Kentucky Spring Classic: Show Journal

Weds., May 13th – Sun., May 17th

In the horse show world, Monday is everyone’s day off, and for many including me, Monday is also often a travel day. I drive to all of the shows I attend, so tonight I’m writing about the whirlwind of the Kentucky Spring Classic after a full day on the road. Despite being a little tired (I left Florida three weeks ago!), I’m no less excited to sit down and share my time in Lexington with you all! This was my first trip to Kentucky and the Horse Park, and it was amazing. I attended the Kentucky Spring Classic, which was the second week of the Kentucky Spring Shows that ran May 6-17th, the same schedule as Old Salem in NY.

The Grand Prix size Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.

The Kentucky Horse Park is huge. There are areas that you could forget even exist, like the museums and restaurants that I didn’t even have a chance to check out (this time). The Horse Park is also home to many national horse organization offices, such as USEF and USHJA. I arrived in Kentucky from New York on Tuesday afternoon and spent Wednesday through Sunday at the horse park. It took me at least three days to learn the names of the rings and feel like I knew where I was going while walking around. There is tons of nice stabling within a reasonable distance to the ring, and plenty of easy parking (at least during the spring). I had no problem finding a parking spot even if I left briefly during the middle of the day and then returned.

To start, there are 5 main outdoor show rings:

Rolex Stadium, where the Grand Prix and select jumper events are held.

The Rolex ring held several star-studded Grand Prix events with the likes of Margie Goldstein-Engle, Todd Minikus, Kevin Babington, Aaron Vale, and more.

The Walnut Ring (and my Katharine Page Devon sandals). The Walnut is on top of the main hill next to Rolex, has a grass bank, and primarily holds jumper classes.

This is the path from the Walnut ring down to its schooling area. In the distance is the Annex Ring, which wasn’t used much except for short stirrup. To the left of the Annex is the covered indoor ring. Alltech Arena is further away and is used for indoor events in the fall, like Maclay Finals.

The one downside to the Rolex and Walnut rings being away from the other three was that the area between them is not particularly pedestrian friendly. There are no sidewalks along the roads and I frequently felt like I was in the way of passing cars, golf carts, and horses going from place to place. It’s also pretty hilly and will definitely give you a workout if you are one of the very few without a golf cart.

Please don’t run me over.

Since the topography of Kentucky is essentially the definition of “rolling hills”, it was very cool that you could see some of the action at the Walnut ring from the other three rings far away (and vice versa), so if you were waiting on something to start or the ring to be cleared you could tell a bit about what was going on from far away without having to walk all the way over.

The Claiborne Ring, which held hunter, jumper, and equitation classes. The Claiborne, Stonelea, and Murphy rings are all grouped close together, but a bit of a distance from the Rolex and Walnut.

On one side, the Claiborne Ring has a beautiful backdrop of the sprawling green cross-country course.

Foxes ironically dressed up like fox hunters guard the entrance to the Claiborne ring.

The rings are spectator friendly, each with covered viewing areas, bleachers, and picnic table seating. This is the covered area with great views of the Stonelea and Claiborne rings on either side.

Judges also sit under this covered area for both rings.

The lovely Stonelea ring, which held hunters (including the Derby) and the occasional equitation class during the Spring Classic. Vendor Row lines the far side.

The vendor presence seemed to be much less than WEF and even Old Salem. There was a small designated row of vendor tents and a few scattered near the barns, but it seemed like it was mostly big brands or outfitters with stores inside trailers, so it was a little harder to just “window shop” without stopping to go inside of a vendor’s set-up. However, if you know what you’re looking for or just need to pick up a new pair of breeches, there were plenty of vendors to fulfill your needs.

The Stonelea has a sloped path to its in-gate, making for a very dramatic entrance to your round.

Riders were getting massages ring-side at the Stonelea.

Lastly, there is the Murphy ring. It sits on top of a hill above another schooling area and looks like you’re riding up in the tree tops. This ring was only used for hunters.

Adorable ponies invaded the Murphy ring throughout the weekend.

Next, about the weather. I was told to prepare for ALL types of weather in KY and this proved to be 100% true. On Wednesday, it was beautiful – breezy and cool out, but not cold. Thursday morning, it was, no joke, like 48 degrees out and WINDY – and it did not warm up throughout the day. I was so cold that I thought about running to the hotel to grab the gloves I had actually packed for NY.

On Friday and Sunday, it was gorgeous out (maybe a little hot at times), about 80 degrees with clear blue skies.

On Saturday, I finally received the quintessential Spring Horse Show Experience – the skies opened up and it completely and totally POURED. I will say, though, the footing seemed to hold up very well under the varying weather conditions during the show and the torrential downpours.

It rained a little.

…but the show must go on.

I was stuck under the viewing area for the hunter rings pretty much forever.

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For anyone traveling to the KY shows, layer and keep a change of clothes (and shoes) in your car or tack area at all times. I wore everything from paddock boots to Sperry’s to sandals, and tank tops to insulated vests to jackets to linen shirts, to shorts and jeans. Kentucky = laundry for days.

Pony riders smiled despite the rain and even caught raindrops on their tongues before heading into a flat class during the downpour on Saturday.

For meals, I ate most of the time at Paddock Cafe/Horizon’s Hill, the coffeeshop turned grill from Wellington that had a large dining area next to Stonelea and where the vendors were set up. Their food was delicious and reasonably priced for being at a show. Also of note, there was a Papa John’s truck on the property toward the entrance, where you could easily pick up a pizza after a long show day. I thought this was really smart. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to do a whole dinner out on the town after showing, and I personally think warm pizza tastes delicious after running around on a chilly, rainy day.

It’s raining and cold, and I’m thinking about dinner.

The atmosphere was very laid back in general. The show didn’t really pick up in activity until Saturday and Sunday, the height of the action being on Saturday (and unfortunately it rained that day.) It didn’t appear that riders were being rushed from schooling in to the ring, so there was also a lot of downtime during and in between classes.

Riders chat and relax with their horses while watching activity in the Stonelea ring. Many riders commented on this laid back state of mind being one of their favorite aspects of the Kentucky spring shows, especially for juniors coming off of a hectic and high-pressure WEF season (and, no doubt, AP exams and finals at school this month.)

The short stirrup class I watched had very fun prizes for the kids – including a baseball hat and a very cool Kentucky Horse Show backpack (I’m jealous.) The leadline class that took place before the Grand Prix also gave stuffed animal horses to all of the participants. (Jealous again.)

Before the Grand Prix on Saturday night, there was an Exhibitors’ Party with delicious barbecue that was open to everyone. Really fun.

There was also a leadline class during the Exhibitor Party and before the Grand Prix, which was obviously adorable.

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The Preakness was broadcast during the Exhibitors’ Party. The stadium went completely quiet and then erupted in cheers and applause as American Pharoah won. I loved the officer on his horse watching from below the board in this photo.

In addition to the Kentucky natives, most of the riders I met were from the Midwest, especially Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. There were also a noticeable number of riders from Virginia and Florida, and – somewhat surprisingly – a few all the way from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Like at Old Salem, most of the riders that I spoke with were heading to Devon next. After that, summer plans for many of these Midwest riders included Kentucky, Lamplight outside of Chicago, Tryon in NC, and considerable buzz for the beautiful scenery of the shows in Traverse City, MI.

I saw lots of horse-themed license plates while walking to my car each day. Not surprisingly, these riders were from a few of the states I heard most frequently from the announcers and when talking to people.

The Kentucky Spring Classic scores big points for its location – you are in horse country. There is something special about driving around and seeing horses alongside the road enjoying their own little slices of paradise, whether it’s a foal playing with its mom or an attention-seeker looking out at the road begging you to stop.

Hi, I’m cute.

I went for long drives on the back roads around sunset almost every evening just to enjoy the views, listen to music in my car, and relax. Being able to take in the beauty of horses just hanging out on acres of green grass, far away from the show grounds, really reminded me what this is all about – our relationships with horses and how our stories intertwine because of these amazing animals, even outside of the shows. If I can’t watch a sunset over the water, watching the sun color the sky in shades of purple, pink, and orange over fields of horses is a close second.

Also, since Lexington is on the very western portion of the Eastern time zone designation, the sun doesn’t set until almost 9pm, which makes for beautiful, long days that already feel like summer and are currently almost an hour later than sunsets along the “actual” east coast like in NY or FL.

I fell in love with the stone walls lining many of the backroads.

Lexington has a great number of hotel accommodations near the park and a bustling downtown to visit. I ate at the Village Idiot downtown upon arriving on Tuesday, and then made what I realized to be a necessary pilgrimage to Jalapeños to end my show weekend on Sunday – both were delicious. Jalapeños was recommended to me by almost every rider I asked, “Where is your favorite place to eat while showing here?”

The highly recommended Jalapeños.

There are also just a ton of things to do in the scant time you are not at the show – tour a thoroughbred barn, a bourbon distillery, go to a horse museum, Keeneland racetrack – I am already planning out the next couple of trips. I think a Kentucky Bucket List is in order.

If you fall in love with the Kentucky Horse Park like I did, you’re in luck because there are plenty of opportunities throughout the summer to attend shows there. A/AA-rated highlights from June through August include:

So, if you couldn’t already tell – I had a great time at the Kentucky Spring Classic. I hope you enjoyed experiencing it on here with me! ’til the next show…

XO,
Meg

 

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