The Blue Horse has officially been embraced as Lexington’s community spirit flag, after Mayor Jim Gray and other government officials joined students at Lexington Christian Academy for an unveiling ceremony in mid-March.
But the now-familiar symbol, which has been used by VisitLEX to promote local tourism since 2009, wasn’t always met with unified support.
When first suggested, the cobalt interpretation of a classically painted equine met with mixed reviews, said Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX.
“The idea was, is there something that could be a unifying mark for all of Lexington?” Ramer said. “They presented a very modern, avant grade take on a traditional horse. … There were a whole host of reactions.”
The initial version of VisitLEX’s Blue Horse was adapted from a European equine portrait, but as the image began to gain exposure, it was brought to the group’s attention that local equine artist Edward Troye had created a similar painting in the 1800s of a famous racehorse with a stronger hometown connection: Lexington.
As a racehorse, Lexington was the third highest money-earner of his time, and a top sire based in Midway, Kentucky, from 1861 until his death in 1875. Troye, an immigrant who lived in Georgetown, Kentucky, for part of his life, had painted many portraits of the local equine celebrity.
All the pieces seemed to be falling into place to create a memorable symbol with genuine local meaning, Ramer said. With permission from the New York Jockey Club, which owned the rights to the Troye painting, the horse Lexington took on VisitLEX’s trademarked blue tinge, and the city’s simultaneously modern and traditional Blue Horse was born.
Although it took a little time for local opinion to truly coalesce around the symbol, the horse quickly become a popular promotional image among visiting audiences. Stickers with the horse’s image were difficult for VisitLEX to keep in supply, and the agency began to receive requests for more souvenirs adorned with the sapphire stallion.
Prior to the advent of the Blue Horse, VisitLex didn’t engage in retail sales, Ramer said.
“It was really by virtue of having something that people wanted to purchase as a take-home,” Ramer said. “I think it is a real testament and a compliment to the brand.”
The community flag was adopted as the result of a campaign by a group of eighth graders at Lexington Christian Academy, who lobbied the Urban County Council for a better flag design to represent the city of Lexington. While the city seal could not be removed from Lexington’s official flag without changing the city’s charter, the new flag of the simplified blue horse on a white background has been adopted as the Lexington’s community spirit flag, to be flown at homes, businesses and other local venues.
“One of the best parts is that the students think it’s pretty cool,” Ramer said. “I love the fact that people are thinking of the horse as theirs, too.”
The local push to embrace Blue Horse has strengthened the brand, Ramer said, and VisitLEX is continuing to work with additional organizations interested in incorporating the Blue Horse into their designs. The group has recently engaged in talks with LexTran, for example, Ramer said, which has expressed some interest in using the image to adorn bus shelters.
“We have a pretty strict protocol,” Ramer said. “We are trying to be good stewards of the brand.”
And although coming up with a unifying symbol to represent a diverse community like Lexington can be difficult and controversial, Ramer said she is pleased that the local visitor’s bureau ultimately stood by their horse.
“Looking back, I’m glad the bureau said we are going with [the Blue Horse], because it works for us and it makes sense for us,” Ramer said. “Sometimes the gratification is years in the making and not instant.”