Down a rural highway in a quaint Kentucky town called Shelbyville, beautiful barns dot the landscape, and wood-fenced fields line the roads. Known as the American Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World, Shelbyville offers everything from horse training tours and riding lessons to orchards and sheep farm tours.
Gallrein Farms offers visitors a taste of life on the farm. The former dairy farm was converted to a tourist attraction about a dozen years ago. The indoor cafe and bakery makes up delicious paninis, homemade soups and delectable desserts. A stroll through the eclectic gift shop tends to yield a trunk full of farm-fresh produce, local jams and jellies, seasonal and farm-themed decor, and other goodies. Greenhouses are bursting with colorful florals, interspersed with unique and artistic garden pieces.
From weddings to fall festivals, the grounds are perfect for either a romantic ceremony or fall festival. This fall, wind your way through the corn maze, take a hayride to the pumpkin patch, and do a pumpkin craft. Ever wanted to pet a pig, especially after reading “Charlotte’s Web”? Now’s your chance. The petting zoo, which is open spring, summer and fall, features all sorts of cute critters including a pig, miniature horse, llama, sheep and other furry friends. For additional entertainment, try your hand at pumpkin chucking!
One of the highlights of my trip to Shelbyville was a behind-the-scenes tour of Kismet Farm , a horse boarding and training facility. Most of the horses in the barn are client horses or lesson horses, and they are all Saddlebreds. This breed is known as the “peacock of the showring.”
The trainer at Kismet explained to me that these horses are beautiful and “fancy,” and they use as much front end motion as possible. They don’t jump, race or turn barrels. For Saddlebreds, it’s all about the show. Judges look for the front motion and head carriage when judging competitions.
The Saddlebred breed is the first American registry breed, created in 1892. It’s also the only Kentucky breed. Originally, people owned Saddlebreds as a show of wealth status because most horses at that time were used strictly as work horses.
Since a horse costs about $30,000 a year to keep in training, feed and maintain with proper veterinary care, most owners are not in it for the purse. These days, showing a Saddlebred is mostly a hobby and out of love for the breed, since the biggest purse is only $50,000 – a far cry from Kentucky Derby winnings.
Saddlebreds start showing when they are 3 to 4 years old, and they will continue to show until they are 12 to 14 years old. After they retire from showing, they are used for training. They prefer to work as to being turned out to pasture for their retirement days.
Shopping hot spots
In downtown Shelbyville, visitors can explore the Shops at Science Hill , which include a fine dining experience at Science Hill Inn and the incomparable Wakefield-Scearce Galleries. The galleries are well-known for their English antiques, specifically furniture and silver. In fact, the galleries have the second largest silver vault in the country. Located in a former girl’s preparatory school, the original structures on the property date back to 1825.
Since my purse broke in the middle of my trip, I had no choice but to find a new one. Fortunately, the nearby town of Simpsonville is home to The Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass, which boasts some of the best high-end shops in the area, with stores like Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue and Gucci. After purchasing a new Kate Spade purse, I found myself in need of an amazing hot fudge sundae from Ghirardelli Chocolates.
Let’s go to the theater
Up for some entertainment? Check to see if the Shelby County Community Theatre has a show playing. It has offered a variety of comedies, musicals and dramas for 40 years. The black box theatre can intimately seat 130, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Mark your calendar
Each September at Red Orchard Park, the Painted Stone Settlers re-enacts the Long Run Massacre and Floyd’s Defeat. In 1780, Daniel Boone’s brother, Squire Boone, relocated just north of present-day Shelbyville. Boone, along with 13 families, set up an outpost called Painted Stone, which became the target of violence the following year. Evacuating settlers were brutally attacked by Indians, who then ambushed a party that was sent to provide aid to possible survivors.
For nearly 20 years, this living history event has commemorated the incredible story of Painted Stone. The event features a Native American campsite, depictions of militia life and 18th-century customs. Visitors can expect to find demonstrations of spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, fire starting and more during the two-day event. Living historians will mill about the property dressed in period attire, answering questions. Kentucky authors will be on hand to sign and sell their books, and traditional Shawnee storytelling and singing also takes place. One of the more popular events is the firing of the 3-pound brass cannon, which will be fired three to four times prior to the battle reenactment.
Where to eat
I had dinner at La Cocina de Mama. The food was excellent, and I have to say, it was the prettiest plated Mexican cuisine I’ve ever seen. I breakfasted at Sixth & Main Coffeehouse, where I had a delectable blueberry scone.
There are a number of unique overnight venues in the area, but my abode for the evening was the Chandler Ridge Cabin. Located off a rural road in the town of Bagdad, a picturesque gazebo out front was rivaled by the scenic pond in the back. The three-story structure offered enough beds for an army, or at least a very large, extended family. The cabin featured a living area and kitchen on the main floor, as well as access to a very spacious deck overlooking the backyard and pond. The recreation area was in the basement and featured fishing gear, foosball, a poker table and billiards.
Editor’s note: The writer visited the Shelbyville area on a hosted press trip, but all opinions are her own and no one reviewed or approved this article.
If you enjoyed this story, you also may like “Barrels and Bourbon in the Kentucky Bluegrass.”