As I read the article about budget challenges facing the Kentucky Horse Park, I had the feeling the park is seen as a playground for horse people who can afford expensive pets, travel and competition. And that it's not meant for those of us who work hard to raise and educate our children, provide food and shelter for our families, go to dollar movies and eat hot dogs.
So what if the park has difficulty making ends meet? Sponsors with deep pockets will step forward. Not our problem.
At least, that seems to be the underlying sentiment. The newspaper's coverage noted the cool reception the state legislature gave the park's request for additional funds, as well as the noncommittal response from Mayor Jim Gray's office to the idea of participating in park funding. Why this "not our problem" attitude?
I'm not a park employee, and none of my family members works there. I'm not a horse person, either, unless you count the time I spent as a kid clinging to the broad back of a farm horse that lived down the road. And I've never owned a pair of boots. I'm a happily retired Fayette County schoolteacher who has volunteered at the park for several years.
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Which brings me back to the question I cannot answer. Why do we, who live in the community-minded city of Lexington, not value a treasure that's right on our doorstep? What do strangers from other counties, other states and even other countries know that we, apparently, do not?
It's true the Horse Park has a full calendar of high-profile demonstrations and competitions like the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Carriage Roundup. But most of the folks I meet while carrying out one of my favorite jobs at the park — greeting, guiding and transporting visitors — are there to enjoy much more than the special-interest events.
I think about the hundreds of children from states as far away as New York and California who successfully badgered their parents or grandparents to bring them to Breyerfest — a mecca for anyone who has ever cherished a simple plastic model horse.
I think about the young newlyweds who arrived from their large family farm in Wisconsin in a well-used pickup. Having saved the necessary funds, they considered several options for their honeymoon. Their choice was a lovely fall weekend visit to the park before heading back to their demanding dairy work.
I think about the group of visually challenged adults attending a recent conference in Louisville. They were delighted with a day trip to the Horse Park even though the weather was unbearably hot and some needed a little assistance to fully enjoy the visual aspects of its attractions.
I think about the long line of cars, vans and buses inching their way through the Southern Lights display during the holiday season. These vehicles carry hordes of people who emerge to scatter through the displays and exhibits, buy toys and gifts, indulge in hot chocolate and popcorn, and stand patiently waiting for a photo op with Santa. They tell me they come from Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, Laurel and Whitley counties. Some tell me their family saves all year for this one trip.
Why do I mention these people? Because they fuel up at our gas stations, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels. And with every dollar they put into the local economy, they are letting us know the Horse Park is something of value. They are telling us that, far from being an elite enclave, it's something meant for all to enjoy. By failing to make the park a destination ourselves, we miss their message.
Perhaps it's time to start listening. Perhaps it's time to learn that the Horse Park is a worthwhile investment. A good place to begin would be a day in the park.