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Tours of Kentucky Horse Farms

A horse and foal in grassy field in Kentucky.
Photo courtesy of Kentucky Tourism.

Map of Lexington and Horse Country in Kentucky
Lexington and Horse Country
A visit to a horse farm is high on the list of many visitors to Kentucky. Most, however, aren’t sure how to go about making this happen or don’t know what to expect. First, any prospective visitor should be aware that Kentucky’s horse farms are working operations, not tourist attractions. Although many farms do enjoy welcoming visitors, business always comes first, and that business is breeding (not training, as many people wrongly assume). Tours are restricted to set times and dates, and reservations are always required. Additionally, thoroughbreds, especially the stallions, are high-strung animals not generally suited to up-close encounters with unfamiliar people. Working horse farms aren’t petting zoos, and you shouldn’t expect to get to touch a horse or pose for a photo with one. On occasion, you may be able to, but in that case, you should consider yourself lucky.

Now, with business taken care of, let’s get down to the details of how to plan a visit. Basically you have three options: Sign up for a regularly scheduled guided tour, organize a custom tour with a professional guide, or arrange visits on your own with individual farms.

Standard Tours

For most casual visitors—those with an interest in seeing a horse farm or two, but no burning desire to visit a specific farm or see a particular horse—a regular guided tour is the preferred option. These tours typically average three hours and visit one or two horse farms along with additional horse-related sites of interest such as Keeneland Race Track. Each tour is slightly different, so you should compare options before booking. Reputable tour operators include:

Custom Tours

If you have a deep interest in thoroughbred horses or specific ideas on exactly what you wish to see, you should consider organizing a custom tour. By doing this, you will have control of your itinerary and the pace of your trip. You’ll also have direct access to a knowledgeable guide with insider contacts who can help you gain access to farms that you may not be able to should you opt to go alone. Although many assume the cost of a private tour will be out of their budget, if you have a couple of people in your group, it may come out cheaper than a regular organized tour. Many of the organized tour operators will arrange custom tours on request, although there are also guides who specialize in private tours. The best way to find the right guide is to call a few, discuss your wishes with them, and then see what they can do for you. You may wish to start with the following:

Independent Arrangements

Independent travelers who like to make all their arrangements on their own can opt to contact horse farms directly to try to arrange visits. Although some farms can accommodate you with only a day’s notice, it’s best to contact the farms you wish to tour as far in advance as possible. Throughout this chapter, horse farms that welcome independent visitors are given full listings. A few of the more popular farms are:

Tour Essentials

No matter how you choose to visit Kentucky’s beautiful and iconic horse farms, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, know that you’ll be expected to tip the groom that shows you around the farm. A tip of $5-10 is standard depending on the quality of the tour. If you’re on an organized tour, inquire in advance as to whether the price includes tips. Second, wear appropriate clothing. You’re walking around a working farm, so closed-toe shoes with good soles are the best choice. Third, think carefully before bringing your children to a horse farm. Although the farms themselves have no restrictions against children, keep in mind that kids without an express interest in horses may find the tours boring (no petting, no running, no loud talking) or they may be exposed to information that may not be age-appropriate (the details of horse breeding). Finally, remember that tours may be limited during certain events or times of year, such as breeding season, horse sales, Derby week, or Keeneland meets. The best way to avoid disappointment is to plan as far in advance as possible.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Kentucky.