From the family-friendly pony to the 4-H Club project to the thrilling thoroughbred, horses are part of life in Kentucky.
And it's no small part of life either. The horse industry, according to The Kentucky Equine Education Project
, is responsible for 80,000-100,000 jobs in Kentucky and brings in about $4 billion in economic impact.
Locally, there's a wealth of activity related to the horse world.
September brings the 154th annual Alexandria Fair in Campbell County, and as always, the horse show is a major draw, says Doug Carmack, president of the fair and manager of the horse show. All 235 stalls are sold out.
"A lot of people come just for the horse show itself," he says, adding that it's a multi-generation crowd, where families come year after year.
(Note: For a calendar of related events, see The Kentucky Association of Fairs and Horse Shows.)
Attendees and exhibitors especially like seeing the range of breeds – Saddlebred, Standardbred, Arabian, Morgan, quarterhorses, and, of growing interest, draft horses, according to Carmack.
"The horse business is by no means dying in Northern Kentucky," he says. "If anything, it's getting stronger. We have a lot of breeders and trainers, especially around Burlington, and we all work with the Northern Kentucky Horse Network (NKHN)."
First Farm Inn in unincorporated Boone County near Petersburg is an 1870s farmhouse turned bed-and-breakfast business that offers a two-hour "riding experience," among other features. Owner Jennifer Warner – also a founder of the NKHN – said she never intended to teach riding at first. But people "begged and begged" for the chance to saddle up, so she learned how to be a proper instructor for them.
Warner definitely sees "more variety" of horse-related activity in Northern Kentucky in recent years. She's also noticed an increase in local breeders.
The NKHN's online directory lists dozens of resources:
Little Britain Stables
- The Northern Kentucky Horse Center, "a full service equestrian facility" in Verona.
- Canterbury Hill Equestrian Center in Union, which describes itself as a 25-acre, full-service riding academy and boarding facility.
- Fields Quarter Horses in Walton (with over 200 friends on Facebook), which does breeding, training, lessons, boarding and sales.
- Morningview Riding Center in Morningview, which has boarders who are active in dressage, jumping, eventing, and trails, plus offers lessons.
is 90 acres in Burlington that brings a 21st
century twist to this traditional world, selling pre-paid riding, board and related packages online. (The innovation at Little Britain goes further with use of full-size equine simulators from England used for lessons during bad weather, rider rehab exercises, and more.)
And for maximum health of horses, the Pegasus Equine Performance Center in Union
provides hyperbaric oxygen treatments, equine swimming and hydro therapy, and a "European style Equiciser."
The specialized treatments enable “maximum training with minimum time and minimum effort,” says owner Tom Scherder, a longtime owner and trainer who has had customers from New York, Florida and
Chicago. Scherder has rehabilitated many valuable racehorses that other people had given up hope for. “It’s amazing what can be done,” he says.
Northern Kentucky's voice is being added to the horse industry in other ways, too. Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Frank Kling of Villa Hills and Burr Travis of Fort Mitchell to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission recently.
And while many eyes are focused on terrific mega events such as the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the annual running of the Kentucky Derby, Northern Kentucky and horse racing have a long and proud tradition with Turfway Park, born as the Latonia Race Course in 1883.
Today, Turfway, which employs about 100 people year-round and over 300 during the fall, holiday and winter/spring live race meetings, is an entertainment and economic force to be reckoned with. And the ripple effect of its activity is felt throughout the area.
"Turfway Park draws in excess of 225,000 to the Florence/Boone County community on an annual basis, many of whom are from outside our community," says President Bob Elliston. "These patrons shop in our retail establishments, eat in our dining establishments, and generally, enjoy the hospitality of our community, hopefully encouraging them to participate in return trips."
The horse industry isn't just a few events a few times a year. It's a year-round industry and is part of the reason Northern Kentucky, and Kentucky as a whole, is a unique place to be.
Nite Light credit Pat Lang Photography
Breakfast credit Cris Forney Photography