Buice column: Horsing around on a trip to Kentucky
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2022
In Kentucky, it’s all about the horse, of course.
If you’re a certain advanced age, you might remember those words in the theme song for “Mister Ed,” an American television sitcom where the show’s title character is a talking horse.
Well, when it came down to choosing a destination for some time away in August, we wanted to go somewhere different but not too far from home.
So how about Kentucky … and even tipping into Ohio and Indiana?
I know what you’re saying as you read this. Who wants to go to Kentucky for a vacation?
We made our plans before the terrible flooding in the eastern part of the state and settled on what came together as a multifaceted trip that featured the horse component but included much more. Hey, I used to be a research director in a previous job and actually enjoyed mapping out the itinerary.
It all started with a drive in the rain through western North Carolina and Tennessee to southern Kentucky for the first stop — Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
A couple of days before taking off, we got the disappointing news about our scheduled Rainbow Mist guided raft ride to the base of “The Niagara of the South” being canceled due to high water levels.
Still, we looked forward to checking into our room in the historic DuPont Lodge nestled within the Daniel Boone National Forest and enjoying the gorgeous scenery while feasting on a buffet meal in the Riverview Restaurant.
(Please note the following disclaimer: Remember the anti-inflammatory diet detailed in this space last month? It was put on the shelf for this week. Doctor’s orders. He said, “Enjoy your vacation.”)
Another activity involving the waterfalls followed later with the much-awaited chance to see what is called a “moonbow,” also known as a lunar rainbow that occurs when the light from a full moon on a clear night reflects in the mist of a waterfall and creates rainbow colors in the moisture.
Cumberland Falls just happens to be one of the best places in the Western Hemisphere with the potential to witness this rare event. We fixated on the falls as dusk turned into darkness, but clouds obscured any chance to see a moonbow. Oh well, maybe next time.
The sun came out the second day as the clouds and rain retreated, welcoming unusually cool summer temperatures as we headed north toward Lexington with a slight detour to Shaker Village — once home of the Kentucky Shakers, a sect of the Quaker religion.
It was fascinating to learn about the Shaker way of living back in the 1800s until 1910 and touring stunning farmland and seeing some of 30 or so of the original 250 pre-Civil War buildings that have been restored — along with craft demonstrations and exhibits.
The first portion of the horse part of the trip followed that afternoon with a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park, where we were introduced to how horse farms work along with attending a couple of shows, going to a museum detailing all the history and seeing the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide in a Hall of Champions segment.
It was then was time to check into the Eighth Pole Inn, a charming bed and breakfast in the heart of Thoroughbred country on a working farm with 11 horses roaming the grounds. It was a beautiful setting and right around the corner from the legendary Keeneland race track, which we learned has been a longtime player in the industry of horse breeding in racing.
Our next day was highlighted by a personal customized tour from a native Kentuckian, who has been involved in the equine industry her entire life and took us around the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State for a history lesson like no other.
It included exploring Claiborne, an attractive Thoroughbred horse farm for over 100 years that has raised 63 champions and 17 horses of the year, to see the stallions, breeding shed and cemetery where Secretariat, arguably the greatest race horse of all-time, is buried.
She then set us up for an afternoon event at Ashford/Coolmore Farm where we got to see — up close and personal — the last two Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify. Even though I’ve never paid much attention to horses my entire life, other than admiring their size and beauty, I must say that on this day I became a true horse fan and can see why Lexington is known as “the horse capital of the world.”
A different theme emerged on Day Four as we continued north on I-75 to experience the Ark Encounter, the life-size Noah’s Ark built according to the dimensions given in the Bible — spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high.
It is breathtaking to see — the largest timber-frame structure in the world that is truly a modern engineering marvel and provides an opportunity to meet Noah, his family and the animals on the Ark with exhibits that offer amazing attention to detail.
Then it was on to Cincinnati, where I saw during my planning for the trip that The Spinners — one of my all-time favorite soul/rhythm and blues groups from back in the day — were performing in the historic Ludlow Garage, a former automobile shop that became a rock music venue in the 1970s.
Only one of the original Spinners is still alive — and he wasn’t part of this tour — but the current group sounded just like the good old days and put on an unforgettable show in the intimate setting.
What would a trip for me be without a baseball game, and the Reds were hosting the Cubs the next afternoon in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. It’s always a treat for me to visit a new stadium and see some ball.
After the game, we headed to Louisville for the final full day of our vacation before the long trip back home.
It began with a return to the horse piece of the trip with a spectacular visit to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. Just another chance to soak in more history in one of the most storied venues in all of sports.
A trip downtown included going across the Ohio River into the state of Indiana — just to say we were there — followed by heading to the historic (I’ve used this word quite a bit here) Brown Hotel to experience eating a “Hot Brown,” which was created there 100 years ago and became a signature dish in Louisville and in the state of Kentucky as well. It’s an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce. Yum.
Last, but not least, was a big hit — the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, which began production in Louisville in 1884 and still cranks out wooden bats used by all the greats of the game in an active factory.
After marveling at the process of making bats, we got to check out the museum, memorabilia and go down memory lane before I concluded the visit by getting into the batting cage and taking a few swings with an official Roberto Clemente bat.
The next day was the long ride home, but we left knowing it was a vacation that far exceeded our expectations and one we’ll never forget — with the horses and everything else. Of course.