I'm on my way back from visiting beautiful Lexington, Ky., to see a sale horse. I've managed to be an equestrian most of my life without ever spending any time in Lexington, so this was a real treat. I'm also so lucky as to have some good friends here, so between their lovely tour guiding services and the recommendations of lots of COTH bulletin board posters, I had a really good trip!
I'm a terrible sleeper, so when I was up puttering yesterday morning, I decided instead to go to Keeneland, a legendary place for American Thoroughbreds. It's a beautiful, big, sprawling place. I got there just as dawn was starting to creep up over the horizon, and even in its bigness it was totally silent. No horses, no cars, no wind in the trees. I parked and walked through the main gate, through the paddocks with their carefully laid rubber pavers, and through the silent, dark grandstands out to trackside. The footing was perfectly groomed, the lights illuminating the quiet track. It was beautiful and majestic and ethereal.
I took some photos, marvelled in the stillness. Then my inner New Yorker kicked in, and I realized that if someone were to try and mug me, no one would hear me scream, so I got the heck out of there.
I walked around for a bit, but saw no horses, which I thought was weird. Took some more photos, then took myself for a driving tour. I live in a beautiful place—Northern Virginia has some of the world's most beautiful horse farms—but Kentucky does too, and the landscapes are just different enough for me to really appreciate both, like Merlot and Cabernet. Virginia's stone walls and twisting mountains are beautiful, but so are Kentucky's lightly rolling hills and four-board white fences. It's a hideous time of year—the paddocks that weren't mostly wet dirt were pale, dead grass—but long weanlings and fat broodmares dotting the fields are pretty in any scenery.
When the sun came up I went back to Keeneland, where I finally did find the horses, on a training track on the other side. Having no experience with Thoroughbred racing, I was expecting to see slick, shiny horses in beautiful tack with their neat and trim exercise riders, just like race day. But my lack of education is clear—training mornings are filled with ordinary saddle pads, exercise riders in boots and half chaps, hooded sweat shirts. A normal training day, just like at my stable at home. I watched for a while, then I must confess that I got a little bored. I hope the exercise riders of the world are not offended at my quick visit—I'm sure they'd find a dressage school pretty boring too!
I still had a little time to kill before my appointment, so I hit the town. I drove all around Lexington, which is a bigger city than I'd expected. I took a quick whirl around the Kentucky Horse Park, took pictures of USDF and USEF's buildings like a big dork, drove past Hagyard and Rood & Riddle's big, beautiful vet clinics, and then I grabbed a bite to eat and went to the farm.
After I rode, I hooked up with Jennifer Keeler, National Director of Dressage, who I've gotten to know through years of Gladstone championships, who took me on a FABULOUS tour of the Horse Park. Let me just say that we absolutely did not do any wandering around where we weren't supposed to be while on this tour. Definitely not. Nope.
I also got to go in the USDF's wonderful museum filled with beautiful art of all of our legends and an excellent library of horse books. Our history is impressive and imposing. Riders like me have big shoes to step into someday.
The Park is buzzing with pre-WEG construction, and there are miles to go before they sleep, but if they can get it all done it will be quite a thing! I didn't get to see the Museum of the Horse or wander through the new indoor—Park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays in wintertime—but we did go meet Cigar and Funny Cide, neither of whom were terribly impressed by us, and saw the statue of Man o' War and got a little choked up.
Back to Lexington proper for wandering around and a tasty dinner with another USEF Dressage Diva, Jenny Van Wieren, during which we solved all of the dressage world's problems, so it's cool now, we've got it all under control. Worry not. And then to bed, where I actually slept.
I tried the horse again this morning after another quick driving tour, this time in the other direction. More beautiful farms with elaborate gates, long legged yearlings running in the unseasonable warmth. After my ride, I hit the road and stopped along the way at the mall, and I know that's a pathetic thing to do but the nearest mall to me in Virginia is about 1 1/2 hours away, and I was in dire need of new jeans, and that's just the way that went.
And now I'm sitting in the airport, uploading photos, answering two days of email and wishing I had a mint julep, which I've never tried. Hey, it's 5 o'clock somewhere...and I'm still in the Bluegrass State.