By Carson Kressley
Growing up in the rolling farmland just west of Allentown, PA, my childhood was surrounded by horses and ponies. Our family had a hobby farm that grew into a business with about 200 equine pals roaming the grassy valley next to my childhood home. How lucky was I?
Riding came naturally to me and I eventually began competing. As I advanced through the ranks, I began to hear the legends of the magical land where the horse is king…KENTUCKY!
It’s been over 30 years now that I have been traveling to Kentucky for horse shows, horse conventions, horse shopping--basically all things equine. I have grown to love the Bluegrass region and consider myself a part-time resident, at times feeling like such a Kentuckian that I think I may have lived there in a former life. Maybe even as a horse! Could I have been Seasbiscuit? That’s a whole other story!
The area in and around Lexington is just so gorgeous. I have taken friends from New York, Europe and Australia and they all marvel at the beauty of the Bluegrass pastures, the black or white four-board fences, ancient limestone walls and horses everywhere.
Here are the places I like to show them in and around Lexington.
American Saddlebred Museum, on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. The American Saddlebred is called “the horse America made” and it is one of our country’s few native breeds. The museum houses an impressive collection of Saddlebred memorabilia, interactive educational displays and a gallery featuring the work of one of the world’s foremost equine artists, George Ford Morris. The gift shop is a great place for souvenirs not found anywhere else. Insider tip: become a museum member and enjoy reduced admission as well as a discount on gift shop purchases all year long!
Keeneland Race Course. Although Churchill Downs gets a lot of press for hosting the Kentucky Derby every May, I, along with many other Kentuckians, think that Keeneland is the real deal. It is certainly more charming, with its Magnolia-lined track and beautiful grounds. I recommend going in April when the weather is divine and spring has sprung in the Bluegrass state. The Bluegrass Stakes, held every April, is the place to spot an emerging Kentucky Derby. If you want to fit in with the locals, wear a big hat or khakis and a blue blazer. Oh and skip the mint julep and go right for the Makers Mark and Coke.
If you love horses or just like to dress like you love horses and the genteel country lifestyle, you must not miss the gift shop. They have the most divine things! From custom painted lawn jockeys, handmade Louisville Stoneware pottery, seasonal décor, fine jewelry to some very preppy – but in a Southern way – clothes, this is a store that is so lovely you will want to shop here for yourself rather than for souvenirs to take home.
Distillery Tours. If you’re a bourbon fan (and who with taste isn’t?), there are a number of distilleries that offer tours. The ones most convenient are just west of Lexington near Midway and Versailles. Head out on Route 60, where you’ll see the most beautiful country, with expansive thoroughbred farms and barns the size of mansions. Stop in at the Wood Ford Reserve distillery where you’ll learn about everything bourbon, and even enjoy a taste or two. And I did I mention they have a gift shop?
Shelbyville. A short drive from Lexington, about 40 minutes west of town, on your way to Louisville, is the small town of Shelbyville. I like to go antiquing here and visit the amazing Wakefield-Scearce Galleries, importers of fine English antiques and silver. For some real Kentucky eating in the area, try Claudia Sanders Dinner House (founded by the sister of Colonel Harlan Sanders of KFC fame), the Inn at Science Hill and the Old Stone Inn in nearby Simpsonville. All three are legendary.
Lexington Restaurants. When I am in town, I always go to the same restaurants including Dudleys, which is housed in a former school building downtown and serves a southern Sunday brunch. I love a good piece of meat (Who doesn’t?) and the place to go for steak is Malones. Although the sushi bar looks cool and attracts lots of young Lexingtonians, stick with the steak. The sushi is good but the steak is beyond.
One thing everyone should try when when visiting the region is the Kentucky Hot Brown, which you’ll find on menus throughout the state. While recipes vary from one restaurant to the next, it’s basically hot turkey over hot toast smothered with butter, cheese and tomatoes. Take it from Carson. You’ll love it.