The Impact of Visit Horse Country Tours

A few of the younger guests at at Taylor Made Farm tourSara Gordon

by Alexa Crament

Alexa Crament is a Junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in Equine Science and Management. She recently completed an internship with the TDN's social media and video department where, among many other projects, she took lead on a TDNtv video series highlighting Visit Horse Country. Alexa is also a regular tour guide at Godolphin's Jonabell Farm.

Seven years ago, I was planning my first trip to Lexington, Kentucky during my spring break week. I fell in love with the racing industry after Nyquist's Kentucky Derby win back in 2016 and I planned this trip to get to visit some of racing's biggest champions at Thoroughbred farms in the area. As I was doing research on how I would be able to book these tours, I stumbled upon Visit Horse Country and purchased tickets to go to Jonabell Farm, home of the Darley stallions of Godolphin. If you had told me back then that I would end up working for Godolphin as a tour guide one day, I wouldn't have believed you.

Visit Horse Country is a not-for-profit organization with the goal of developing fans by connecting guests to the horses, land and people of Kentucky's equine industry through immersive experiences at member locations such as farms, vet clinics, racetracks and feed mills.

Hallie Hardy, the Executive Director of Visit Horse Country, has seen the organization flourish in recent years.

“We started with tours in 2015 when the Breeders' Cup was first here at Keeneland in Lexington and those were unique experiences,” said Hardy. “Since then, we've shown growth in terms of how many people we've welcomed through Horse Country members' gates. Even since COVID we have just absolutely blossomed. We've had about a 40% increase in guest numbers from 2022 to 2023.”

That growth has created an impact here in the Lexington area. One thing that I have noticed throughout my own tours at Jonabell Farm as well as attending tours at other farms is the abundance of people. Whether they are fans or visitors just passing by, they start to develop a better understanding of and an appreciation for the industry throughout the experiences. I've had countless times where visitors would come up to me after the tour concluded and express their gratitude for how much they had seen and learned throughout their visit.

Many people who purchase tickets and take time out of their day to go on a tour generally have no previous knowledge of horses, let alone the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. As a tour guide, we have the responsibility to provide accurate and informative knowledge of the farms and other organizations we represent while also creating a welcoming atmosphere during our tours. It has been a privilege for me to be that source for people wanting to learn more about the industry.

In our TDNtv series partnering with Visit Horse Country, we shine a light on the importance of equine tourism ahead of this year's 150th running of the GI Kentucky Derby on May 4. I had the fortunate opportunity to tag along on some public tours and an additional exclusive experience that included a special meet-and-greet with Zenyatta for her twentieth birthday.

While speaking to several guests on these tours, I noticed that many had developed a newfound appreciation for the sport after learning so much about the industry during their visit.

“It's just more work than I thought, taking care of [the horses] every single day,” said Felix Martignetti, a visitor from Boston who went on a tour at Taylor Made Farm. “I'm talking to these guys that just seem like they love their job so much that it is easier. It's easier to work when you love your job.”

During Zenyatta's meet-and-greet at Lane's End Farm, it was safe to say every person who was lucky enough to purchase a ticket was honored to be there in her presence during the visit. Most of them took a trip down memory lane after watching her career on the racetrack.

“I went and saw both times she was in the Breeders' Cup Classic,” said Lori Vanover, a visitor who came all the way from Milwaukee to see the champion mare. “But I always wanted to have an opportunity to see her up close in an opportunity like this. I can't believe I actually got the chance to come and it was everything I was hoping it would be.”

“We have such an incredible asset here with the horses, which many people don't have the opportunity to connect with,” Hardy said about the significance of providing these experiences to the public. “You add in our beautiful land here which provides a platform for raising great racehorses, and then lastly, the people who are here that are passionate about what they do. I think it's important for us to be doing that at any point in time, but especially in April and October, and most importantly on that first Saturday in May. [That's when] all eyes are on us, our industry and on Central Kentucky.”

Kentucky Derby week is here and now more than ever, this is a crucial time for the Thoroughbred industry to open its doors and allow the general public to go behind the scenes. It gives people the chance to experience and become more educated about different operations and their commitment to these magnificent animals. Allowing access and being transparent is even more paramount now due to the magnifying glass placed on the industry. There will always be more ways we can improve, but there is one main critical component to its longevity and that remains the general public's perception of the horse and the Thoroughbred industry.

Visit Horse Country currently provides a gateway into the Thoroughbred industry for the general public to go on unique and immersive experiences, plus opportunities that showcase our passion, so why not use that to our advantage as we prepare for the biggest day of the year in Kentucky? Approximately 150,000 people come from all over the world to experience the best two minutes in sports, and it is during this time that we have the biggest chance to create a long-lasting impact on these visitors.

My own passion for the racing industry led me on different tours throughout the years and it eventually became a catalyst in my career path. While being a full-time college student at the University of Kentucky and majoring in Equine Science and Management, I am in my current position with Godolphin as a tour guide intern, a social media intern for TDN as well as taking part in the Collegiate Opportunities Program at Keeneland as an Ambassador.

The center point of it all for me was the opportunity to visit these racehorses that I had fallen in love with after spending so much time keeping up with their careers on the track on my own TV screen. Going on my first tour at Jonabell Farm all those years ago felt like heaven and seeing stallions such as Nyquist, Frosted and Bernardini honestly took my breath away. It felt so surreal to see them, and now having the ability to share those moments with other visitors as a tour guide feels even more special.

These tours opened up doors for me that I had not known existed previously and for that I will be forever grateful. The impressions left on visitors after these experiences can have a significant impact, which can only be beneficial for the sport in the long run.

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