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, 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 ( 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:

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:

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:

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 (, Floracliff Nature Sanctuary ( 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: or email

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:

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. 

Hippotherapy uses horses’ movement to help heal people

May 1, 2013


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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Celebrate Kentucky horses Saturday at Hats Off Day

August 1, 2012

Saturday is Hats Off Day, the one time each year when you and your family can enjoy a free day at the Kentucky Horse Park and special activities celebrating the state’s large and increasingly diverse equine industry.

In addition to the usual park attractions, free special events begin at 4 p.m.: rides on the mechanical horses used to train jockeys, pony rides for kids, educational booths from horse organizations and a giveaway of souvenir caps from local horse farms.

In the stadium at 7 p.m., Dan James of Australia will put on an exhibition with two specially trained horses. Then there is the $50,000 Rood and Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix, a 25-year-old competition for top-level show jumpers.

A group of equine organizations and businesses, including Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, started hosting Hats Off Day in 2005 to call public attention to the industry and its economic impact. They say horses contribute $4 billion to Kentucky’s economy, create more than 80,000 jobs and have an $8.8 billion impact on state tourism.

More than 128,800 people participate in Kentucky horse farming, racing and equine businesses, the industry claims. The state is home to 320,000 horses — nearly one for every 14 Kentuckians.

But in just the eight years Hats Off Day has been held, Kentucky’s horse industry has seen dramatic changes, for good and bad.

When we used to call Lexington the “horse capital of the world,” what we really meant was that Kentucky was the center of Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

The Thoroughbred industry has gone through some well-publicized changes as farms consolidated; other states lured away Kentucky horses with bigger race purses and breeding incentives; and the global economic downturn of 2008 seriously dampened the demand for race horses.

Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry has stabilized and is beginning to bounce back. But it must find a way to compete with casino-financed incentives in other states and, ultimately, do a better job of marketing itself to create more fans.

While Thoroughbreds have struggled, Kentucky’s horse industry has become more diverse. Tom Riddle, a veterinarian and partner at Rood and Riddle, said the practice treated 82 breeds in 2006; this year, it will treat 108 breeds.

The growth has come in Saddlebred, reining, pleasure and especially hunter and jumper horses, attracted here by Kentucky Horse Park facilities built for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Last year, the National Horse Show moved here.

“Those facilities are without equal in the world,” Riddle said.

The sport-horse world is centered around Wellington, Fla., in the winter. But now, rather than moving to the northeast and Canada in the summer, many big players, such as Spy Coast Farm, are setting up shop here.

Most of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team members now in London, have competed at the Kentucky Horse Park. Show-jumping star Reed Kessler, at 18 the youngest Olympic team member ever, is now based in Lexington. Her family bought a 150-acre parcel of Cobra Farm, just down the road from the horse park.

Horse-industry diversification has prompted local equine businesses to adapt. Riddle said six of his practice’s 52 veterinarians now treat only sport horses, and two follow the circuit to Florida each winter.

Hallway Feeds not only has expanded to serve the sport horse market in Kentucky, but half of its business now comes from national and international sales — up from zero not too many years ago, company president Lee Hall said.

“We have instant credibility where ever we go because we’re from Lexington,” Hall said. “You can’t put a price on that.”

But unless the local Thoroughbred industry remains strong, Kentucky risks losing most of its equine economic impact, Riddle said.

When Riddle moved to Lexington in 1978, he remembers that there were more than 100 trotter and pacer stallions standing at stud in Central Kentucky. Now, almost all of the Standardbred studs and breeding mares have been lured away by incentives to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada. Along with them went millions of dollars for Kentucky’s economy.

“The demise of the Standardbred industry here needs to be a lesson for all of us,” Riddle said.


If you go

Hats Off Day

Where: Kentucky Horse Park

When: 9 a.m. Saturday. Special activities begin 4 p.m. Stadium shows begin at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free, includes admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, the International Museum of the Horse, the Hall of Champions, and the Parade of Breeds.

More information:

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.”

Hats Off Day highlights Kentucky horse industry

July 27, 2010

Drive past the suburbs and you quickly see that horses are a big industry in Central Kentucky. But a lot goes on beyond the plank fences that you might not realize.

In addition to farms, there are feed companies, tack and equipment suppliers, van fleets, sales and insurance agencies, fence-builders, farriers and some of the world’s most advanced animal research labs and clinics.

Hardly a week goes by that people don’t come to Lexington from all over the world for some kind of horse event. This week, for example, the Kentucky Horse Park is playing host to North American Young Riders, as well as large reining and hunter jumper competitions. And the International Symposium on Equine Reproduction, held every four years, is meeting in Lexington for the first time.

Dr. Tom Riddle, co-founder of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital on Georgetown Road, was thinking several years ago about the equine industry’s size, diversity and challenges, and he decided an annual event was needed to raise public awareness.

“When people think about Kentucky, they think about horses,” Riddle said. “But they don’t know just how much it involves.”

Riddle’s idea evolved into Hats Off Day. The sixth such annual day will be Aug. 7 at the Kentucky Horse Park. In addition to Rood & Riddle, the main sponsors are Alltech and Hallway Feeds.

This is the only time each year when the public gets all-day free admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, which can save a big family big bucks. Last year, more than 12,000 people attended Hats Off Day.

This year’s event could be especially popular, because in two months, the park will host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In addition to seeing new and improved facilities, people will get free admission to the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum and A Gift from the Desert, a special exhibit of 350 artifacts and paintings about horses in Arab history and culture.

Hats Off Day festivities begin at 4 p.m., when horse farms and other equine businesses give away logo hats while supplies last. (Last year, about 1,500 hats were given away.) There also will be exhibits, a silent auction and free pony rides for kids, plus a chance to ride an Equicizer — the mechanical horse simulators that Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron uses at his jockey-training school.

The highlight of the evening will be the Rood & Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix, a $50,000 international show-jumping competition. Since 2003, the event has raised more than $275,000 for charity. This year, proceeds will benefit the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.

Kentucky’s equine industry claims to provide more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs and an annual economic impact of $4 billion, plus a good share of the state’s $8.8 billion tourism industry. But the industry’s fortunes have suffered with a decline in thoroughbred racing’s popularity and efforts by other states to attract breeding stock.

The horse industry’s health is obviously vital to Riddle’s business and many others, but he and partner William Rood usually deal with equine health on a more micro level. Rood & Riddle employs more than 220 people, including 57 veterinarians, who care for horses at a 24-acre complex with high-tech equipment that would rival that of most human hospitals. Rood & Riddle treats more than 10,000 horses a year from all over the world.

Riddle said Kentucky’s horse industry needs more public support.

“The average person in Kentucky thinks of the average horse farm owner as an extremely wealthy person who may or may not live here and does this as a hobby,” he said. “That’s just not the case. By far, the majority of farms are business operations with mortgage payments, and they must work seven days a week to keep their business going.

“The majority of the people in this industry are hard-working folks just trying to earn a living,” Riddle said. “I hope people will come out, have a good time and leave the horse park knowing a little more about our industry, and how it’s good for the entire state.”

If you go

Hats Off Day
Where: Kentucky Horse Park
When: Aug. 7. Gates open 9 a.m. Events begin at 4 p.m. in the indoor arena
More info:

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Equestrian Games reach the home stretch

June 21, 2010

After years of talk and preparation, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin in only 96 days. Are we ready?

The short answer is no, but we seem to be getting there.

With revenue below projections, Games organizers are scrambling to sell more tickets, get creative with sponsorships and trim operating costs.

As part of a major ticket-sales push, title sponsor Alltech has created a toll-free line — 1-888-934-2010 — where people can get ticket information from Alltech employees, who know more about the Games than the average Ticketmaster operator.

Alltech President Pearse Lyons recently launched the Commonwealth Club, which offers perks to people, companies and groups that buy at least $10,000 worth of tickets. They will get special-access credentials, straw hats and hospitality in a VIP area at Alltech’s pavilion.

John Long, chairman of the Games and CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, said tickets to event finals are selling well and should sell out before the Games. But sales aren’t so hot for many preliminary competitions. Long said additional ticket options and packages will be announced during the next two weeks.

“I want to be able to look out and see not one seat empty,” Long said Thursday as festivities were beginning at Cheapside Park to mark 100 days to go. “We’re looking for ways to sell every single ticket.” Failing that, organizers plan to build fewer temporary seats at some venues.

Games tickets aren’t cheap. They might be an especially hard sell to average Kentuckians who know little or nothing about such equestrian sports as reining, vaulting and dressage. This isn’t basketball or Thoroughbred racing, after all.

Figuring out a way to get more local, paying customers into the stands might be the Games’ biggest challenge. But organizers stress that the atmosphere at the Kentucky Horse Park will be more like an international festival than a horse show.

For those just wanting to take in the scene without having seats to an event, daily grounds passes are on sale for $25 — free for children 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult.

The economy has made it harder to attract sponsors, Long said. For example, who would have thought three years ago that the Games couldn’t attract an automobile company sponsorship? Still, Long insists, 90 percent of the sponsorship budget has been met.

Part of the problem with ticket sales, Long says, is that people are waiting until the last minute. He also says European sales will pick up after World Cup soccer is over. We’ll see.

City officials are scurrying to finish street repairs and new sidewalks to handle the people expected to flock downtown to dine, drink and attend Spotlight Lexington events at venues such as Cheapside, Triangle Park and Courthouse Plaza.

Since the completion of the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion, Cheapside has become the place to be downtown. The Thursday Night Live event put on by Downtown Lexington Corp. and Central Bank is drawing several thousand people each week — three or four times the crowds of previous summers.

In addition to the Spotlight festival, Alltech last week announced some big-name talent that will be joining regional performers at its Fortnight Festival during the Games. They include the Vienna Philharmonic, Little Feat, Tony Bennett, The Temptations, Chubby Checker, Marvin Hamlisch, the Beach Boys and Charlie Daniels.

I have never been to a World Equestrian Games, but I have covered the Winter and Summer Olympics and two World’s Fairs. There is always a lot of scrambling in the final weeks to make everything work, but it usually does.

I don’t think most people here have a sense yet of just how big a deal these Games will be. International events like this always seem to have a transformative effect on the place they are held. That’s hard to appreciate until long after the event has come and gone.

“In the end,” Long said. “I think Lexington and Kentucky will emerge from this with a sense of confidence that we were on the world stage for 16 days and we pulled it off.”

WEG concessions will help Rotary fight polio

June 7, 2010

When you buy food or drinks at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall, you might be helping to eradicate polio on the other side of the world. That’s because the person behind the counter might be a Rotary Club member, or a relative or friend of a member.

Kentucky Rotary Clubs are looking for volunteers to staff 300 concession shifts at the Kentucky Horse Park during each of the Games’ 16 days, Sept. 25 through Oct. 10.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, but they don’t have to be Rotary members. The Lexington Rotary Club is trying to arrange housing for out-of-town volunteers with its members. For each shift worked, volunteers will get a general admission pass worth $25 to enjoy another day at the Games as a spectator.

Volunteers will raise money for Rotary International’s Polio Plus project, which hopes to wipe out the crippling childhood disease. Once widely feared in this country, polio now exists in only a handful of developing nations.

The Rotary Foundation will receive a percentage of sales from concession stands staffed by its volunteers. Based on projections by the Games’ concessionaire, Chicago-based Buona Event Catering, proceeds could amount to $300,000 to $400,000 for Polio Plus. The foundation hopes to raise $200 million for Polio Plus to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To sign up and schedule volunteer shifts, go to

“Anybody who’s willing to come in and support the cause is certainly welcome,” said Robert Ryan, a Lexington lawyer and governor-elect for the Rotary district that covers the eastern half of Kentucky.

Kentucky Horse Park seen as great place for WEG

April 25, 2010

Perhaps more than at previous Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Events, the Kentucky Horse Park itself was one of the stars of the show.

Many of the equine journalists and spectators who came this year were assessing the park with an eye toward the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will begin in 152 days.

Most liked what they saw. A lot.

“The facilities were fabulous to begin with, but they’ve made many improvements,” said Diana De Rosa, a New York equine photo journalist. De Rosa said she has attended every previous World Equestrian Games and none had facilities as good as Kentucky’s.

“The beauty of the Kentucky Horse Park is that it is self-contained,” she said, noting that events at previous Games were sometimes scattered over great distances. “Even the British who were talking about the Kentucky Horse Park said ‘This is the place!’ ”

The new indoor arena for vaulting and reining is “truly amazing,” De Rosa said. “It’s so much better than what the other countries have had. It should attract a lot of international events to Lexington in the future.”

Coby Bolger, an American-born journalist based in Madrid, agreed. “Kentucky is showing us all how to do a World Games,” she said, both in terms of the facilities and the major commitment of the lead sponsor, Lexington-based Alltech.

Bolger, a former competitor, said another big advantage to the horse park is that eventing venues are permanent and well-tested, rather than temporary and new.

“This already was a four-star site,” she said. “There is no other concern for the riders than riding.”

Spectators at Saturday’s Cross Country competition were mostly enthusiastic about the park, both those there for the first time and those who have been coming for years.

“It’s fantastic,” Greg Ziegler said of the park as he waited at the Head of the Lake jumps with his sleeping six-month-old daughter, Lucia. “Seeing all of the changes at the Kentucky Horse Park over the past four years is really impressive.”

The Zieglers were there waiting for the next rider: wife and mother Tara Ziegler, who was competing in her fourth Rolex (and who, a few minutes later, would become one of three riders to fall at The Hollow jump.)

No official crowd count was available Saturday because of a glitch in the system controlling handheld ticket scanners, but the crowd seemed smaller than in some previous years. The Cross Country event always brings out a lot of casual spectators from Lexington, who might have been scared away by the threat of rain.

As it turned out, it was a perfect spring day during the competition. Rolex organizers canceled the lunch break and sped up the event, managing to get the competition finished before storms rolled in. It was a smart move.

Jesse Zehr and his family were making their first trip to the horse park with a group of 30 Amish who came down on a bus from Grabill, Ind. Many of them raise Dutch harness horses, and they found the equestrian sports interesting and the horse park “awesome,” Zehr said.

But Robert and Marsh Davis of Goochland, Va., hunt riders who have attended every Rolex since 1993, were disappointed by what they considered the horse park’s money-driven focus on the fall Games.

“You pay more each year and get less, but I guess they have to pay for the World Games,” she said. “It’s disappointing.”

Robert Davis doesn’t plan to attend the Games. His wife will, but only because she can avoid high hotel prices by staying with a niece who attends the University of Kentucky.

Tim Hoon, a Louisville native who now lives in Atlanta, plans to be back in the fall to volunteer at the Games. A Western cross country rider for 26 years, he plans to retire in Lexington in a few years “and volunteer at the horse park and Keeneland.”

“There is no other place like this on the globe,” Hoon said. “It’s a world-class facility, and what I like about it is that it celebrates the horse in all forms.”

Hoon is looking forward to the Games, although he has no idea what his volunteer duties will entail. “I may be giving directions to port-a-potties,” he said with a laugh. “But a little bourbon at night and I’ll be fine with whatever.”

Photo Gallery: Out and about at Rolex

April 24, 2010

Here are some photos I took today at the Cross Country competition of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. Click on each thumbnail to see complete image:

Lexington’s bones may return to Kentucky

March 14, 2009

Why did Central Kentucky become the center of thoroughbred breeding? One reason was Lexington — not the city, the horse.

Lexington was a big bay stallion, the best racer of his time and perhaps the best sire of all time. He was born here and spent most of his life here. But he has spent most of his death in storage at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and, well, Kentucky wants him back.

Lengthy negotiations are about complete to put Lexington’s reconstructed skeleton on display at the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“It looks pretty good right now,” said museum curator Bill Cooke, who is expecting a call any day from Smithsonian conservators who must release Lexington’s skeleton, officially known as Catalogue No. 16020.

The effort began more than two years ago when the horse museum became a Smithsonian associate, which allows it to borrow artifacts. “The first thing I said was we want to bring Lexington back to Lexington,” Cooke said.

“I’ve always wanted to have (an exhibit) that traces the history of the thoroughbred in Kentucky,” he said. “How did we get to be the thoroughbred capital instead of Nashville or New Orleans or New York? To a large extent, Lexington determined that we did.”

Borrowing horse bones — even famous horse bones — wouldn’t seem that complicated. But bureaucracy is bureaucracy.

At the time, Lexington was on rare public display as part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. Then, that museum closed for lengthy renovations, and nobody seemed to know if Lexington would be needed when it reopened. Just a couple of months ago, officials decided he wouldn’t.

“They have been very supportive all the way along,” Cooke said of Smithsonian officials. “They believe in the project.”

The timing is good because on Tuesday — the horse Lexington’s 159th birthday — the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau will kick off a marketing campaign built around a famous painting of Lexington — with the great horse recolored Wildcat blue.

The horse-of-a-different-color idea is an eye-catching gimmick. But using the horse Lexington to promote the city Lexington is a natural, said Ellen Gregory, a public relations executive who helped develop the campaign.

Gregory said the more she researched the great horse the more obsessed she became with him, because he had connections to so many famous people and events.

Lexington was born in 1850 at the farm of Dr. Elisha Warfield, a prominent physician, horseman and entrepreneur who treated Mary Todd Lincoln’s mother, was a friend of Henry Clay and became known as “the father of the Kentucky turf.”

Lexington, originally named Darley, won six of his seven starts, becoming the third-leading money-winner up to that time. He was retired to stud in 1855 because he was going blind and stood for 20 years at Nantura and Woodburn farms near Midway.

As a stud, Lexington was taken out of Kentucky only twice — to St. Louis for an exhibition in 1859 and to Illinois for safe-keeping in 1865, when Confederates were raiding Kentucky horse farms.

Lexington was the nation’s leading sire for a record 16 years, and many of his offspring became top sires. The blind horse fathered 600 foals, more than 200 of whom became winners. His descendants included Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Another famous Lexington offspring was Cincinnati, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite horse. Grant rode Cincinnati to accept Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and let President Abraham Lincoln ride him several times.

Lexington was such a celebrity that people came to Woodburn Farm from all over the world just to see him. One was Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who later wrote that visiting the horse was like being “in the sacred presence of royalty.”

When Lexington died, the New York Times published a lengthy obituary. “He was probably more famous in his day than even Man O’ War and Secretariat were in their days,” Cooke said.

Smithsonian representatives came to Woodburn Farm on July 1, 1875, not knowing Lexington had died earlier in the day. A few months later, they arranged for his remains to be exhumed and shipped to Washington, where they have been ever since.

Once he gets the word, Cooke said he will raise the private money needed to move Lexington’s skeleton and build a special glass case for it. The Smithsonian generally makes such loans on a five-year renewing basis.

“Hopefully this is going to be a long-term deal,” Cooke said of Lexington’s homecoming. “As long as we’ve worked on it, it’s already a long-term deal.”