28 Feb Springtime in Shelby County
Shelbyville and Simpsonville are smack dab in the middle of Kentucky’s horse country. There are more than 90 Saddlebred farms in these parts, more than anywhere else, so many that the State of Kentucky proclaimed it the Saddlebred Capital of the World. Plus, the region is simply beautiful. Miles of painted fences embrace stately historic homes and elegant barns as elaborate as the houses. When the green creeps back into the grasses, when the foals are set outside to run across a pasture on wobbly legs, when the leaves peep out of the silvery branches of gnarled hickory trees, it’s time to explore the sites of this rare spot.
Begin surveying the horse farms with travel expert Charles Kramer with Kentucky Backroads Tours. Kramer introduces guests to a historic horse farm, a horse farm that features both a 12,000-square foot redbrick home as well as an indoor training ring where the high-stepping Saddlebreds run through their gaits and paces.
Owned by the Bennett family, the historic horse farm dates to the late nineteenth century. It originally stretched more than 1,600 acres. Today, its 100 acres includes multiple barns and training facilities for the Saddlebreds. The tour begins by wandering through the first two floors of the Bennett’s home. Full of period furnishings, the house provides glimpses into the life of Kentucky horse breeders.
Over in the indoor training barn, Undulata owner Hoppy Bennett sits on a well-loved its cloth settee under a crystal chandelier watching a stallion pull a light sulky cart around the track. “Shelby County is to Saddlebreds what Nashville is to country music,” Bennett says. “This is the place to learn about these beautiful horses.”
And what horses they are. The breed dates to the Civil War, when officers preferred Kentucky Saddlers. They may remind you of Morgans, Arabians, and other high-spirited breeds. “Their only purpose is to show,” Bennett says. The sleek steeds hold their heads high and erect, ears at attention, and are smoothly gaited. The horse knows it’s gorgeous, and seems to show off for your photos.
After seeing these elite horses in action, you’ll have no trouble finding a place to saddle up and ride. Take a leisurely guided jaunt through the surrounding countryside at nearby Shelby Trails Park. More than 20 different groomed equestrian and hiking trails lead through lush forests of hardwood, cedar, and crabapple trees where the resident white-tailed deer calmly lift their heads to watch you ride by. You may choose to step into the saddle of one of the equestrian center’s horses or even bring your own if you prefer. Either way, you’ll have ridden in horse country.
Just like in the past, horses and whiskey go together. After your equine day, head over to Jeptha Creed Distillery. This distinctive new facility has something rare to Kentucky bourbon makers: a lady distiller. Run by a mother-daughter duo (the mom’s a chemical engineer turned distiller and the daughter’s a marketing wizard with an excellent education pedigree in whiskey making as well), Creed maintains a well-supplied gift shop for stocking up on spirits. While the bourbon ages, be sure to sample their 6-month old whiskey as well as their own flavored vodkas and moonshine. You are welcome to take a distillery tour to learn how the clear Kentucky water transforms through pot stills into the golden elixir. Afterwards, belly up to Creed’s bar, or take your spirits out to the comfortable back porch to listen to bands playing or simply to watch the sun settle into the hills of Kentucky horse country. It’s the perfect end to the day.