Horse Mania has hit the streets of Lexington in preparation for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). Now through Oct. 15, nearly 150 vibrant, life-sized fiberglass horses and foals can be spotted turned-out around the city. Regional artists were selected for the opportunity to paint and decorate the statues, which are sponsored by numerous local businesses and organizations. A large portion of the horses were decorated by grade-school students and are part of Horse Mania’s companion project, Horse Play for Arts Education.

Some of the incredible equine works of art include a bourbon barrel horse, a crazy quilted horse, and the Keeneland experience horse – all uniquely Kentucky. Preview more painted ponies at horsemania2010.com.

A much more permanent famed Kentucky attraction is the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Parks in Eastern Kentucky, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Lexington. Patti Nickell has this to say about the “Gorge” in her Horse Lover’s Guide to Kentucky:

"One of the most scenic areas in the state, it encompasses 29,000 acres of cliffs, rock shelters, caves, waterfalls, and mountain pools as well as some 100 natural arches, the largest concentration east of the Rocky Mountains. These beautiful arches, tortured into unique formations by millions of years of wind and water, are awe-inspiring, especially in the fall when they are softened by the brilliant colors of the forest.
Probably the best known (and most accessible) of the Gorge’s many attractions is Sky Bridge, from which you get an excellent view of the Clifty Wilderness. The section of the Red River that runs through the Clifty is the only river in Kentucky to be designated a National Wild and Scenic River.

The Gorge has hundreds of miles of official and unofficial hiking trails, ranging from easy (Angel Windows, Whistling Arch, and Chimney Top) to moderate (Double Arch, Silver Mine Arch) to rugged and extremely difficult (Sheltowee Trace, Raven’s Rock). These trails can provide enjoyment, whether you opt for a day hike or a backpacking trip into the interior. However, extreme caution should be taken as many of the trails parallel the rim of high cliffs and bluffs.

About 10 miles from the entrance to the Gorge is the entrance to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, one of the state’s most popular vacation destinations. If the flaming colors of fall best show off the Gorge’s spectacular beauty, spring is the season that best showcases Natural Bridge, with some 100 species of wildflowers blanketing the woods and trails.

Natural Bridge was one of the commonwealth’s original state parks, dating back to the late 19th century when a track built by the Kentucky Union Railway to ship lumber did double duty for a sightseeing train carrying those eager to see the dramatic landscape. Of course, the park’s main attraction is the sandstone formation from which it gets its name--accessible by a sky lift or a hiking trail, the three-quarter-mile Original Trail that begins at the park lodge and ends at the bridge. At 65 feet high and 78 feet long, Natural Bridge is the largest of the park’s arches, taking nearly 65 million years to be carved by the raging waters of the Red River."

2135 Natural Bridge Rd., Slade. www.parks.ky.gov; www.redrivergorge.org

Suzanne Dorman and Alexandra Beckstett photos

Upcoming Horse Lover’s Events:
A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse, International Museum of the Horse, Lexington: May 29-Oct 15
Ellis Park Race Meet, Henderson: July 10 – Labor Day
Horse Mania, Lexington: July 15-Oct. 15
Large Animal Emergency Rescue Class, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington: Aug 19
Meadowlake Dressage Classic, Lancaster: Aug 21-22
USHJA Int’l Hunter Derby Finals, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington: Aug. 21-22
World’s Championship Horse Show, Kentucky Exposition Center, Louisville, Aug 22-28
Henderson Bicentennial Celebration Horse Show, Henderson County fairgrounds: Sept 11
Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Keeneland Race Course, Lexington: Sept. 12-26