Children have replaced draft horses at the Kentucky Horse Park, at least at the new interactive Kids' Barn.
The Kids' Barn opened last week after an enthusiastic test run by Russell Cave Elementary students.
"Children have a tremendous curiosity and natural affinity for horses, and since one of the most important missions of the Kentucky Horse Park is to raise awareness of — and interest in — horses, our new Kids' Barn will be a wonderful expression of our dedication to that goal," park executive director John Nicholson said.
And it focuses on fun.
The 20 stalls once used by draft horses have been filled with exhibits on a wide variety of topics. One stall is stocked with popular horse books. One has a buggy kids can pretend to drive. And one has saddles on barrels that kids can pretend to ride.
The exhibits were donated by horse-related groups including Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, which shows what a foal neonatal intensive-care unit looks like, and the Humane Society of the United States, which focuses on retraining rescued racehorses for new careers.
"This is an absolutely wonderful experience for the kids, who have loved every moment of it," said third-grade teacher Amy Reneer, who was there with her class. "It's wonderful for the kids to have an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with horses."
The Russell Cave students were most taken with the live horses on display, including Samson, a draft horse who stood calmly, taking in all the excitement.
Asked what his favorite part was, Pablo Paulin, 8, of Lexington said: "See the horse, petting the horse."
The Kids' Barn will complement the park's literacy program, which has donated horse-themed books to thousands of Central Kentucky classrooms.
Last week, the students talked with Claudia Friddell, author of Goliath, Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire, and learn about the lives of firehouse horses before meeting the real-life draft horses, who have been moved into new quarters in the park's Big Barn.