Horse Lover’s Vacation at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
Equitrekking filmed an episode of their PBS series at Shaker Village back in 2013, wherein Darley rode through the village’s nature preserve and learned about the historic legacy of the Shakers and their unique and fascinating utopian lifestyle. This past October, I had the opportunity to visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill myself, and was astonished by the home-spun comfort, fascinating historic significance, and multitude of family-friendly activities offered at Shaker Village.
Ben Leffew has been the Preserve Manager at Shaker Village since 2009. In 2006, he told me, the property was agricultural, but now 1,200 of the 3,000 acres of original Shaker land that have been recovered are dedicated to the conversion of farmland into a native prairie ecosystem. Ben proudly stopped us at a place where I could see the preserve, the farmland, and the criss-crossing trails – a sight that represents the entirety of Shaker Village’s efforts to create a sustainable, useful, guest-friendly place.
Controlled burns are conducted every February, along with selective spraying and mowing, to suppress invasive species such as Chinese Huckleberry and poison hemlock and provide fresh nutrients to support the thriving of the desired native plant species. Chinese Huckleberry, Ben said, is hard to get rid of, and its red berries can indeed be seen growing thick in large swaths where they appear around the preserve.
The focus of the preserve’s wildlife conservation efforts is plants and birds, who act as indicator species and can thus help track how well the preserve staff are doing. The crew regularly catches and tags swallows and monarch butterflies, and the preserve now boasts the highest population of Bobwhite quail in the state.
As we cruised back toward the Visitor Center in the ATV, I reached my hand toward a monarch butterfly that fluttered alongside us. I was several inches shy of it, and at any rate it was probably smarter than to fly toward my hand. Ben was entertained by my attempt. “If you’d have caught that, you’d really have had something to brag about.”
Mike Moore cradles a duck at Shaker Village.
The farm sits on only an acre and a half of land on the other end of the property. Assistant Farm Manager Mike Moore is intimately familiar with the farm’s yields as well as its regular rotations, soil quality, companion crops, natural insect repellants, compost, and animals, all of which have distinct and important jobs that keep the farm running. He and the Shaker Village agricultural team have an amazing and very self-sufficient system in place that closely emulates the sustainable farming practices perfected by the Shakers more than 150 years ago.
Learning about sustainability at Shaker Village.
The crops and animals on the farm reflect this; Mike pointed out the heirloom breeds to me, including Dorset sheep and the beautiful and personable Indian Runner Ducks, as well as the heirloom vegetables that are the result of the great care taken to preserve the genealogy of Shaker seeds.
Chickens, Pigs and Compost at The Farm
The farm proudly grows nearly four tons of straight-from-the-garden produce each year, most of which ends up on guest’s plates in the restaurant at the converted Trustee’s Office. The best from each crop is selected to be sent to the kitchens, and any leftover or otherwise unsuitable produce is donated or recycled – that is, fed to the farm animals, who will use it to create compost for the following season’s crops.
The Trustee’s Table is the very exclusive-sounding, invitation-only sort of title for the Inn’s dining hall. Some of the Village’s most elegant architecture is seen in this building, including the beautiful pair of spiral staircases that reach to the third floor. This building also offers a gift shop with woodcrafts, apparel, cards, kitchen brooms, a Shaker special, books, lotions, and a selection of Kentucky chocolates, sauces, and bourbon balls. I bought a beautiful, soft, and very long tartan scarf that I will cherish for a long time to come. It was drizzly and overcast while I was there, and temperatures were less than optimum.
Breakfast at the Trustee’s Table tastes as homemade as expected in a place with an on-site farm. The bacon is perfectly crisped, and the sausage is what you always hope to get but never do when you go to a restaurant. scrambled eggs, yogurt, fried potatoes, fresh fruit, and oatmeal with baked cinnamon apples straight from the orchard, and quite a few other things. Each table receives pumpkin muffins and biscuits, as well as your choice of coffee, tea, juice, and milk.
Lunch offerings include several salad options, soup, and southern staples like fried green tomatoes and country fried chicken. Dinner (reservations recommended) has a more elegant aesthetic with crab cakes, quail, and trout. I ate my breakfasts at Shaker Village, but for dinner I ferreted advice from the Village staff regarding their favorite places to eat in downtown Herrodsburg. I can highly recommend the Kentucky Fudge Company for a fun family atmosphere in a pub-turned-café, and The Owl’s Nest for a cozy, elegant, date night vibe.
Shaker Village Stables
During my stay in Shaker Village I was also invited to experience a sunset trail ride with Gabby Kreinbrook, Equine and Stable Assistant at the Shaker Village Stable. We set out on her two chestnut geldings, who were delightfully well-behaved and the best-trained horses I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Although the day was somewhat too overcast to really see a gorgeous sunset, we were treated to a palpable change in the energy of the preserve as its inhabitants settled down for the night. We saw no fewer than 8 deer, including an impressive buck that stuck around long enough for Gabby to orchestrate an impromptu photo shoot.
The author, Sarah Mohler, at Shaker Village.
The Village does not rent horses, but guests traveling with their own horses may ride them on the preserve’s trails (for a fee of $10 per day.) 14 distinct trails through the preserve are listed on the Village’s website, most of which are loops, and 33 of the 37 miles of trails allow horses. Trailer parking and boarding ($10 per night for a paddock, $30 for a stall,) and turnout are also available.
Shaker Village’s website is light on horse info, but Gabby explained that the horses the farm does own earn their keep, as all of the animals at Shaker Village do, by working. The two Shire sisters, Sadie and Roz, provide the horsepower for the wagon rides and the farm’s plows, as do the great Russian Percherons, and they all spend a great deal of time at pasture as well.
Sadie and Roz.
Shaker Village Activities
Upon check-in, guests receive a folder stuffed with maps, wedding and catering info, menus, pamphlets, flyers for activities, and an annual almanac that details the daily and signature events guests can enjoy. In the time that I was there, I explored more than half a dozen buildings, including a private tour of the Center Family Dwelling which was under construction, learned about the darker side of Shaker life on a spirit stroll, took a carriage ride and a hay ride, watched the farm’s ducks on their daily parade, listened to traditional Shaker music, toured the preserve and the farm, and, of course, bought some souvenirs.
As I looked over the almanac back in my room, I realized that I couldn’t possibly see or do everything they had to offer during a 2-day visit. There are harvests, tours, tastings, concerts, demonstrations of Shaker customs and artifacts, trail runs, and a riverboat ride on the Kentucky River.
The Inn has 72 guest rooms, suites and private cottages in 13 historic buildings.
Fortunately, there’s a flyer in my guest folder detailing the benefits of buying a seasonal pass, and even if I were to only return once in the next year, the pass would easily pay for itself. And I will have to return, because my apple butter is almost gone.
Shaker Village is located in a cradle of the long and winding Rt 68 in Herrodsburg, Kentucky, near the Kentucky River. For reservations or to explore their extensive website, visit shakervillageky.org.
About the author: Sarah Mohler is a Cleveland-based editorial intern for Equitrekking. She has worked in hippotherapy and boarding facilities in Ohio, a horse rescue in Maryland, and a trail riding business in the Colorado Rockies, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Equine Facility Management from Lake Erie College. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Creative Writing from the NEOMFA program at Kent State University, and hopes to write her thesis on the evolution of man’s relationship with horses. When not writing, reading, annotating, teaching, workshopping, or grading papers, she enjoys going for walks, eating sushi, and snuggling under a soft blanket with her boyfriend.