.

Dogs in Castleton Lyons farm manager Jamie Frost’s truck provide an audience as veterinarian Luke Fallon checks mares.

Veterinarian Luke Fallon checks on a mare and her ill foal at Hagyard Equine Medical Center.


Agony to ecstasy in a week at Three Chimneys Farm

May 12, 2012

Case Clay, left, and Robert Clay pose with the newest star sire at Three Chimneys Farm, Flower Alley, father of 2012 Kentucky Derby Winner I’ll Have Another. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

MIDWAY — Florists’ trucks have been entering and leaving the manicured grounds of Three Chimneys Farm a lot over the past two weeks.

First, they came with condolences. Dynaformer, the farm’s star sire at $150,000 a pop, was euthanized April 29 on what would have been the ninth birthday of his most famous son, the late Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Barbaro.

Dynaformer had suffered an aortic valve rupture two weeks earlier. The 27-year-old stallion’s foals, which included 130 stakes winners, earned more than $105 million on the track.

Last week, the flowers came in celebration. Only six days after Dynaformer’s death, I’ll Have Another, a son of the farm’s young sire Flower Alley, won the Kentucky Derby, impressively chasing down Bodemeister just lengths from the wire.

“When he started coming down the stretch, we started yelling and we haven’t recovered,” said Three Chimneys’ founder, Robert N. Clay, whose voice was still hoarse Thursday morning.

“That week is, in a way, a microcosm of the sport,” Clay said. “There are heartaches and then these incredible highs. That’s what keeps us all going.”

The landmark week was also a microcosm of Three Chimneys’ 40-year history, added Clay’s son, Case, 38, who in 2008 became the farm’s president and chief operating officer.

Robert Clay bought 100 acres along Old Frankfort Pike from a doctor in 1972 and put 10 stalls in an old tobacco barn. Over the years, he and former president Dan Rosenberg built Three Chimneys into one of the legendary breeding operations.

Three Chimneys has consigned about $500 million in horses at public auction, and its sires’ progeny have earned nearly $1 billion. The farm now has more than 1,800 acres, 100 employees and 400 horses — nine stallions, 225 mares and their foals and yearlings.

“We’ve been blessed with a lot of good ones,” Robert Clay said of the farm’s stallions. “We got a break with Seattle Slew, who was here 17 years.”

But the key to long-term success, his son added, was having great young stallions waiting in the wings.

“Seattle Slew died and Dynaformer and Rahy picked it up,” Case Clay said. “Dynaformer dies and Flower Alley gets a Derby winner six days later. It’s indicative of the strategy of Three Chimneys, which is to fill the stallion roster with who we think are going to be the next stars. We didn’t expect it to happen within six days, but it’s very encouraging.”

In addition to finding places to put flowers, Case Clay spent much of last week selling mating seasons to Flower Alley.

“We’ve been selling about eight a day, and it’s only Thursday,” he said. The Clays decided not to raise Flower Alley’s $7,500 stud fee for the rest of this season, but will decide in November how much to increase it based on how well his offspring do before then.

Flower Alley may not even be the biggest young star in the barn. Big Brown, which won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, sees his first crop of foals race this year. “We’re getting a lot of calls from trainers saying, ‘I like my Big Brown’,” Case Clay said.

Big Brown is now the farm’s priciest sire at $35,000. The Clays hope he and Flower Alley will help Three Chimneys continue to bounce back from 2009-2010, when their farm and the rest of the Thoroughbred business suffered a slump.

“We feel like the industry’s hit bottom and hopefully is on its way back up,” Robert Clay said. “We’re in an industry that’s driven by discretionary wealth, really. Nobody has to have a horse in a recession.”

Case Clay is proud of his management team, a mix of veterans and young talent, which has managed to increase auction sales each year despite the economy. Three Chimneys does about 20 percent of its business overseas, with an office in Tokyo and representatives in England and France.

“The production side of the industry may get smaller than it has been,” Robert Clay said. “But there’s still going to be a demand for the top-quality horses.”

Case Clay’s job now is to figure out how to meet that demand. “Does Flower Alley pick up Dynaformer’s shoes?” he wondered aloud. “Does Big Brown?”

Sitting in his office on a beautiful spring morning, leaning against a pillow embroidered with the motto “Nothing’s Easy,” Robert Clay said fate can be fickle in this business — and fortunes can change in an instant.

The day Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby, Clay had his binoculars trained on the runner-up, an incredible filly he bred. Just as she crossed the finish line, Eight Belles broke both front ankles and had to be euthanized minutes later.

“There are highs that are really, really high and there are lows that are really, really low,” he said. “You can go from agony to ecstasy in this sport in two minutes. But that’s what makes it exciting, fun and a life’s work.”

Three Chimneys Farm near Midway is celebrating its 40th year. Robert Clay started the farm in 1972. His son, Case, became president in 2008, succeeding Dan Rosenberg. Photo by Tom Eblen

Dynaformer was famously ill-tempered. Robert Clay, the owner of Three Chimneys Farm, said Dynaformer would become so irritated when one of his stablemates was shown to visitors that he would kick the steel bars on his stall door, bending several of them. Photo by Tom Eblen

 


Horse Show marks 145th anniversary of ASPCA

November 1, 2011

When most people hear about the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, they think of dogs and cats — especially those sad-faced puppies and kittens that have appeared in ASPCA public-service advertisements for decades.

But the nation’s oldest animal-protection organization is and always has been focused on horses, too. That is why the ASPCA is celebrating its 145th anniversary this week during the Alltech National Horse Show, which runs through Sunday at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The ASPCA will have a booth Friday through Sunday to promote its equine welfare initiatives. There will be educational presentations about improving horse treatment and events featuring three top riders who are ASPCA Equine Welfare Ambassadors: Brianne Goutal, Paige Johnson and Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sunday will be ASPCA Day at the horse show, with a 1 p.m. parade of rescued mustangs and adoptable Thoroughbreds in the Alltech Arena. “They are ambassadors for all the horses that need adoption,” said Valerie Angeli, the ASPCA’s senior director of equine and special projects.

The ASPCA has a long association with the 128-year-old National Horse Show. It began sponsoring the ASPCA Maclay Championship trophy for young riders in 1933.

But the organization has been involved in horse welfare since its founding in 1866.

“Our roots were in protecting the carriage horses and work horses on the streets of New York City before anyone else was,” Angeli said.

Animals in America — work animals, pets and wild animals — had almost no legal protection against cruelty, neglect or abuse until Henry Bergh organized the ASPCA in New York after the Civil War.

Bergh, a wealthy New Yorker, first became interested in animal rights while serving in a diplomatic post in czarist Russia. On a trip back home, he stopped in London and took some lessons from Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which began in 1840.

Bergh organized the ASPCA to fight all kinds of animal abuse — overworked horses, cock- and dog- fighting, the conduct of slaughterhouses and the then-routine practice in New York of rounding up stray dogs, putting them in cages and drowning them in the East River. One ASPCA initiative was installing public fountains in New York so work horses could more easily find water to drink.

Over the years, the organization has lobbied for anti-cruelty laws across the country and started shelters for stray and mistreated animals. “This is a matter purely of conscience,” Bergh once said. “It is a moral question in all aspects.”

Issues involving horse abuse have changed during the past century and a half, but there are still plenty of them.

“There are many, many horses that need our help today,” Angeli said. “Obviously, we’ve come a long way from horses pulling overloaded trolley cars on city streets. Cruelty and abuse takes different forms.”

The ASPCA’s Equine Fund provides grants for horse-rescue groups, and this year it has provided hay for horses in Texas, Oklahoma and other states where droughts have caused hay prices to skyrocket.

One of the biggest problems the ASPCA sees is horses bred for a specific purpose, then cast off if they are not good at it — or become too old or sick to serve their purpose as well as they once did.

“A hundred thousand horses go to slaughter every year because people don’t think to adopt them and repurpose them as pleasure horses,” Angeli said. Those include some Thoroughbreds and quarter horses that are bred for racing but are not fast enough to win.

“We are absolutely advocating second chances for horses,” she said. “We need to make sure we care about what happens to them at every stage of their lives.”

For the ASPCA, the nation’s most prestigious horse show offers an ideal platform to enlist advocates and teach them what abuse and neglect look like so they can try to stop it when they see it.

“We always say that we are the literal voice for animals,” Angeli said. “We are here to teach people how to be the voice of animals in their community.”

If you go

Alltech National Horse Show

When: Nov. 2-6

Where: Kentucky Horse Park

Tickets: Adults: $10 for day, $20 for evening, $30 for Alltech Grand Prix on Saturday night, free for children 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult (limit two children per adult). Parking is free. Dogs permitted on leash. $5 gets access to other Horse Park attractions with valid ticket stub.

More info: 1-855-255-2647. NHS2011.org.

Watch online: Kentucky.com and iHigh.com/alltech will broadcast live coverage of the competition.


Horse Show: 75 years of Junior Leaguers on a mission

July 5, 2011

How do you create the world’s largest outdoor American Saddlebred horse show? Tell a group of young women they can’t do it.

That’s how the Lexington Junior League Horse Show began in 1937. The show celebrates its 75th anniversary July 11 to 16 at The Red Mile.

The horse show was the brainchild of Marie Kittrell, who had become president of the young women’s volunteer organization in 1936. She was frustrated by how hard it was to raise money for charity during the Great Depression. Ladies’ teas and follies shows just weren’t cutting it.

Kittrell thought that Lexington, of all places, should be able to support a first-class horse show. The American Saddlebred was developed in Central Kentucky, but there hadn’t been a regular show since the old Blue Grass Fair closed a few years earlier.

The Junior Leaguers decided they could do it. Their husbands were skeptical. Lexington businessmen rolled their eyes. Money was borrowed for expenses, and businesses were persuaded to put up prize money. The Red Mile’s executives figured the show would be a one-time failure, so they charged the young ladies only $1 to use the trotting track.

“It was thought that this group of women didn’t know what they were doing,” said Joyce Ockerman, who, at age 11, rode in that first show. “But that Mrs. Kittrell, she had her mind set on it.

“When the show opened, they were amazed by the crowds of people who came out,” said Ockerman, who joined the Junior League in 1948, was horse show chairwoman in 1952 and still attends the event every year.

That first four-day show attracted 216 horses from 16 states, and 24,000 spectators. When the bills were paid and the books balanced, the profit was $5,500 — a lot of money in 1937 and five times more than any Junior League of Lexington fund-raiser had ever raised.

Over the past 74 years, the show has raised about $4 million to support the Junior League’s work, which focuses on improving the lives of women and children in the Bluegrass. The overall economic impact on Lexington has amounted to millions of dollars more.

Last year, the horse show raised $80,000. That’s an ambitious goal in another tough economy for this year’s show chairwoman, Alice Vance Dearborn, and her board.

Dearborn also has some personal history to live up to. Her grandmother and namesake, Alice Vance, was a member of the first horse show board. She became show chairwoman in 1939 and was Junior League president from 1940 to 1942, when the show went on despite World War II.

The horse show has changed over the years to stay fresh. This year’s edition kicks off Saturday night with a party at the Red Mile’s historic Round Barn, featuring a silent auction, the Jimmy Church Band and celebrity host Elizabeth Shatner. Competition begins Monday and continues through Saturday’s Championship Night.

Special events include American Heroes Night on Tuesday, when veterans and their families get in free and The Bravehearts, a veterans riding group from Illinois, performs. Three canned goods for the God’s Pantry Food Drive get you in free Wednesday night. That also is the night of the stick-horse race for children 8 and younger. ($5 to enter; bring your own stick horse.) There also will be free kids’ activities that night in the Round Barn.

Thursday night’s show salutes breast cancer awareness, and Friday’s show promotes the American Heart Association and St. Joseph Healthcare. After Friday’s show, at 9:30 p.m., there will be tailgating on The Red Mile apron.

For more information about the horse show, go to Lexjrleague.com.

With more than 30,000 participants and attendees each year, the Lexington Junior League Horse Show has always been a big undertaking for the young women who organize it — and for their husbands and children, who always seem to get roped into helping.

“I remember sitting in the trophy tent when I was a little girl and thinking, ‘I want to be in charge of this someday,'” said Dearborn, 32, a third-generation Junior Leaguer. “Now it’s like, what was I thinking!”

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A beautiful afternoon for a record Kentucky Derby crowd

May 7, 2011

LOUISVILLE —The weather forecasters were wrong, thank goodness.

The sun was shining bright on a perfect spring afternoon as a record crowd of 164,858 stumbled over the words to My Old Kentucky Home before seeing Animal Kingdom win his first race on dirt to take the 137th Kentucky Derby.

Brief periods of rain earlier in the day didn’t faze the biggest Derby crowd in history. The field was wide open, and, as always, horses were just part of the attraction. The Derby is a big party, a peerless networking opportunity and a colorful pageant of women in tight dresses and bodacious hats.

For hours leading up to the so-called greatest two minutes in sports, Kentucky’s captains of horseflesh and industry wined and dined those lucky enough to receive invitations from them.

“It’s such a selling opportunity for the state,” said Alltech founder and President Pearse Lyons. He and his wife, Deirdra, sat on Millionaire’s Row with John Petterson, senior vice president of Tiffany & Co., who said construction of his company’s new plant in Lexington is on schedule for completion in July.

“The whole state of Kentucky has been good to us,” said Petterson, attending his first Derby. “This is a wonderful place to do business.”

Executives from Mexico and India were among those being entertained by state officials hungry for investment.

Proeza of Monterey, Mexico, owns three automobile parts factories in Kentucky that employ 1,200 people. “We hope to increase employment,” said CEO Enrique Zambrano, who was loving his first Derby. “We come from a family that loves horses, and this is an experience.”

Across the table from Zambrano was Rewant Ruia, director of Essar of Mumbai, India. “I think it’s a fabulous event,” said Ruia, who said his conglomerate employs 10,000 people in North America, including coal miners in Kentucky. “To be honest, I did not expect the Derby to be so big.”

Across the track and far below the luxury suites, the infield crowd had arrived early to set up tents against the predicted rain. They partied the day away, progressing from $7 breakfast Budweisers to $10 mint juleps.

“The atmosphere, the people, the party,” said Ken Keske of Charlotte, N.C., when I asked why he keeps coming back every year. His Derby outfit included a furry viking helmet.

Nearby, Karolyn Cook of New Jersey and two girlfriends from New York and North Carolina were sporting lovely dresses and elegant hats. They sat on a blanket in the infield, snacking on potato chips. “My mother is stationed at Fort Knox, so this was the thing to do,” Cook said.

Tim Rask came from Iowa City, Iowa, for his seventh Derby, his fifth wearing a bowler hat topped with a tall arrangement of red roses that required almost perfect posture. “All that finishing school paid off,” he joked.

Rask keeps coming “because it’s the greatest time to be had in the country,” he said. “It’s great fun to make a fool of yourself once a year.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who took office in January, was enjoying his first year as Derby host. “People love coming here and they all leave with a smile on their face,” he said. “It’s fun to be part of that.”

When I saw Fischer, he was shaking hands on Millionaire’s Row and introducing people to Lt. Gen. Ben Freakley, who is overseeing a big expansion and mission change at Ft. Knox that in the past year has expanded the base’s payroll by $45 million.

“You see these beautiful ladies in these fabulous hats and then a dude in a T-shirt,” said Freakley, who was attending his first Derby. “This is America. We’re all celebrating what we are as a country. It’s pretty neat.”

It’s also a pretty neat day to be a Kentuckian, said Central Bank President Luther Deaton.

“It showcases Kentucky and what a great place we live,” he said. “We’re the luckiest people going.”


Kentucky Oaks goes pink for breast cancer awareness

May 6, 2011

LOUISVILLE — The Kentucky Oaks has grown from Louisville’s day at the races into a spectacle almost as big and colorful as the next day’s Kentucky Derby. And the color of the Oaks is most definitely pink.

Many women at Churchill Downs on Friday wore pink hats and dresses. Men wore pink jackets and ties. The track bugler and outriders traded their red coats for pink ones. Balcony railings below the Twin Spires are wrapped in pink fabric. Even the tractors that pulled sleds to smooth the dirt track were pink. All for a good reason: breast cancer awareness.

For the third year, the track donated $1 from each Oaks Day admission to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and $1 from the sale of each Oaks Lily beverage to Horses for Hope.

More important than raising money, though, was raising awareness of breast cancer, the second-leading cause of death among Kentucky women. About 3,000 new cases are diagnosed in the state each year.

Oaks Day is ladies’ day, after all, where fillies run for the lilies in the featured race. And before Plum Pretty held off St. John’s River to win the 137th running of the Oaks, there was a special parade in front of the grandstand.

A crowd of 110,100 spectators, the third-largest in Oaks history, cheered as 137 breast cancer survivors walked with a friend and family in symbolic victory over the disease. The survivors were chosen by the public from nominees whose stories were posted on the Kentucky Oaks’ Web site. More than 30,000 votes were cast.

“It’s very emotional,” said Gina Robinson of New Albany, Ind., who was diagnosed 15 months ago and was there with her husband, Dan. “He looks good in pink, doesn’t he?”

Robinson participated in last year’s parade, too, and found it deeply emotional. “I thought I had it all together until everyone started cheering and I lost it,” she said.

“It’s a big responsibility to represent so many people,” said survivor Angie Brown of Shelbyville, who said she was there to show that young women can get breast cancer, too. “It’s not just your mom’s or your grandma’s disease.”

Brown, 36, was diagnosed and began aggressive chemotherapy when she was 24 weeks pregnant with her third daughter. It was a scary time, but she recovered and her daughter, now 20 months old, wasn’t harmed by the treatment

Hugh Campbell of Louisville, the only male breast cancer survivor in the parade, was nominated by his daughter, Emily, who walked with him. He wore pink pants and, like the women, carried a lily.

“I try to keep it out there that men get this disease, too,” said Campbell, who was diagnosed in December 2007 and has had five recurrences. “I have met several other men with it in the Louisville area, but most men don’t want to be out front about it.”

Like many women, Campbell first noticed a lump in his breast. But unlike many men, he went to a doctor to see about it. He knew what it might be. Campbell’s mother had survived breast cancer, and he had been active in the Komen organization on her behalf since 1997.

“I knew it was out there for both women and men,” he said. “I just didn’t want it to be me.”

Cheering them on was P.J. Cooksey, the all-time leading female jockey until Julie Krone surpassed her number of victories. Cooksey won 2,137 races and overcome a lot of hardship during her 25-year career in a male-dominated sport. But her biggest challenge and victory was over a breast-cancer diagnosis almost 10 years ago.

“It’s no longer a death sentence, especially with early detection,” Cooksey said. “It means a lot to me to see racing get behind this cause in such a big way, because you reach so many women in this state when you connect women and horses.”

Besides, she said, “I love all the pink!”

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New tailgating is a big hit at Rolex 3-Day Event

April 30, 2011

Martha Lambert of Louisville comes to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event every year. So when she heard tailgating spaces would be available for the first time, she quickly reserved one and started inviting friends.

“This is the best idea they’ve had since they started the Rolex,” said Lambert, who competed at the Rolex three times in the 1990s. “I wonder why they haven’t done it before?”

Lambert was one of more than 100 people, companies and organizations that paid either $275 or $325 for a space along the crest of the meadow where much of the cross-country course was built. Each spot included eight admission tickets. Only a handful of spots went unused.

“There was an excellent response,” said Vanessa Coleman, ticketing director for Equestrian Events, the Rolex’s organizer. “We’ve already had people say ‘you need to make this a tradition.'”

It certainly helped to have a picture-perfect day — lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, following a stormy month that dumped more than a foot of rain on Lexington.

“Yes, we’re responsible for the weather today, too,” Coleman joked with tailgaters as she walked from spot to spot to check on things.

Lundy’s Catering took advance orders, but also sold a lot of last-minute food as tailgaters saw what their neighbors were having. “I think it’s going to be a hit,” said Alissa Lundergan, one of the company’s owners.

But most tailgaters brought their own food and drink — impressive homemade spreads, served with plenty of champagne. Chad Ross of Frankfort loaded a big gas grill into his pickup truck to cook brisket and pork tenderloin for his family and friends from Missouri.

“We come to the Horse Park as often as we can,” said Wendy Long of Huntington, W.Va. She and her husband, Larry, are such horse sport fans that their license plate reads: Jump Over. “This is such a nice way to enjoy the Horse Park and the Rolex,” she said.

Becky Coleman of Tifton, Ga., comes to Rolex every year to photograph the competition. Her husband, Tony, isn’t a horseman, but he agreed to come this year and was happy to have the tailgating spot as a place to relax. “She’s big into it,” he said of the Rolex. “I figure if Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

Practical Horseman magazine had a spot to entertain supporters, as did the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America. Society members were there to cheer on eight competing horses with Irish draught bloodlines.

Land Rover had the most elegant tailgating space — six spaces, actually, with six brand new Land Rover and Range Rover models. Their tailgates were lifted to display a spread of gourmet food for Land Rover owners and other customers to enjoy.

“This was perfect for us,” said Kim McCullough, the company’s brand vice president. “People naturally tailgate with a Land Rover.”

Land Rover, the event’s vehicle sponsor, also was operating an off-road demonstration course. While the company doesn’t actually sell vehicles here, dealers report the efforts have produced many good leads, McCullough said.

Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, had a tailgating spot to do some marketing for its equine studies programs, which have 110 majors, and equestrian team. About 30 students were attending Rolex.

“We hope to attract potential students,” said Lucy Cryan, who directs the university’s equine program. “And we decided to get the word out to alumni to stop by and say hello.”

Most tailgaters said they hope to get a spot next year — and for many years to come.

“It is awesome being able to do this,” said Randi McEntire, who comes each year with a group of fellow horse enthusiasts from Charleston, S.C. “We’re already talking about next year and how we’re going to improve on our setup.”

The group was tailgating under a University of South Carolina Gamecocks tent and digging into the smoked chicken, cold cuts, fresh vegetables and ample liquor selection that Kent Gramke had assembled.

“Good company, good weather, good food — that’s what makes the event,” Gramke said. “And horses,” his friend Sherry Lilley quickly added.

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Much new to see and do at Kentucky Horse Park

April 27, 2011

People who haven’t been to the Kentucky Horse Park in a while will see some big changes, thanks to a major makeover for last fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Improvements include the $40 million indoor Alltech Arena, the $25 million Rolex Stadium and $14 million in other improvements, plus a $15 million widening of Iron Works Pike and the nearby Interstate 75 exit. Some additional facilities and attractions will open this summer.

The 1,224-acre park in northern Lexington will be a center of attention this week, as the popular Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event begins Thursday and continues through Sunday.

“The infrastructure that is here now will help the quality of competition, from the irrigation systems to the fiber optics that will really benefit the television productions,” said John Nicholson, the park’s director.

New this year at Rolex is tailgating Saturday during the cross-country competition, which draws more local people to the park each year than perhaps any other event.

This week also marks the debut of the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup in Alltech Arena on Thursday and Friday and Saturday. The western horse sport was a big hit during last fall’s Games, and this competition will feature competitors from that Gold Medal team.

The new reining competition is one of about two dozen horse events the park has attracted, either because of the facility improvements or news accounts from the Games. Major new competitions this year include the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championship, May 5 to 8, and the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, July 27 to 31.

“It was a long time coming here, and I think it was the new facilities that persuaded them,” Nicholson said of the North American Championships. “It’s like a junior Olympics. The riders you see there will be in the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics in five or 10 years.”

The park also has attracted the National Horse Show, one of the nation’s top hunter-jumper events, to Alltech Arena, Nov. 2 to 6. It also includes the top competition for judging the form and control of U.S. riders younger than 18. The show was in Syracuse, N.Y., for the past eight years after leaving New York’s Madison Square Garden, where it began in 1883.

Nicholson also hopes to attract more non-horse events, such as the Festival of the Bluegrass, the popular bluegrass music gathering at the park each June. Talks are under way with a major mountain bike competition and several dog events. The park also wants more trade shows, such as the New Home & Remodeling Marketplace that was there in February.

In addition to events, everyday visitors to the park will see improvements, such as the Arabian expansion at the International Museum of the Horse.

The park will soon reopen the restored Big Barn, a 475-foot-long barn built in 1893. The barn will become the hub of the park’s horse-drawn transportation system and collection, and have an exhibit telling the colorful history of Iron Works Pike.

Built in the early 1800s to haul products from a Bath County foundry to the Kentucky River, the seven-mile stretch of Iron Works Pike between the park and Paris Pike is the gateway to some of the Bluegrass’s oldest and most famous horse farms, and was the site of a Civil War skirmish at the intersection with Newtown Pike.

Reopening the Big Barn will create space elsewhere for a new children’s area, which will feature horse-related activities that were popular with young Games visitors last fall, such as pony grooming.

In addition to giving local people more new things to see and do, the park is in a good position to repay Kentucky’s investment, Nicholson says. The park’s last impact study, in 2003, estimated its contribution to the state’s economy at $163 million. Nicholson guesses that is now closer to $200 million.

“The place has never looked better,” he said. “It is as if it is 1978 all over again — a new facility.”


Founder’s daughters recall Keeneland’s early years

March 29, 2011

Many people have special memories of Keeneland Race Course — pleasant spring and fall afternoons spent watching beautiful horses and people, eating, drinking and, if you’re like me, losing a few dollars at the windows.

Some of my favorite Keeneland memories are from 1984, when I covered Queen Elizabeth II’s visit for the Atlanta newspapers. Everything was freshly painted, and everyone was on best behavior.

When the spring meet opens April 8, Keeneland will celebrate its 75th year.

Sisters Alice Chandler and Patricia Green have unique memories of Keeneland’s early years. Their father, Hal Price Headley, was the driving force behind creating it.

“When Keeneland opened, I was 10 years old,” Chandler said. “I had a pony named Pal and I used to ride my pony down the Versailles Road. Now, can you imagine doing that today? I would get up early and ride him down to Keeneland while they were building it.”

Headley and Louie Beard headed a group of local horsemen in 1935 who wanted to replace the old Kentucky Association track near downtown, which closed in 1933. Jack Keene gave them a good price on a piece of his farm, which included a rambling stone barn he had built as a private training and racing facility.

One corner of “Keene’s folly” became the original part of the Keeneland clubhouse. Stone from the rest of it was used by architect Robert McMeekin for the track’s grandstand and paddock.

Much of the equipment used to build Keeneland came from Headley’s Beaumont Farm, which once covered several thousand acres between Harrodsburg and Versailles roads.

“He took everything we had on the farm,” Chandler said. “The mules, the tractors, the wagons, everything. There just wasn’t enough money to buy that sort of thing and they needed it.”

Despite an aggressive construction schedule, the track wasn’t finished in time for a spring meet, so racing didn’t begin until October 1936.

Chandler, 85, said she will never forget what happened to her on that first opening day. “I was walking up the steps in the grandstand and some guy behind me pinched my bottom,” she said, laughing. “I couldn’t believe it!”

Green, 83, remembers spending many childhood afternoons playing on the clubhouse lawn. “We were given the run of the place,” she said.

Furniture from the Beaumont Farm mansion, which stood where Sullivan University is now on Harrodsburg Road, was taken to Keeneland for use in the clubhouse during those early years.

Green remembers the Beaumont gardener starting what is now the giant infield hedge that spells “Keeneland” in a plot behind their home. “It was a tiny little thing,” she said.

Their older sister Alma’s husband, Louis Haggin, succeeded their father as Keeneland’s president. Alma also played a key role: her taste defined Keeneland’s interior decoration for decades until her death in 2008 at age 96.

Headley had five daughters, then a son. With so many children competing for his attention, “Me now!” was a common expression in the Headley home, Green said. It became the name of one of Headley’s most successful horses. Menow was the champion 2-year-old in 1937, placed third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1938 and sired 32 stakes winners.

Chandler and Green, the youngest of the Headley’s five daughters, have fond memories of their father treating them more like sons.

“I just adored him,” Chandler said. “If my toe wasn’t under his heel I was running behind. My mother insisted on sending me to boarding school from time to time. I hated every minute of it, because it kept me from going to Keeneland.”

The sisters have remained close to racing. Green’s ex-husband managed two horse farms and she owned Silks Unlimited, a maker of jockey silks that her daughter now owns.

Chandler became a prominent horsewoman. She turned part of Beaumont into award-winning Mill Ridge Farm, where she bred Sir Ivor. He won the 1968 Epsom Derby and helped attract European buyers to Keeneland’s sales. Giacomo, winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, was foaled at Mill Ridge.

Chandler and Green think their father, who died in 1962, would be proud of what Keeneland has become. “It’s a tremendous place,” Chandler said. “There’s no other race track like it.”

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Secretariat in Ky.: the horse, the movie, the pin

January 3, 2011

The Finishing Touch of Kentucky has made more than 400 souvenir versions of the gold pin featured in the recently released Walt Disney movie about Secretariat.

The pin is modeled on one that Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, inherited from her mother. Kentucky artist Salina Ramsay re-created the pin for actress Diane Lane to wear in the movie.

“It’s my understanding that sales have been strong,” said Mary Holman, owner of The Finishing Touch in Nicholasville. “The detail is exquisite. Usually, that much work isn’t put into a costume-jewelry piece.”

Copies of Ramsay’s design, cast in pewter and plated with 18-karat gold, are being sold for $39.95 on Secretariat.com.

The movie about the Triple Crown winner, who was sired by a Bourbon County horse and retired to stud there, was filmed at Keeneland and nearby Woodford County.


Blind rider’s reining lesson a dream come true

October 9, 2010

Anne Cecilie Ore began riding at age 11 and was soon a show-jumping competitor. Trouble was, she could barely see the jumps in front of her and had no peripheral vision.

Ore’s eyesight kept getting worse. By age 14, she was totally blind.

But blindness has never stopped Ore, who turns 32 on Monday, from achieving her equestrian dreams.

The resident of Olso, Norway, trains in Germany and is an active para-dressage rider in Europe. She competed last week as part of the Norwegian para-dressage team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but was disappointed with her 6th and 7th-place scores.

Before leaving America, Ore had one more goal to achieve. She had always wanted to learn reining — that Western-style sport of flashy horsemanship where riders gently guide their mounts through dizzying spins and sliding stops in a cloud of dirt.

When WEG board member Becky Jordan heard about Ore’s wish, she knew how to make it come true. She arranged for Ore to have a reining lesson with her daughter, Lyndsey, 22, a two-time world champion who performed at the Games’ reining exhibition Sept. 30.

Ore arrived at the Jordans’ Scott County farm Saturday morning with a delegation from the Norwegian team in tow. Lyndsey Jordan introduced her to Blazin, a laid-back, 10-year-old quarter horse who wore the first Western-style saddle Ore had ever used.

With Jordan calling out cues, Ore walked Blazin around the ring, then they cantered. Within 15 minutes, Ore and Blazin were a team. There was no obvious sign that the rider couldn’t see where she was going.

“It was just amazing to me how well she was able to go around the arena,” Jordan said afterward. “Once she made the first couple of laps around she knew exactly where she was.”

Within a half hour, Jordan had given Ore the spurs off her boots and was teaching her to guide Blazin through spins and sliding stops.

“The cues are a little different from sport to sport,” Jordan said. “But I would tell her what my cues were and she just had it. She knew exactly what she was doing. Her posture and positioning on the horse were just beautiful. She’s a very good rider.”

When it was time to dismount, Ore was all smiles.

“It was like a dream since I was 11,” she said. “The really fun stuff was the sliding and the spins. When the spins are slow you get really dizzy, but when you go faster you are not so dizzy. Not like I had imagined it.”

Ore wasn’t the only one smiling.

“She is fearless,” Becky Jordan said. “That was just amazing.”

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Volunteers make the Equestrian Games work

October 8, 2010

Some of the key performers at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t win a medal — or even get on a horse.

But the show could not go on without the 6,000 volunteers who came from around the world to assist competitors, take tickets, direct traffic, drive golf-cart shuttles and perform a million other vital but unglamorous tasks.

“These people are absolutely critical in the entire scheme of the Games,” said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, whose company has been giving volunteers donuts each morning and snacks each afternoon. “They are the face of the Games, and without them we could not have put on such a successful show.”

You see volunteers everywhere at the Kentucky Horse Park, wearing yellow or blue Ariat polo shirts and caps — and, usually, a big smile.

Unfailingly cheerful volunteers greet me each morning as I step off the LexTran shuttle and each evening as I leave the park. All day, I see volunteers managing lines, giving directions, answering questions and ferrying people around this giant obstacle course of pedestrians, golf carts and bicycles.

“People just need information and direction; that I’ve got,” said Amy Waddingham, a volunteer from Colorado, who was energetically organizing school groups and moving them through the front gate like a veteran traffic cop.

The volunteer corps is getting good reviews.

“Some of them are a little bit too strict to the rules, but they are very friendly,” said Giel Hendrix, a journalist from the Netherlands. “They have made a good impression.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of good reports,” said Erin Faherty, WEG’s volunteer services director, whose management team arrives at 4:30 a.m. each day to begin checking in that day’s volunteers. “But there have been some logistical challenges, especially getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there, on a 1,200-acre park.”

About 1,200 volunteers work the Games each day. A record 1,700 volunteers were on duty last Saturday, when the park had its highest attendance of 51,000 people for the cross-country competition.

Volunteers work at least six nine-hour shifts. In return, they get food and free grounds-pass access for any day of the Games they’re not working. They get to keep their uniforms.

Volunteer planning and coordination began several years ago. By January, Games officials had confirmed about 1,200 volunteers.

Last winter, officials launched an aggressive campaign to recruit general and security volunteers — especially Kentuckians who wouldn’t have to spend a lot of their own money for lodging during the Games.

“My husband is always going on fishing trips with the boys, so this is my to-do,” said volunteer Becky Kauffman of Southern Pines, N.C., who was driving media shuttles. She was lucky to have a high school friend in Lexington to stay with, she said.

The trick for organizers is having enough volunteers at the right places and the right times so they are neither swamped nor bored.

Most volunteers said they were well-trained, except when it came to enough familiarity with the park layout to give directions. “There have been some issues, but I’ve been surprised by how well it’s going,” said volunteer Sue Stodola of Frankfort.

But Nadja Davidson of Carp, Ontario, was critical of the training, organization, food and logistics for volunteers. Davidson said she drove 16 hours from Canada and was spending $1,600 to stay in the area to volunteer. She felt Games organizers had been “inhospitable to volunteers … I would treat strangers in my own home better.”

“The organization for us has not always been on the top, but, on the whole, it is working,” said Sven Hedberg of Sweden, who is a volunteer translator. His sister lives in Mount Sterling, so he and his wife had a free place to stay.

“It’s been wonderful,” said volunteer Tom Timm of Niles, Mich. His wife, Linda, a teacher, agreed: “I had to take an unpaid leave to do this, but it has been well worth it.”

In addition to the Games volunteers, several hundred Rotary Club members from across the country have worked concession stands to raise money to fight polio.

Many Rotarians are professionals — such as the lawyer behind the checkout counter at lunch the other day, and the architect who was cleaning up trash at picnic tables. They both told me they were having a great time.

“We’ve had so much fun!” said former Lexington Vice Mayor Isabel Yates, an 80-something Rotarian who spent four days working at coffee stands with her friend, Beanie Pederson. “We’ve met people from everywhere — New Zealand, Australia, Brazil. It has really been something.”

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Some nice scenics from WEG today

October 8, 2010

The temporary stands at Rolex Stadium were reflected in the lake as people passed by Friday evening on their way to the jumping competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The photo below shows just how big those horse murals are. Photos by Tom Eblen