An Equestrian’s Guide to Shelby County

It makes sense that a place officially designated the American Saddlebred Capital of the World by state legislative proclamation would be an equestrian’s paradise – and Shelby County, KY, is exactly that.

Home to more than 90 farms and breeding and training facilities dedicated to a singular vocation – raising, training and showing the “peacock of the horse world” – Shelby County includes rolling wooded countryside and swaths of pastureland beautifully trimmed in black fencing. Horse lovers are warmly welcomed with horseback riding trails, shops devoted to all things equine – even a bed and breakfast inn smack in the middle of horse country.

Get your gait on

Equestrians can bring their horses to Simpsonville’s Shelby Trails Park, 21 wooded acres of groomed hiking and horseback riding trails. The trails are part of a former 462-acre farm that was deeded to Shelbyville/Shelby County Parks & Recreation in 2010. Now an equestrian and nature preserve that also includes a 32-stall barn and an indoor and outdoor arena for year-round riding, Shelby Trails Park is a way to get immersed in nature in one of the very best ways there is – by horseback.

Recently, three new pastures were either added or constructed at the park. Other activities: horseback riding lessons, guided horseback rides, bird watching and photographing the beauty and abundant wildlife of the park.

Several Shelby County equestrian venues, including Biggins Stables, Kismet Farm, Premier Stables and Walnut Way Farm, offer a variety of riding lessons to students of all ages and skill levels, including saddleseat (the English style of riding), five gaited and three gaited pleasure. Summer and holiday riding camps are also offered.

Gear up

The American Saddlebred Capital of the World is the place to get your tack on, with three stores dedicated to outfitting and adorning horse and rider. At Shelby Horse Supply, find beautiful hand-crafted equine leather goods, including show saddles, belts, bridles and more, and equine-themed souvenir key tags, which retail between $20 and $24.

Metzger’s Country Store has horse feed and forage, plus riding gloves, boots, cashmere scarves and Laurel Burch accessories. An Equestrian’s Touch personalizes apparel, totes and backpacks with embroidery and screen-printing and also has equestrian-themed artisan-made metalworks.

Gobble up some deliciousness

Horseback riding is hungry good times, and Shelby County has just the place to satisfy your appetite after a day on the trails: Bell House Restaurant. Tucked in a circa 1902 building, the restaurant is known not only for its food, but for the historic mid-1800s city fire bell parked in its front yard. The bell rings daily in celebration of “the joy of delicious food.”

On the menu? One of Kentucky’s most famous dishes, the Hot Brown, a heavenly turkey-and-toast dish smothered in cheese and topped with crispy bacon and ripe tomatoes. Other hearty fare – beef tips with mushroom demi-glace, cedar plank salmon and Henry Bain Pork, named for a famous steak sauce invented in Kentucky – rounds out the offerings that are served on linen-topped tables in several dining galleries.

Grab some zzz’s in the heart of horse country

After riding the trails, visiting the horse farm, seeing a horse show or browsing the equestrian-themed shops, overnight in the European ambience of the Yellow Carriage House Bed and Breakfast Inn, a romantic escape with rooms fit for royalty.

The former circa 1890 carriage house, once the building for housing carriages and tack, has a queen-size bed, dual burning gas fireplace and claw foot tub and provides complete privacy. Inside the main house, the enormous King’s Room has a private entrance and veranda; the Queen’s Room boasts a private balcony and marble shower for two.

The Yellow Carriage House has a beautiful Great Room with twin fireplaces and antique, silver and crystal appointments where guests love to gather. It offers turndown service, afternoon refreshments and appetizers, gourmet breakfast by candlelight and more.

Gather for high-stepping horse shows

The Saddle Horse has been a part of the area’s history since the 1760s when Daniel Boone and his brother Squire Boone traveled to Kentucky on “American Horses,” forerunners of the modern Saddlebred Horse. It is celebrated in grand style during the award-winning Shelbyville Horse Show, a 4-day fête of these graceful equine athletes held the end of July and first weekend of August.

Other horse events: International Mountain Horse Show Association World Show (end of August), the Shelby County Fair Horse Show and Miniature Horse Show (June) and the Kentucky Classic Paso Fino Show (July), featuring the breed once known as “Los Caballos de Paso Fino” – the horse with the fine walk.

Taking place in the fall are Shieks and Shrieks Open Show presented by the SAHIBA Horse Show, a fun show for fans of Arabian horses, and the Robertson Equine Sale, presented by a team known far and wide for its experience, track record and well-coordinated events.