"The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire." ~ Sharon Ralls Lemon
With an upcoming weekend trip to Kentucky, I've been reminiscing on some of our favorite spots and go-to recommendations for out-of-towners and locals alike. Kentucky is known to most of the world for it's bourbon and horses; Lexington specifically is often referred to as the "Horse Capital of World", and fittingly so. It is home to the gorgeous Keeneland Racetrack, the Red Mile Racetrack, and the Kentucky Horse Park. Although the Derby is held 50 miles west of Lexington in Louisville, Lexington is home to dozens upon dozens of beautiful horse farms nestled within the rolling hills. Many famous horses were born or bred at these farms. In my opinion however, one of the true gems of the "Horse Capital" sits approximately 20 minutes outside of Lexington, almost literally around the corner from the Horse Park, the more frequented tourist stop. It is Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Old Friends Farm is a not for profit retirement farm for thoroughbred race horses. The farm was founded by a former Boston Globe film critic in 2003 after it was discovered that a former Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, had perished in a slaughterhouse. The organization now cares for 160 horses across three states. Old Friends is the only thoroughbred rescue that specializes in taking stallions. I've had the pleasure of interacting with Michael Blowen, the founder, several times while on tour (even having him lead our tour once), and you can't help but leave inspired by his mission and passion to help these horses. It's more than evident when visiting that everyone involved with Old Friends desires to provide these horses "with the dignified retirement they deserve" and to let them simply just be horses.
In the two years we lived in Lexington, we visited Old Friends Farm upwards of 7 to 8 times. It never gets the old. The guides work on a volunteer basis and their knowledge about the horses and their past careers run deep. All the guides offer similar but different experiences, often highlighting their own special inside stories with their favorite horse. Local restaurants donate carrots which are fed to the horses during the tour; some horses are cheekier than others but the guides will always let you know which horses are safe to pet and feed, and how to do so properly. I can't say enough about what a great experience it is to visit the farm and their small gift shop. Tickets for tours run $10 except for children 12 and younger then it's free. During the warmer months multiple tours are given per day but during winter it drops to one tour a day. As long as you're someone who can handle colder temperatures, I can speak from experience that visiting the farm is truly a year round destination. During the winter, the farm is not only gorgeous covered in snow, but the horses are more active (they love the cold) and there are fewer tourists, which has always led my tours to be a bit more special. However, each season offers a unique visit. Fall in Kentucky offers cool temperatures and brilliant colored foliage. Come spring, albeit busier with tourists, you can't help but feel the infectious excitement in the air with the Derby approaching. Regardless of the time of year you're visiting Lexington, I insist you make a trip out to Georgetown to visit Old Friends Farm and support their mission. If traveling over Derby Weekend or when the fall or spring meet is taking place at Keenland (October and April, respectively) I recommend calling in advanced for tour reservations.