Explore Lexington: 83rd Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show

One of my favorite weeks of the year starts on Monday, July 8th! Celebrating its 83rd year, the Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show will take over the Kentucky Horse Park’s Rolex Stadium from July 8-13, 2019. With world-class horses, shopping, cocktails, food, and family fun, the first leg of the American Saddlebred Horse Triple Crown and 2018 UPHA Show of the Year is a can’t-miss event of the summer.

The idea for the Horse Show started in 1936, when the women of the Junior League of Lexington were looking for a new fundraiser to help members of the community who were in desperate need during the Great Depression. Prior events included teas, chain bridge parties, and folly performances, most of which only made about $900 and didn’t go far enough to support the League’s service programs. Thanks to League President Mrs. James B. (Marie) Kittrell, the charity horse show was born!

Starting something as large as a horse show wasn’t easy. League members’ husbands and local businessmen told Marie and others that the League was too small to operate a horse show, especially considering that the League’s budget at the time was only $500. Enter W. Jefferson Harris, a local bloodstock agent and horseman who served as the show’s first manager. With his help and League members’ hard work, the first Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show opened on July 22, 1937 before a crowd of 5,000, with $10,000 in prize money and 216 horses from 16 states. Despite the naysayers, the first show netted roughly $5,500 after all of the bills were paid. Members unanimously voted to repeat the show the next year, and the tradition began.

In 2019, the League continues to honor the traditions that members have kept alive for 83 consecutive years. Annual show attendance now averages 30,000 people, and exhibitors travel from across the country to compete. The show has grown to be the largest outdoor show for the American Saddlebred Horse in the world, generated millions for central Kentucky nonprofits that have received League grants, and made a strong annual economic impact on local businesses. All of that is powered by 250 League-member volunteers and a small but mighty crew of professional staff headed by veteran Show Manager Kent Moeller.

Whether you’ve shown horses your entire life or have never been to a show, the Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show is an experience everyone can enjoy. There are 163 separate show classes, and you can view the class schedule in the Prize List. Each class or “event” is judged on a different basis. Some evaluate the horse’s performance, and others evaluate the rider’s. There are more class variations than I can describe in this article, and you can purchase a program at the show that explains each one. For example, there are three- and five-gaited classes in which exhibitors showcase their horses’ different speeds or “gaits” (walk, trot, canter, rack, and slow gait). Or, if you just want to appreciate the talent without studying the details, it’s fun to pick your favorite and see how your choice fares with the judges. You can also enjoy my favorite past-time: watching all of the happy dog spectators observe the show with their people.

Classes show daily from Monday through Saturday at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and there are special events Tuesday through Saturday, including a night just for kids and a day just for dogs. Morning classes are less formal than evening, and the championships are Saturday night. Morning admission is free. Evening general admission tickets will be available at the gate ($5 Mon-Thurs, $10 Sat-Sun). Admission to the show includes admission to the fantastic Gaited Gallery shopping market, where you can find all sorts of treasures to take home as mementos of the show. Learn more about the show, Gaited Gallery, and special events here, and plan your visit!

As a League member since 2008, League President in 2014, and past Horse Show Board member, the show is near and dear to my heart, and I love sharing it with others. I hope that you’ll join us for a fun event to support the important work of the Junior League of Lexington and the central Kentucky non-profits it serves.

Copyright © Amelia Adams 2019