The first week of May and my thoughts turn to Kentucky – specifically Lexington.
Lexington might not be home to the Derby, but it’s likely home to the next Derby winner. Many thoroughbred breeding farms dot the Lexington landscape, and many are open for public tours, by appointment.
One of the newest on the list is Saxony Farms, a family-owned breeding facility determined to change the perception of thoroughbred production.
“I’ve known I was going to do this since Kindergarten,” Broussard Hundley says on a tour of Saxony Farms. Hundley grew up here watching over a herd of 15 to 18 broodmares all producing the next big racer one after another. Saxony Farms, a second-generation thoroughbred farm run by Rosie and Broussard Hundley.
Clearly, Thoroughbreds are big business here in horse country. However, Saxony has diversified into other venue streams such as hosting special events like fundraisers and weddings and offering public tours – though the latter is educationally motivated.
“If we get people out to see the farms and to see the care for the horses, we can help improve the image of the racing industry,” Hundley says. “Plus, it’s interesting to meet the people who come out.”
True to word, Hundley is personable and enthusiastic about answering any questions on our tour that extends beyond the time allowance – punctuated by the fact his preschool kids join us near the tour’s end. This is a family-focused experience.
Horses are arguable in Hundley’s DNA. His father’s life plan pivoted from attending medical school to jumping into the fledgling Lexington racehorse industry decades ago after watching a win at the Kentucky Derby. Posted on the walls of the Saxony Farm barn serving as business office and rental space are pictures of successful racers born at Saxony Farms.
At 164-acres, Saxony is the ideal size for an informal walking tour that teaches you all about racehorse production. Plus visitors meet the owners rather than tour guides and get to see week old babies (if the timing is right) and likely playful yearlings too.
The farm is small by Lexington standards, but bucolically beautiful and expansive by my standards. Old growth trees almost completely shield each pasture filled with mostly mares, ready to foal within the week, or in one case, any minute now.
Hundley looks over his shoulder at the soon to be in labour mare several times during our prearranged tour. Today, only two people have signed up to view the family-owned property but Saxony Farms are new to the Visit Horse Country list (a tour booking agent), and it’s early in the season.
At Saxony Farms, colts and fillies remain with mothers for about five months then move to the yearling paddock in January and ready for sale and training. Everyone is named, carefully watched 24/7 and approached with respect.
“We have a policy here,” Hundley says as we look into the pasture of new mothers and playful loopy-legged foals, “if they want to approach us, they can. Otherwise, we let them be and don’t approach or reach for them.”
Clients own most mares, and the other Thoroughbreds on this farm. Farm managers like Hundley oversee breeding, stud and birth of new horses but own few foals.
Lexington and the surrounding area love its tour trails and horse farms are on the list. You can contact some farms directly, but the easiest way is to see many, or be selective, is through Visit Horse Country. This is the central booking for 20 tours in the region, mostly broodmare and stud farms, but also Hallway Feed manufacturer and an equine hospital.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Lexington one of my favourite US cities to visit, and yes largely because of the horses. Horse farm tours can be booked directly with some farms but others you can only book through Visit Horse Country. Tickets are $20 and tours last about an hour.
Old Friends Thoroughbred Sanctuary Tour is a must on any horse-lovers list Tours of this racehorse retirement farm run three times a day in the summer and once a day off-season. $10 per person. (Check out our review here).
Learn more about Thoroughbreds in this PBS documentary: Thoroughbred Born to Run from Amazon.com (affiliate link).
Several large bourbon distillers along the state’s bourbon trail offer tours, but many are well outside the boundaries of Lexington. One of the closest, about a 30-minute drive, is Buffalo Trace Distillery. It offers The Trace Tour, The Hard Hat and Post Prohibition Tour, and the very popular Ghost Tour on weekends – this one’s about the other spirits who reside on the property. Tours are $10 and include a tasting.
Bluegrass Distillers and Barrel House Distilling Co. are the two small batch bourbon companies on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. Nine others lie throughout Kentucky and if you visit all 13, you get a pewter Mint Julep cup.
The Gratz Park Inn is Lexington’s only historic inn located downtown. Harkening back to the days when horse-drawn carriages pulled up in the circular front drive, regal elegance defines this comfortable property. Dog friendly too, and located within walking distance of the Opera House.