4 Great Places for Kentucky Horse Riding
If a visit to the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Horse Park and Lexington area farms have you wanting to saddle up, check out these Kentucky Riding Stables and watch our video on Kentucky Trail Riding, below.
Horseback riding in Kentucky is accessible, family friendly and can be easy on the wallet. There are currently 229 horseback riding trails offering over 1,913 miles throughout Kentucky!
I tested many of the options myself, while filing “Equitrekking Kentucky,” a high definition episode that’s part of my Emmy winning TV series on PBS.
Big Red Stables
Where: Harrodsburg, Kentucky
Best Sights: Wide open fields of beautiful bluegrass
Best For: Advanced Beginner to Advanced Western Riders over 12-years-old
Budget: $35 for one hour guided rides. Reserve in advance.
Website: Big Red Stables
The Big Red Stables has been in Emily Dennis’ family for generations. Located not too far from Shaker Village in an area of beautiful meadows, forests and rolling hills, this family farm offers a personalized riding tour on smooth Tennessee Walking horses. Riders of varying experience levels can enjoy a taste of life on a Kentucky family farm.
I rode a beautiful, seven-year-old, bay Tennessee Walking horse named Shadow along with Emily, her husband Drew and 9-year-old niece. Emily is lucky to still have this beautiful farm, where she grew up riding, in the family, and she knows it. Over 20 years ago, Emily's mother started the Big Red Stables, a business on the farm through which they board horses and guide trail rides. The extra income that they earn from the stables helps them afford to keep the horses they love so much.
Emily talked about her childhood, as we rode past the stables and up through open meadows to the top of a rolling hill, where we could look out over the 200-acre farm. As I listened to Emily’s childhood stories of riding bareback down into the creeks, I realized that she was ale to experience a freedom that doesn’t seem to exist in a lot of places today. She told me with a laugh they’d ride out and “do things that today they’d say are bad for your health,” which I thought that sounded like lots of fun.
After passing through one of the many stone fences which dot the countryside, our group came to a vast, flat field where Emily used to play a game that she called Kentucky Derby with her friends. You can probably guess what this game involved. Emily called out, “and they’re off!” and our group raced ahead. I really like riding gaited horses and Shadow was amazing with his rocking chair canter. We flew through the fields, and I felt a little like I was a kid again too. We raced up a hill and stopped in time to ease onto trails lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Emily was taking me to the old barn, which has been standing on the property for over 150 years.
The old barn certainly showed its age with broken boards and vines growing up the walls and all around it. Our horses stood quietly in front of this historic structure as Emily conveyed her hope of passing the family farm down to her son.
“Harrodsburg, the county seat of Mercer County, is the oldest permanent English settlement west of the Alleghenies. So, people have been living in these hills a long time,” said Emily. “There are places like this where the woods are growing back up in and around the settlement areas, because, you know, at one time a family lived up here on this hill and farmed this land and raised children, and yet there’s a hay field in the bottom where my mom harvests hay for our cattle and our horses and it’s- it’s special because it’s a mixture of the old and the new.”
I felt special just for being able to ride at Emily’s farm with her and learn about Kentucky’s farm history from a local.
Where: Harrodsburg, Kentucky
Best Sights: Waterfalls at the site of the Old Mill, historic stone fences and open meadows.
Best For: All levels of riders.
Budget: $7.00 per person Daily Horseback Riding/Carriage Fee for bringing your own horse. $107 per person for 2-hour guided ride at Shaker Village with the Big Red Stables using their horses.
Website: Shaker Village
I had heard about the trails at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a restored Shaker community in Kentucky, long before I set out for a ride with Don Pelly, a naturalist, and a group of local riders. I rode Big Red, a large Rocky Mountain Horse, owned by a local resident who frequents the trails here. You can bring your own horse and ride at Shaker Village or saddle up on a guided tour with the Big Red Stables. Shaker Village has over 3,000 acres of idyllic landscapes and historic sites with 33 miles of horseback riding trails and 15 miles of carriage-friendly trails and it’s less than thirty minutes from Lexington.
The Shakers were a religious group who lived together as communal societies, which peaked during the 1800's. Well known today for their crafts and design, the Shakers believed that God is within us all and received their name for the fervent manner in which they danced, sang and shoot during prayer. Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill is the largest restored Shaker community in the United States. Here you can learn about their historic community through this living history museum. There are with 34 restored buildings on the property, a restaurant where you can dine on Shaker specialties and you can even sleep in restored buildings on the property.
We rode along a dirt road lined with two old stone walls built by Irish, Scottish and English immigrants that came into this area in the 1800s. These walls, set against rolling verdant hills, reminded me of riding in Ireland. There are many old stone walls lining the trails here and they relay a special history.
Though the Shakers were Unionists and anti-slavery, both Union and Confederate troops descended upon Shaker Village for food and hospitality. Riding along a restored turnpike road, we were actually riding on what was the main evacuation route for the Confederate army leaving Kentucky. As we rode, Don described the pioneers, Native Americans, Shakers and Civil War cavalry who passed down this road before us.
Passing a field of wildflowers, including delicate clusters of purple phlox, we crossed a stream and rode down Shawnee Run Trail by the old mill site, an important area for the Shakers. There’s a beautiful cascading waterfall here, which powered the old mill and makes for a great photo opportunity. Don explained that the mill that they had at this location was called a fulling mill. It’s here that they would process their textiles to make them soft.
You can stay in Shaker comfort on the property at The Inn at Shaker Village and your horses can as well. Boarding facilities feature fully-equipped stalls with shavings, a heated tack room with Hot & Cold Running Water and five large paddocks. While my horse was taken home by a local, I spent the night in a restored Shaker house and feasted on crisp herb chicken, fluffy rolls and tangy lemon pie, a Shaker recipe. It was a great way to end a day of riding and truly immerse myself in this interesting, historic area of Kentucky.
Barren River Lake State Resort Park
Where: South Central Kentucky close to Kentucky's famous cave area
Best Sights: Wild flowers, woodland and the lake
Best For: Families and riders over 6-years-old. 45 minute guided trail rides depart every hour Memorial Day-Labor Day, weather permitting and some weekends during Spring and Fall.
Budget: Approximately $18 per person for one hour guided rides.
Website: Barren River Horse Riding
Kentucky State Parks offer over 140 miles of horseback riding trails. I rode through quiet, wooded trails amid redbuds, dogwoods and a variety of wildflowers on the trails of Barren River State Resort Park, one of Kentucky’s 17 state park resorts. My senses heightened, as my horse’s hooves crunched through leaves scattered on the dirt trails. I was on the lookout out for Kentucky’s state bird, the Cardinal. Riders have been known to see white tailed deer, wild turkey, blue herons and Canadian Geese here.
Lisa Deavers, the park’s naturalist, served as my guide. She talked about the park’s unique history as we meandered into the quiet forest. Looking at the abundant foliage and flowers, it was hard to believe that this part of Kentucky was called the Barrens by European settlers who believed that the land was unfit to grow anything. Where today there is lush forest, there was once a sea of tall grassland and prairies. Early settlers recounted riding on horseback for days through grass that they couldn’t see over, because it was so tall.
Contrary to what the settlers believed, the land wasn’t unfit to grow anything. The Native Americans in the area were practicing controlled burning to keep the vast area clear and grassy to attract bison and make them easier to spot and hunt.
One of the highlights of riding here is the approximately 10,000-acre lake, which is surrounded by acres of serene Kentucky forest. The trails weren’t challenging here and the ride is short, making it a good place for less experienced riders and groups of varying riding levels. If you visit this park to ride, consider combining your ride with a ride at nearby Land Between the Lakes, another popular area for trail riding.
Land Between the Lakes
Where: South Central Kentucky
Best Sights: Waterfowl, the lakes!
Best For: Families and riders over 7-years-old who’d like to ride their own horse and have access to good camping facilities or saddle up at the park’s stables.
Budget: approximately $15 per person for one hour guided rides.
Website: Land Between the Lakes Horseback Riding
With over 100 miles of diverse trails for horses and the well-equipped Wranglers Campground, many people travel to Land Between the Lakes (LBL) to ride. You can bring your own horse or choose to ride out with Equine Adventures, an outfitter that rents horses and leads travelers on guided rides from Wranglers Stables. I was able to ride out with Randall Mitchell, a park ranger, on a fit 12-year-old mare named Misty from Equine Adventures.
LBL is on a peninsula surrounded by a Lake Barkley and Fjords Bay on one side and Laura Furnace Creek and Lick Creek on the other, meaning there’s ample chance to ride near water and spot waterfowl and other wildlife. The riding trails bring travelers through rolling woodlands and alongside isolated shores. We clip-clopped through a beautiful stream as we rode towards the lake, passing a few other riders along the way. At this 170,000-acre National Recreation Area, folks are encouraged to come and be active in the area. Lots of people camp here for the week and make their own fun by fishing, biking, riding horses and getting into nature.
Like many Kentucky sites I explored on horseback, there are also historic spots to discover in LBL, like the ruins of Laura Furnace, an iron production site that was active over 100 years ago. Western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee were once major areas for iron ore production. It wasn’t good for the environment, and the remnants of this destruction can be seen today, but it was good for the area’s economy. Another economic booster was tobacco. Consider visiting the old tobacco farmstead in the park too. The decades old tobacco barn still stands today.
There are lots of great areas to explore on horseback in the great state of Kentucky. Bring your horse or ride an area mount. All you need is a sense of adventure and a taste for nature and history.
Purchase Equitrekking DVDs, including the Equitrekking Kentucky episode. Watch Equitrekking on your local PBS station. Check out great dude ranches, guest ranches and equestrian escapes in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide and EquitrekkingTravel.com.