A horse lover’s heavenKentucky is the place for equine enthusiasts
BY MARY WICOFF
The majesty, beauty and speed of horses have captured people’s imaginations and hearts for centuries. Books, movies and songs have raised some to almost mythical status.
For horse lovers — and there are many in the Danville area — one of the best places to learn more about the magnificent creatures is the Lexington, Ky., area. Farms, museums, racetracks and parks help horse fanciers indulge in their passions — whether you’re a child wishing for a pony or an adult who’s owned horses for years.
One popular place is the 1,224-acre Kentucky Horse Park, located just outside Georgetown, Ky., near Lexington. During its main summer season, the park is home to some 115 horses representing about 50 breeds.
Anne Morris of Danville has been to the park three times.
“If you like horses, this is the place to go. Anything you want, it’s there,” she said.
The first couple of visits to the park were quick trips. But, the third time, she visited the farm in 2004 as part of a tour, and was able to spend more time there.
She especially enjoyed the International Museum of the Horse, the blacksmith’s shop and the Parade of Breeds, during which the audience learns about different breeds.
The park also is the burial place for the great Man O’ War, the most famous thoroughbred racehorse of the 20th century. Buried with him are some of his offspring, including Triple Crown winner War Admiral, who was upset by Seabiscuit in their famous match race in 1938.
Morris also enjoyed a short movie about how America was shaped by the horse. In addition, the Hall of Champions is a place where visitors can meet retired racehorses, many of whom have made a name for themselves.
The park also offers horseback riding, but Morris passed on that because she has a horse of her own stabled near Danville — a Tennessee walking horse named Blackjack.
Candace McMaster of Champaign and her husband, Steve, took a short a trip to Kentucky several years ago “just to see this amazing place,” she said.
McMaster also is a sponsor/volunteer with Crosswinds Equine Rescue in rural Sidell. Crosswinds rescues at risk-horses, brings them back to good health and condition, and places them in good quality homes.
At the Horse Park, McMaster enjoyed the museum with the history of many famous horses, such as Secretariat, and the exhibits.
They also saw at least two live performances — one of past Derby winners and the Parade of Breeds.
“It was very exciting to see actual champions like Cigar,” she said.
“For anyone who loves horses this is a wonderful experience ... and you can walk around at a leisurely pace, decide what shows you want to see, wander through the museum, visit live horses in the stables.
“If you love horses, it is so much fun and very family friendly.”
Meeting the horses was the best part of the park, she said, as well as learning about the history and different breeds of horses.
Kentucky has many other horse tours and activities.
McMaster said she visited Claiborne Farm and met the great Secretariat, adding, “I will never forget him — he was like an ancient horse god you read about in mythology.”
Another interesting site is the 92-acre Old Friends, a retirement farm for racehorses. More than 40 thoroughbreds are enjoying their golden years at the site, just outside Georgetown, Ky.
The farm has several famous names, including Black Tie Affair, the 1991 Horse of the Year, and Awar, who earned millions during his career.
Another favorite is Popcorn Deelites, who was cast as one of the six horses to play Seabiscuit in the 2003 film starring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges. In the film, Popcorn can be seen breaking from the gate, as it turned out that was his on-screen specialty.
Another celebrity at the farm is Ogygian, the last son of Damascus, a horse of the year and the 16th ranking greatest thoroughbred of the 20th century.
During the free tour, visitors may feed carrots to the horses and pet them, while learning more about their illustrious careers.
ON THE WEB
— http://www.kyhorsepark.com is the site for the Kentucky Horse Park. According to mapquest.com, the park is about a five-hour drive from Danville.
—http://www.oldfriendsequine.org is the site for Old Friends near Georgetown, Ky., a retirement farm for racehorses.
— In Vermilion County, you can learn more about Crosswinds Equine Rescue by visiting its Web site, http://www.cwer.org or calling (217) 649-7915. The site is located at 8182 E. 200 North Road, Sidell.