Kentucky is home to thoroughbreds and plenty more
THE BREEDING QUARTERS at the venerable Claiborne Farm just outside of Paris, Kentucky, don’t conjure up images of romance by any means—unless you consider the ultimate in bedroom decor to be floors covered with a special material to prevent slipping.
But it’s here that mighty stallions are paired with pedigreed mares at stunning prices in hopes of producing the next generation of racetrack winners.
“The International Super Sire on All Fronts”—Claiborne Farm’s wording—is War Front, a sleekly muscular, bay-colored thoroughbred which, while not necessarily stellar during his racing career, has hit it out of the park when it comes to producing major champions.
You might expect War Front to have a bit of an ego, but he’s friendly and welcoming, standing still as visitors take turns petting and posing for photos with him during the Stallion Complex Tour, one of several Claiborne Farm tours.
Like everything else on this 3,000-plus-acre farm with its 20 miles of roads and 100 miles of white fencing, each of the white and yellow stalls is immaculate. The spread spans the full gamut of horse life from mares and their foals to the cemetery where the mighty Secretariat is buried along with other revered horses.
Claiborne’s history dates back to 1910, and it is still owned by the Hancocks, the founding family. It has ties to Ashland in nearby Lexington, the Henry Clay mansion built in 1811 and now a house museum. Clay’s granddaughter, who married Arthur Hancock, inherited the land where Claiborne is located.
“Léttleiki means lightness in Icelandic,” says Maggie Brandt, owner and business manager of Léttleiki Icelandics at Swallowland Farm in northern Shelby County. The 100 acres with its creeks, ponds, woodlands and grassy prairies is home to one of the largest Icelandic horse farms in the United States.
The name refers in part to the small and elegant equines’ gait, which is almost as fast as a gallop but so smooth that it’s said you can drink a pint while riding without spilling a drop.
“Icelandics have five gaits while most horses have three or four,” says Brandt.
Swallowland Farm has 60 pony-sized Icelandics, that look quite huggable but are rugged and hardworking. Brandt says they are friendly and happy to socialize, leaning out of their open stalls to be first in welcoming visitors—and maybe scoring a carrot or apple.
Brandt’s interest in Icelandics came about when her daughter, Carrie, then 7, fell in love with the breed and later traveled to Iceland, earning a bachelor’s degree in Icelandic horse training and instruction. Together, the family started the farm in 2011.
The Bluegrass region of the state is home to 450 horse farms, but anyone who wants to explore a different region may want to head for Hancock County in northwestern Kentucky, home to Powers Quarter Horses.
“I’ve always enjoyed horses,” says owner Jerry Powers, who has worked with horses for over a half-century. He advises calling him for a tour, based on his availability.
The affable Powers got into breeding, training and raising them about the time his children were old enough to participate in 4-H activities. Now he does it full time on his 28-acre farm where he has specialized in Western pleasure quarter horses for more than 30 years. The farm is home to an award-winning stallion available for sire.
Alice Chandler took the 286 acres and four broodmares left to her by her father in 1962 to establish Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington. Within six years, she had become the first American woman to breed an Epsom Derby winner. Chandler’s legendary horse skill—she is a 2020 inductee in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame—transformed Mill Ridge into one of the leading breeding and sales operations in the country.
Hal Price Headley, Alice’s father, was one of the founding members of Keeneland, the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house and host of world class racing events, and was the track’s first president from 1936–1951. As a 10-year-old, Alice rode her horse along Versailles Road every day to watch Keeneland being built.
Now, her son Price Headley Bell is general partner of Mill Ridge and his son, Price Bell Jr., who started working at the farm in 1995, is its general manager.
Mill Ridge tours encompass the farm’s many aspects, says experience coordinator Hannah Boyle, including a look at foals or yearlings in springtime and the year-round opportunity to feed carrots to Oscar Performance, the farm’s award-winning stallion with a fitting name—he sired 88 foals in 2020 alone.
JANE SIMON AMMESON is a food, lifestyle and travel writer, James Beard Nominating Judge for the Great Lakes Region, photographer and author of 11 books.