One legacy of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the Kentucky Horse Park and the horse-related marketing efforts in the Bluegrass is Central Kentucky’s strong and growing sport horse market.
A major economic indicator is farm sales in Fayette County (of tracts of 10 acres or more). Such farms continue to trade well, and the total dollar value of such sales is substantial, despite the recent recession. Sales totaled $93 million in 2012, $79 million in 2013, $30 million in 2014, $121 million in 2015 and $37 million for 2016 year-to-date; a staggering total of $360 million in just the past four and a half years.
Lisa Lourie and Derek Braun were among the early adopters in the sport-horse movement in Central Kentucky. Lourie and Braun foresaw what would happen to the land near the Kentucky Horse Park after the announcement of the Alltech 2010 World Equestrian Games. Lourie purchased the former Gracefield in 2008, which borders the Kentucky Horse Park. This farm is located on arguably the best corner in Fayette County horse country – as the late Arnold Kirkpatrick once described it: the “intersection of Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive” for the horse world in the Horse Capital of the World.
Lourie developed her 350-plus-acre facility next to the Kentucky Horse Park into the pre-eminent U.S. breeder of sport horse prospects and a one-of-a-kind young-horse training facility. Her Spy Coast Farm hosted the inaugural Young Horse Show series in 2010, which showcases young horses bred in the U.S., and Spy Coast is focused on developing U.S. bred horses and Olympic prospects rather than relying solely on importing such horses from Europe. Lourie also sponsors rider Shane Sweetnam in the international Grand Prix ranks.
In 2007, Braun was an up-and-coming Grand Prix rider. He was looking for a May- October location for his horses that compete all winter in Wellington, Florida. Braun wanted access to the horse shows in the region, abundant grass and hay, availability of land and a certain quality of life.
“I moved to Lexington to combine a great lifestyle with the need to be in a great location for the horses,” Braun said. “The downtown scene along with the availability of property I could develop myself, was very appealing.”
Like Lourie, he recognized what was evolving in Lexington. At just 22, he purchased his first property, on Carrick Pike, and developed it into a sport horse training facility. International dressage coach Reese Koffler-Stanfield soon developed a top-quality dressage facility next door.
In 2012, Braun sold his farm on Carrick Pike to the Nusz family of Houston, (Oasis Stables), which further improved the property as a show-jumping training facility for their daughter, Megan Nusz.
In the meantime, Braun purchased two tracts of land on Bryan Station Road, developing the property into a first-class show jumping training facility. The farm also hosts two FEI show jumping competitions each year. At the Split Rock Jumping Tour, spectators can see world-class riders competing for significant prize money each May and October.
“I wanted to change the way horse shows were produced in the U.S.,” Braun said. “I think there was a great need for a more detailed and organized experience for competitors, spectators, and sponsors.”
Quality and value drew Lourie and Braun to Lexington. Local land costs also represent a significant savings over Wellington, Florida, where many 10-acre sport horse facilities close to the Wellington Equestrian Festival show grounds sell for $1 million per acre. Proximity to the Kentucky Horse Park, with its numerous hunter-jumper shows throughout the season, was key.
Following Lourie’s and Braun’s purchases, other major industry participants hailing from all over the world began purchasing farms near to the Kentucky Horse Park.
Several sport-horse operations have scouted out and purchased more than one tract. For instance, Spy Coast, Braun, Mt. Brilliant Farm, Laura Connolly & Marcelo Morales all have purchased at least two parcels and, in the case of Spy Coast and Mt. Brilliant, have accumulated many hundreds of Fayette County acres. The demand for properties in the vicinity of the horse park remains so strong that many properties not on the market nonetheless receive steady inquires from hopeful buyers.
Other world-class riders relocated their summer operations to Lexington, including Reed Kessler who, at 18, was the youngest-ever Olympic show jumping team member, competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Her father, Murray Kessler, is an active competitor in the amateur jumper division and was recently elected president of the United States Equestrian Federation. Conveniently, the USEF is headquartered at the Kentucky Horse Park. Their farm is also located near the corner of Iron Works and Newtown Pike, adjacent to Ashland Farms, home to yet another show jumping facility.
Several international riders are within close proximity of Kessler Show Stables and Ashland Farms (both formerly part of Cobra Farm), including Irish show jumper Shane Sweetnam; Peruvian show jumper Michelle Navarro Grau Dyer; Argentine show jumper and Olympic team member Federico Sztyrle; Bolivian show jumper Marcelo Morales; and Francisco Arredondo of Guatemala, among others.
Other equestrian disciplines are well represented in recent farm purchases, including dressage, polo, Arabians and Saddlebreds.
The initial farm purchase is generally just the first investment in the region. Zach Davis, principal broker at the horse farm brokerage Kirkpatrick & Co., said clients often want to design and construct signature facilities. That requires contracts, equipment purchases and other compounding economic boosts to local vendors, equine accountants and lawyers, horse farm brokers, hotels and restaurants, and more.
More recently, the Kentucky Horse Park has faced competition from privately owned horse show facilities, including Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, North Carolina (which shares some common ownership with Wellington Equestrian Festival and the Colorado Horse Park) and Great Lakes Horse Shows in Traverse City, Michigan (owned and operated by Stadium Jumping Inc.). These facilities are within 300 and 570 miles, respectively, of the Kentucky Horse Park. Each has a temperate climate and both are attracting competitors from Lexington and other markets due to their focus on owner, rider and sponsor hospitality. The sparkling-new facility in Tryon will make a bid for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, replacing Bromont, Quebec, which recently withdrew as the host city. Traverse City is on Lake Michigan and offers a cooler climate, as well as a resort city atmosphere for competitors who elect to spend several weeks competing there in the summer.
Not all activity in the local horse community is limited to sport horses. In the farm market, activity and consolidation continues, particularly at the higher end. Recent significant Thoroughbred farm transactions include Calumet Farm’s purchase of the adjoining Fares Farm for $30 million, as well as the Green Farm on Bowman Mill; Don Alberto’s (Chile) purchase of Vinery, and then a portion of Crestwood Farm; Spendthrift Farm’s purchase of Whitaker Farm; and Crestwood Farm’s purchase of the former North Ridge Farm on Yarnalton.
Zach Davis is a broker at Kirkpatrick and Co., and Laura D’Angelo is a lawyer for Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.