Michelle Sanservino puts a horse through its paces at Isidore Farm. Photo by Emily Moseley
When Katie Shoultz and her parents, Julie and A.J. Shoultz, began their quest to obtain a sport-horse farm of their own in the Bluegrass eight years ago, they found that most offerings on the market at the time were either too big or too small for them. Instead of buying an established horse operation, they purchased 50 acres of raw land on Paris Pike in 2005 and transformed it into Isidore Farm.
A.J. Shoultz comes from a farming background, and his daughter credits his visionary eye with seeing the potential of the land to turn their shared dream into a reality. Within a year, the family had built a barn, installed fencing and completed most of the construction on the residence. In 2012, the indoor ring with state-of-the-art footing was completed.
The family chose Lexington for more than its attractiveness as an equine epicenter; Katie Shoultz, 29, was applying to law schools, and the University of Kentucky was at the top of her list. Her parents were looking for a community suitable for possible retirement. In all areas, Lexington fit the bill. What began as a small private barn has since grown into a niche boarding and training operation, managed by Jodi Wanenmacher.
In the years since Isadore Farm was established, the economic downturn that began in 2008 brought a swift and substantial decline for the region’s traditional mainstay of Thoroughbred farms. The Thoroughbred industry had been leveraged to a historic degree, and when combined with the banking crisis and a dramatic drop in bloodstock values (and therefore collateral values), many operations exited the marketplace. Although Kentucky’s overall share of the Thoroughbred marketplace held relatively stable and even increased slightly by some measures, according to the 2013 Jockey Club Fact Book, a sharp decline in the foal crop, along with fewer breeding mares and standing stallions, resulted in an unprecedented number of Thoroughbred farms offered for sale. Supply outstripped demand, and as a result, the average price of farmland dropped significantly.
At the same time, however, the World Equestrian Games (WEG) brought an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the assets of the Bluegrass to another global market of elite equine competitors: sport-horse riders, trainers, owners and enthusiasts. The commonwealth of Kentucky, the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government, private individuals and companies including Alltech, invested significantly in WEG, the Kentucky Horse Park and Fayette County infrastructure. The city fast-tracked previously planned projects. Downtown improvements such as the Fifth Third Pavilion, restaurants, wayfinding signs and beautification projects all contributed to the WEG experience. Importantly, improvements were lasting legacy improvements. The world took note, and more sport-horse enthusiasts like the Shoultz family have since begun investing in the Bluegrass.
“In the past few years, we have seen quite an influx of members of the sport-horse industry calling Lexington their home,” Shoultz said. “It is thrilling to see.”
Zach Davis and Michelle Mullins of Kirkpatrick and Company recently completed an informal survey of farms sold to sport-horse interests. Approximately 60 farms sold in 2012 for a collective sales price of $93 million, with another $34 million changing hands just in the first half of 2013. These numbers do not include all transfers and do not include riders and trainers who come to Lexington and lease facilities from April to October. Proximity to the Kentucky Horse Park is paramount with these purchasers and has turned Ironworks Pike into a veritable “show jumper alley.”
sidore Farm Manager Jodi Wanenmacher poses with a horse in the farm’s state-of-the-art riding barn.Photo by Emily Moseley
Lexington offers these riders, trainers and owners a quality of life that they find appealing. Many of them have traveled the world and are looking for a city that is affordable, accessible and yet offers them all the modern conveniences they expect.
Not only are these individuals investing the purchase price of land, but almost all are immediately putting significant capital in barns, outdoor rings with performance footing, and indoor riding arenas. They are also constructing new houses or significantly improving existing houses. They are hiring employees, local contractors, purchasing vehicles and engaging local professionals. They are spending money in their newly-adopted local Bluegrass economy.
Lisa and Robert Lourie, the owners of Spy Coast Farm, purchased their Lexington property, located adjacent to the Kentucky Horse Park, in 2008, as excitement was building for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. With operations in New York and Florida, the farm focuses on a world-class breeding and a young-horse development program. Lisa Lourie has a passion for breeding, genetics and performance horses and wants to see the United States develop its own elite hunters and jumpers from within, rather than relying on importing horses from Europe.
She purchased the former Gracefield Farm and assembled contiguous parcels for a total of about 400 acres. Subsequent improvements include a show barn, a new young-horse barn, a quarantine facility, state-of-the-art indoor ring and numerous outdoor rings with the best available sport-horse footing, along with housing, fencing and other facilities. In addition, the farm hosts young-horse development shows around the country, including in Lexington.
That kind of exposure, along with the many riders now based out of Lexington who are Olympic-level competitors or Olympic hopefuls, serves to raise Lexington’s profile as a well-suited locale for sport-horse competitors. For example, Reed Kessler was the youngest rider (at 18) ever to make the U.S. Olympic show jumping team competing in London in 2012. Megan Nusz and Derek Braun (both under 30) are competing for the United States, one in Europe this summer and one at an upcoming competition in Brazil. Javier Anderhub Berganza has represented Mexico in international show-jumping events, and his younger twin brothers, Andres and Adrian, recently took the silver for Mexico at the North American Young Riders Championship held at the Kentucky Horse Park this summer. Shane Sweetnam, based at Spy Coast, competes for Ireland. Sharn Wordley, based at Ashland Farms, competes for New Zealand, and is also a partner in Wordley-Martin footing company, which provides footing and rings to top riders around the world.
Along with their abilities in the equine arena and their spending power in the Bluegrass, many of these new residents also bring experience and knowledge of other fields and industries, all of which can contribute to a broader economic stability for the city.