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  • Interactive exhibits at the Kentucky Derby Museum
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    First Stop: The Biggest Event in Horse Racing in Louisville, Kentucky

  • Action at the starting gate at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky
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    Lexington, Kentucky: The Horse Capital of the World

  • Fountain Square Park in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky
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    Cars, Concerts and Carriages in Bowling Green, Kentucky

  • Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville
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    Gracious Mansions and More in Nashville, Tennessee

  • Kids interact with horses on a farm in Shelbyville, Tennessee
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    Shelbyville, Tennessee: Home of High-Stepping Horses

The Kentucky Derby, always the first Saturday in May, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
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Touring Horse Country in Kentucky and Tennessee

  • Route distance:
    569.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    3 days

Discover where horse heritage thrives in the Southeast

Horse racing and breeding have deep roots embedded in Kentucky’s Bluegrass and the rolling hills of middle Tennessee. Kentucky’s way with thoroughbreds and American Saddlebred horses spread south into Tennessee, where the Tennessee Walking Horse was born. Today, you can celebrate this shared heritage along this route which traces beautiful countryside dotted with museums, memorials, working farms and the racetrack.

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Interactive exhibits at the Kentucky Derby Museum
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First Stop: The Biggest Event in Horse Racing in Louisville, Kentucky

Land in Louisville International Airport (or drive a couple hours from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport) and unpack your bowties and hats: You’re headed deep into the home of famed horse racing track Churchill Downs. Its signature event, the Kentucky Derby, held annually the first Saturday in May, is a can’t-miss occasion, but there’s much to do there in the off-season as well. Year-round, watch simulcast racing. April through June and September through November, pay a few dollars and score a seat on the finish line for live racing. Louisville is also the home of the Urban Bourbon Trail, the Muhammad Ali Center and a vibrant restaurant scene. Don’t miss the Kentucky Derby Museum, where exhibits let you experience the race in 360-degree video, race on a simulated horse, and even see a real horse in training. If you find yourself in Louisville in the weeks prior to Derby Day, you’ll get to experience the Kentucky Derby Festival and the largest fireworks display in North America before ambling off to Lexington, 125 kilometers east.

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124 km
1 hour by car
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Action at the starting gate at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky
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Lexington, Kentucky: The Horse Capital of the World

Continue your equestrian immersion here in what is commonly recognized as the “Horse Capital of the World.” Beyond its horse history, Lexington blends cosmopolitan flavor and southern charm. You’ll find top-notch restaurants, craft breweries, galleries, boutiques and historic buildings. To peek behind the scenes of the horse business, head to Kentucky Horse Park’s 486 hectares of museums, shows and memorials that include the Walking Barn Tour, International Museum of the Horse, horseback and pony rides, and the Hall of Champions. Time your visit with late April’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event to observe dressage, cross-country and show-jumping competitions. If you have time, take a day to visit Keeneland, a thoroughbred racetrack and auction company just an hour east of Lexington. During racing season, there are guided walking tours, paddock demonstrations and times to meet jockeys. Your newfound knowledge of all-things equestrian will serve you well when you get to Bowling Green, just two hours away.

245 km
3 hours by car
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Fountain Square Park in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky
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Cars, Concerts and Carriages in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Switch gears in Bowling Green’s lovely town center, where horse-drawn carriages trot you around a square containing a mix of galleries, restaurants, shops and Victorian architecture. Be sure to stick around for the free Concerts in the Park series on Friday nights in July and August. Home to the Corvette Assembly Plant and National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green also offers its own form of horsepower. Tour the plant and see the only place in the world where "America's sports car" is manufactured. At Beech Bend Raceway, you can hear – and feel – the roar of national-level drag racing, or head to the amusement park on the same park grounds for roller coaster thrills. Once you’re done here, it’s time to return to form in Nashville’s horse country.

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108 km
1 hour by car
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Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville
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Gracious Mansions and More in Nashville, Tennessee

One hour south of Bowling Green is this famed city – known for its Country music, but you should also see its countryside. Start at Belle Meade Plantation, a Greek Revival mansion commissioned in 1845. The main hall is decorated with paintings of the former owners’ famous thoroughbreds, including Iroquois, the first American-born-and-bred horse to win the English Derby. A short drive through farmland and celebrity farm estates takes you to Iroquois Steeplechase, a race that attracts a crowd of more than 25,000 annually the second Saturday in May. Catch your breath before driving an hour south to small-town Shelbyville and its big horse culture.

92 km
1 hour by car
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Kids interact with horses on a farm in Shelbyville, Tennessee
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Shelbyville, Tennessee: Home of High-Stepping Horses

For a deep dive into Tennessee Walking Horse and Saddlebred Country, don’t miss peaceful Shelbyville and neighboring Wartrace with its well-preserved historic district. In Wartrace, tour the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum and check out the historical artifacts, photos and other documents that tell the story of this unique breed with its four-beat running walk. Just before Labor Day in September, witness Shelbyville’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration featuring 10 days of competition among some 2,000 horses. Next, head to Shelbyville’s Clearview Horse Farm and sign up for a trail ride across the farm’s 60 hectares. You can even choose to ride a Tennessee Walking Horse before you head an hour back to Nashville International Airport.

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