Several cities and towns could legitimately vie for the title of “Horse City USA” due to their large equine populations and horsey cultures. Off the top of my head, I think of Norco, Calif., Ocala, Fla., Weatherford, Tex., Aiken, S.C., and of course, “The Horse Capital of the World,” Lexington, Ky.
I’m fortunate that work frequently takes me to Lexington, arguably one of the most horse-centric places in the country. It’s the heart of the U.S. horse racing industry and home to the Kentucky Horse Park (and the United States Dressage Federation, U.S. Equestrian Federation, U.S. Pony Club, the American Saddlebred Association, and many, many more).
Stepping off the airplane in Lexington, you face life-sized horse-product advertisements on the walls and TV monitors showcasing some of the top equine hospitals in the world. As you drive through the city and surrounding townships, you find street names that pay homage to Thoroughbred greats, including Man ’O’ War, War Admiral, and Secretariat.
On my last trip to Lexington I checked off two of my horsey bucket-list items: I spent an afternoon at the Keenland Racetrack (losing $20 betting on beautiful horses) and attended the Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event (during an Olympic year no less). Not bad for one weekend in the same city.
Exploring Lexington got me reminiscing about the first time my husband and I visited Bend, Ore., nine years ago. Something about the snow-covered Cascade Mountains in the west and the Deschutes River cutting through the heart of downtown made central Oregon feel like home the second we drove into the high desert. “And look at all the horses,” I remember my husband saying as we passed the ranches and farms that lined rural roads. He had a point: Quarter Horses, Paints, Warmbloods, drafts, and Kiger mustangs dotted the seemingly endless juniper-filled landscape.
I recall heading back to the hotel, flipping through the yellow pages (no smartphones then), and seeing pages of breeding farm, training, shoeing, and tack-store listings. That did it for me. Within a year, we’d packed up the cat, dogs, and horse, and moved across two state lines to central Oregon.
To me this small town (population around 80,000) is a little bit of horse heaven on earth. Our economy isn’t tied to the horse industry like Lexington’s, but cowboy culture and equestrian recreation run deep in our western heritage. Riding to the end of my neighborhood, you hit an open gate to thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management property protected for equestrian use. Just a 30-minute drive from downtown takes you to the Deschutes National Forest, where you can horse camp and trail ride in the mountains all summer long. And wearing breeches or spurs to the grocery store is no stranger than wearing bicycle pants, hiking boots, or ski gear.
Our region is also home to professional rodeo stars, a legendary American Quarter Horse judge and trainer, artisan buckaroo saddle makers, and some of the finest baby jumping horses bred on the West Coast. No matter what you do with your equine companions, from reining to sorting to FEI dressage, you’ll find a supportive group of fellow enthusiasts in or near Bend. And I’m happy to note that I’ve met some of the best people I know in the barn aisles of central Oregon farms, stables, and ranches.
I’ve written before that this blog's title comes from feeling at home whenever I’m with horses. Eight years ago, with the help of horses, my husband and I also found a home in central Oregon.
Is your hometown horsey? Did you pick the place you live due to its horse-centric culture? If you could live in any “Horse City USA,” where would you move?