I toured one of Kentucky's most legendary horse farms, where horses live in immaculate barns, security teams sweep the grounds at night, and Secretariat is buried. Here's what it looks like.

claiborne farm

  • Lexington, Kentucky,
    is known as the “horse capital
    of the world.”
  • The region is home to about 450
    horse farms
     as well as Keeneland,
    the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house.
  • One of the most prestigious farms in this area is Claiborne Farm, a 3,000-acre,
    109-year-old farm that’s been visited by Queen
    Elizabeth II — twice.
  • Legendary racehorses Secretariat and Seabiscuit both lived at
    the farm, and 2013 Derby winner Orb currently resides there.
  • Claiborne is home to one of the world’s most expensive breeding
    stallions, War Front, whose
    stud fee — or cost to breed with him — is $250,000.
  • On a tour of Claiborne, I saw just how exceptionally
    well-cared-for the farms’ prized stallions are.
  • They live in immaculate barns where each stallion has its own
    spacious windowed stall with a personal fan, and an automated fly
    spray system keeps away the biting insects.
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    Insider’s homepage for more stories
    .

In Lexington, Kentucky, horses are a way of life.

With more than 450 horse farms in the region, Lexington is known
as “the horse capital of the world.” It’s also home to Keeneland,
the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house.

Riley Kirn of Bluegrass Sotheby’s International Realty described
Lexington’s horse farms as “kind of like English country estates”
with huge, stately homes and “barns that don’t look like
barns.”

“We call them farms, but I tell people to think of them more as
estates or ranches because they’re just massive,” Mary Quinn Ramer,
president of VisitLex, or
the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.

And Claiborne Farm is considered to be a step above the
rest.

“[Claiborne Farm] is absolutely stunning [and has a] very
winning track record in terms of what they do for the thoroughbred
industry,” Ramer said.

I got a tour of Claiborne Farm one morning — here’s what it
looks like.

SEE ALSO: I
spent 4 days in the ‘horse capital of the world,’ where the barns
look more like estates and billionaires convene for the world’s
largest horse sale. Here’s what life looks like in Kentucky’s
second-biggest city.

DON’T MISS: One
of Kentucky’s premier 4-star hotels is a castle on the side of a
highway. I spent a night there, and its bourbon bar and
Versailles-inspired decor didn’t make up for what it lacked in
sense of place.

Lexington, Kentucky and its surroundings are known as the “horse
capital of the world.”

The region is home to about 450
horse farms
 as well as Keeneland,
the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house.

Horse farm
tours
have become a popular tourist attraction in Kentucky,
particularly after the 2014 establishment of Horse Country, a
nonprofit for promotion and ticket sales to many of the state’s
horse farms.

Niki Heichelbech-Goldey, the director of communications for
VisitLex, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me
that visiting a horse farm has been the No. 1 request for
information from their office for the past decade.

One of the Lexington area’s most prestigious horse farms is
Claiborne Farm, a 109-year-old thoroughbred farm in the town of
Paris, about 20 miles from Lexington.

The farm was
established in 1910
by the Hancock family, who still control
the farm today.

Walker Hancock has been
running the farm
since 2014 after taking over from his father,
Seth Hancock. 

On a recent September morning, I drove out to Claiborne from
Lexington. The road took me through bucolic farmland.

The morning sunlight shining through the mist hovering over the
grass gave the countryside a tranquil glow. I saw horses grazing
and occasionally, tucked away in the hills, a stately home with
white columns.

I rolled down the car window and was struck by the smell freshly
cut grass … and manure.

I got to Claiborne Farm at about 9:45 a.m. and made my way down a
long driveway lined with tall trees.

Mist was still rising off the grass, but the air was already
warm.

Claiborne Farm has been home to some of the most legendary
racehorses in history, including Secretariat, whose 1973 Belmont
Stakes victory is often still considered one f the greatest
achievements in the history of horse racing.


“Riding [Secretariat] was like flying a fighter jet
compared to
an ordinary airplane,” Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, now 77,
told Aly Vance for CNN’s Winning Post.

Including Secretariat, 54 horses who called Claiborne home have
been inducted into
the Racing Hall of Fame.

John, our Claiborne tour guide, described the farm as “sacred
ground in American Thoroughbred breeding industry.”

Seabiscuit, the underdog racehorse who became a beloved champion,
grew up and was trained at Claiborne Farm.

Seabiscuit, smaller than the average racehorse with chunky legs
and an awkward gait, wasn’t originally a promising contender.

His first trainer said the horse was “lazy.”

But after he came under the care of a new owner, trainer, and
jockey, Seabiscuit
started winning major races.

In 1938,
he went on to beat the fan-favorite War Admiral
, a Triple Crown
winner, in what ended up being called the “Race of the
Century.”

Seabiscuit was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in
1958.

Upon arriving at the farm, I parked my rental car and followed the
directions to the Visitors Center. Claiborne Farm offers guided
tours that start at $20 and can cost upwards of $600.

I booked the basic
$20 stallion complex tour
, which includes a walk through the
thoroughbred breeding area, the stallion barns, and the cemetery.
The tour is conducted in small groups and takes about an hour.

Then there’s the
all-farm shuttle tour
for $30, which lasts an hour and a half
and transports guests around the 3,000-acre farm, including the
foaling barn, vet barn, training track, sales prep facilities,
maintenance division, and nursery. This tour does not include the
stallion complex.

A separate $40 tour allows guests to
meet one of the farm’s star breeding mares
and her foal.

And for those who want a more private experience, the farm
offers a
private version of the stallion tour
for small groups that
starts at $600. 

The farm has a small visitors center with bathrooms and a gift
shop.

The shop sells t-shirts and various horse-themed memorabilia and
gifts.

Claiborne Farm, which sits on more than 3,000 acres, has about 20
miles of roads and driveways, 50 barns, and 100 miles of fences.

Self-filling water troughs are scattered throughout the pastures
on the farms. 

When Secretariat lived at Claiborne, the farm reportedly had to
install a wooden privacy fence along the road because fans were
trying to reach over the fence to touch him, and a few even climbed
over.

There are about 24 houses on the property that are mainly
occupied by employees, according to John, my tour guide.

At night, a watch crew patrols the farm with a security detail
to ensure the safety of the horses. 

Our first stop on the tour was the breeding shed, part of
Claiborne’s stallion complex.

The path leading to the breeding shed is made of rubber to
prevent any slips from excited stallions.

There were 10 stallions at Claiborne at the time of my visit —
all Kentucky bred — seven of which were born on the farm, John
told our tour group.

It’s the mares that make up most of the horse population on the
farm, though. There were about 240 mares on the farm at the time of
my visit in early September — and 201 of them were pregnant.

The horse breeding industry is a huge money-maker for farms like
Claiborne.

To breed with a stallion, the farm charges a stud fee that can
change each year. At Claiborne,
the 2019 fees
ranged from $2,500 to $250,000 for their most
prized stallion. 

During this year’s breeding season, from about the second week
of February to early July, Claiborne Farm’s stallions bred with 754
mares. Some stallions breed three times a day: at 8 a.m., 3 p.m.,
and 7 p.m.

John described it as a “very efficient process,” as up to 10
mares can be bred every hour.

At least four humans are present for each breeding process: one
to handle the stallion, one to hold the mare, and two others to
hold the mare’s tail to the side and assist in any other way
they’re needed. Each breeding is video recorded for liability
reasons.

The floor of the breeding shed is made of a special polytrap
material that prevents horses’ hooves from slipping and avoids
injuries during the breeding process.

“Some of our top stallions are worth tens of millions,” John
said. “Some mares are worth millions. So we try to keep our horses
safe.”

The barns where the stallions live at Claiborne are painted bright
white with yellow-gold trim and shingled roofs.

While the stallions each have their own stall in the barn, they
also get plenty of time out at pasture.

The stallions are taken out to pasture individually in their own
pens, because otherwise they will fight, John told us. The mares
and foals, however, go out to pasture in groups.

Our group headed over to the first barn, eager to meet some of
Claiborne’s prized stallions.

The first stallion John brought out was a 7-year-old former
racehorse named Runhappy. The stallion is about 1,400 pounds and
bred with 125 mares this year.

Runhappy was playful and energetic, bobbing his head around and
frequently attempting to nibble on various parts of John.

He won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland when he was 3 years
old and had several other wins. Now, he makes the farm $25,000 each
time he breeds with a mare.

With the 125 mares he bred with in 2019, that adds up to more
than $3 million from a single breeding season. And Runhappy is far
from the most expensive stallion at the farm.

Each member of the tour group got the chance to approach Runhappy
and stroke his shoulder.

John warned us not to pet up near their faces because
thoroughbred stallions like to bite, which made a few members of
the group noticeably nervous. Since I grew up around horses and
John clearly had a firm grip on the stallions’ lead, I was more
than happy to give the stallion a pat.

Still, almost every single person in the group ended up giving
Runhappy a pet and posing for photos before John led him back into
his stall.

 

Inside the barn, we said hello to Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner in
2013.

According to John, Orb is a troublemaker. The farm employees
joke that he’s the “most likely to bite his groom.”

Orb was a big and burly horse, with a physique similar to
Secretariat, John said. 

The inside of the stallion barns was immaculate.

I expected the barns to be smelly, but I could only detect the
slightest scent of manure. 

The barns even had what can only be described as horse-specific
amenities.

Each horse has its own fan circulating cool air in the
stall.

And to protect the horses from biting flies, the stallion barns
have an automated spray system that mists fly spray every 30
minutes.

And in addition to the grain and water buckets, each horse has its
own salt block to lick in its stall.

The floors of the stalls are covered by clean straw.

Shiny golden placards on the stalls denote the name of each
stallion.

The stallions had a lot of personality, and they were eager to
be fed the peppermints that John pulled out of his pockets and
allowed us to offer up to the horses.

Toward the end of the tour, we got to meet Claiborne’s most
precious and expensive stallion: War Front. Each time War Front
successfully breeds with a mare, the farm makes $250,000.

As a racehorse, War Front made $425,000 in career earnings.

But as a breeding stallion, he’s worth millions.

This year, War Front bred with 81 mares and brought in $10 million
in revenue for the farm.

Most of Claiborne’s stallions are owned by multiple
shareholders. John told us that a share in War Front is worth about
$2 million — and there are 40 shareholders.

Mares come from all over the world to breed with him — from
France, England, Ireland, Dubai, John said.

A stallion can keep breeding as long as he’s physically capable.
After he retires, he lives out the rest of his life in peace on the
farm.

In a small, simple cemetery behind the farm office, 22 of
Claiborne’s most legendary horses are buried, including five
Kentucky Derby winners.

In the horse racing industry, the tradition is to bury only

the hooves, heart, and head of the horse.

But for some special thoroughbreds, they make an exception.

Secretariat, considered one of the greatest racehorses to ever
live, was buried at Claiborne in his entirety.


Secretariat was buried whole in a six-foot by six-foot oak
casket
lined with orange silk, the color used by Claiborne’s
racing stables, according to The Los Angeles Times.

After my tour of Claiborne, I was blown away by the attention and
effort that goes into caring for thoroughbreds — and the money
made from breeding them.

From the barns with fans and automated fly spray systems to the
security detail that sweeps the farm at night, it was clear that
horse farms go all-out to care for and protect their greatest
assets.

I’d always assumed that the real money in the horse industry
came from racing. But after learning that a single stallion can
earn a farm $10 million in less than a five-month period, I saw
just how lucrative an industry thoroughbred breeding is in
itself. 

My only regret was that I didn’t get to see more of the
farm.

I’d only seen a tiny part of it — the stallion complex and the
cemetery. I didn’t get a glimpse of any mares, foals, or the farm’s
48 other barns.

In hindsight, I think the best option would have been to take
the all-shuttle farm tour in combination with the stallion complex
tour I booked. But at a combined 2.5 hours, that would’ve been
trickier to fit into my schedule.

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News
I toured one of Kentucky's most legendary horse farms, where horses live in immaculate barns, security teams sweep the grounds at night, and Secretariat is buried. Here's what it looks like.