Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World, but its neighbor Bourbon County has some horse history of its own. And that history plays a big part in the county’s tourism.
Bourbon County is home to more than 50 horse farms, and Debra Hamelback, executive director of the Paris/Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce, said the four-legged animals are vital to Bourbon County and its economy.
Claiborne Farm, one of the most recognized horse farms in the world, is a major draw for Bourbon County tourists. The farm, which typically hosts two tours a day, has several drawing points. It has been in the same family since the early 1900s and is the burial site of the legendary 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat. It’s also the home of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic Blame.
Last year, Claiborne Farm hosted more than 10,000 visitors, about half the population of Bourbon County, according to tour numbers provided by the farm. This year, the farm might surpass that total. It had logged 5,265 visitors as of Tuesday.
Walker Hancock, the farm’s managing director, said the reasons people visit the farm vary.
“Everyone has their own favorite horse or memory,” he said. “Some people are fans of the horse; some people are fans of the business.”
Tours usually are the most popular from the beginning of April to the October Keeneland meet, Hancock said.
The numbers of visitors have increased over the past few years, and he attributed the increase to Horse Country Inc., a nonprofit organization of horse farms, equine medical clinics and equine attractions that was founded in 2014 and offers tours of horse farms in the Lexington area.
About 24 organizations are members of the group, and five are based in Bourbon County, according to Horse Country’s website. Prices range from $11 to $20.
Between 2015 and 2016, Horse Country sold more than 20,000 tour tickets at about $20 each, far exceeding expectations, according to a Herald-Leader story from last September.
“I think if it can do half as good as what the bourbon industry has done with their tours, I think it would be a big success,” Hancock said of the local horse farm industry.
Kentucky’s bourbon industry is responsible for $8.5 billion in total economic output each year and between 15,000 and 17,500 jobs, according to a University of Louisville study released earlier this year.
Claiborne Farm opened a visitors center last August so visitors can buy Claiborne Farm merchandise and have a central gathering place.
About six miles away from Claiborne Farm, also in Bourbon County, is Adena Springs on Cane Ridge Road. Adena Springs is home to Awesome Again, who won the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and City Wolf, who has earned nearly $300,000 in his career.
The farm hosts hundreds of visitors every year. On the week of this year’s Derby, the farm entertained nearly 300 people.
Bill Drury, stallion manager of the farm, said fans of Mucho Macho Man, who retired to stud there in 2014 after winning the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic, often visit the farm. Drury horse farm is good for the community.
“It helps the economy and it helps the industry,” he said.
Tourists spent more than $21 million in Bourbon County in 2016 and about the same amount in 2015, according to an economic study by Certec Inc., a Versailles based marketing firm.
Siena Farm, on Winchester Road, began operations in 2008. David Pope, president of the farm, said visitors to his farm usually decide to visit after stopping at Claiborne.
Visitors to Bourbon County horse farms occasionally go to Paris for other entertainment. Pope encourages people to visit downtown Paris once they’re done with the tours.
Andrew Buchanan, founder of Hartfield and Co., a microdistillery in downtown Paris, said his business sees about 30 to 40 people a month from horse farm tours.
“There’s a lot of people who do sort of the Bourbon County thing,” he said. Visitors will come and see a horse farm then come to Paris for something to eat or hang around one of the bars.
A recently passed ordinance allows Sunday alcohol sales, and some residents are hoping for more restaurants and with it, other places for people to shop.
Many of the horse farm tourists are from out of state. Tourists at Claiborne Farm last week included Terri Smith of Colorado, who spoke of her love of horses and the Central Kentucky countryside, and Mary and Tom Elliott of Buffalo, N.Y. Mary Elliott’s family has a history with horse breeding, and Tom is a fan of horse racing.
Mary Elliott said Claiborne is her favorite farm because of its history and the “old-school” way the farm operates.
Her husband agreed: “Not much has changed from the way they do things (now) to the way they used to.”