It’s that time of year again.
As winter draws near and the nights get longer and darker, a beam of light shines out from the Kentucky Horse Park. It comes from several brightly lit displays as the annual Southern Lights exhibit got underway on Nov. 18.
Southern Lights, first started more than 20 years ago, is a driving tour of holiday lights that takes visitors through the Horse Park. It is regularly chosen as a Top 20 Event in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. Many of the displays have an equine theme, such as Thoroughbreds breaking from the starting gate at Keeneland or charging down the stretch at Churchill Downs and dressage horses doing their ballet-like maneuvers. New this year will be the “Hall of Champions Stable,” a display featuring some of the park’s equine celebrities who have lived in the Hall of Champions, including John Henry, Cigar and Funny Cide.
Overseeing and sponsoring Southern Lights is the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, chaired by Caroline “Cabby” Boone. The foundation, according to its Web site, is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing, expanding and improving the park. Since its establishment in 1985, the foundation has provided over $25 million worth of improvements, helping the park become the leading equestrian facility of its kind in the world.
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“The Horse Park Foundation raises money for the Kentucky Horse Park through grants and private donations,” Cabby said. “We’ve helped purchase horses and equipment. Recently we purchased a handicapped-accessible golf cart. If there’s a need at the park, we try to meet it.”
Cabby has served as the foundation’s chair for eight years. She became interested in the Horse Park when she watched her husband play polo there.
“I’ve been part of the park since I was in college, coming to see the polo,” she said. “The foundation is a wonderful organization and the people at the park are fabulous. They are hardest-working group of people.”
As chair, Cabby is involved in a number of campaigns that help promote the park. The foundation’s Field Trip Fund makes it possible for schoolchildren across the commonwealth to visit the park by offering complimentary admission and bus travel reimbursements. Currently, the foundation is raising money to support the much-needed renovation of several barns on the grounds and to restore and protect the iconic statue of Man o’ War that greets visitors at the front entrance to the park. The foundation hopes the work will be finished in time for the celebration of Big Red’s 100th birthday next year. Other events the foundation sponsors include the Battle in the Saddle, which features a celebrity team-penning challenge. Cabby has participated in the Battle.
Cabby says the park is the perfect place to get to close to horses, which visitors to the Bluegrass often say is their top priority. At the park’s International Museum of the Horse, visitors can learn all about the history of the horse. But having the opportunity to actually touch a horse – the park features more than 30 breeds of horses – is the ultimate experience.
“There’s nothing like having someone’s eyes light up when they touch a horse,” Cabby said. “Horses are amazing animals.”
Southern Lights is the “joy” part of working with the foundation, Cabby said. It’s the perfect kick-off to the holiday season.
“Southern Lights does spread a lot of joy,” she said. “It’s definitely a family-friendly event. I look forward to bringing my grandchildren to it. The stroll is an opportunity for people to walk the lights with children and (leashed) dogs. It’s a wonderful way to see the lights.”
Cabby offers some tips to make a visit to Southern Lights even more enjoyable:
• Consider visiting on a weeknight when the lines are shorter.
• Ticket prices are less expensive during the week. Monday through Thursday, it’s $15 per car with up to seven people per vehicle. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, tickets are $25.
• Arrive at the park as close as possible to opening time.
• Be sure to visit the Holiday Festival crafts fair, food vendors, the model train exhibit and the exotic petting zoo after driving through the displays.
• And don’t forget to bring your list for when you meet Santa Claus!
Cabby says Southern Lights helps visitors gain a new perspective on and appreciation of the park.Cabby says Southern Lights helps visitors gain a new perspective on and appreciation of the park.“Come on out and visit the park. You’ll love it as much as we do, and we hope you’ll support it so we can keep it as one of the best tourist attractions in the state,” she said. “We’ll keep on the lights on for you.”
Southern Lights will be open from 5:30-10 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31. For more information about entertainment and special hours, visit khpfoundation.org.