It wouldn’t be a trip to Kentucky without seeing horses, so I spent one morning on a tour of Keenland Race Track, several farms and even a breeding facility to see where the real money is made with Thoroughbreds!

The question I kept asking was: “Why Kentucky?” meaning why did Kentucky become the place where horse racing is so prevalent?

And the answers I got were all wrong.

“Because we have the horse farms here.” “Because the main organization for Thoroughbred certification is here.” “Because there are many great equine facilities and hospitals here.” “Because the Kentucky Derby is here.”

No, no, no.

Those are all outgrowth of the fact that Kentucky is the center of the horse universe, but not why it became so.

So instead of badgering all the natives, our tour guide and deeply-ingrained Kentuckians, I asked Google. And found an answer that made sense. Two answers really. One, Kentucky is blessed with lots of bluegrass and limestone, and the minerals that flow through the limestone seep into that beautiful grass and help the horses gain strength in their bones.

But the second reason is due to ingenuity and intentionality more than Mother Nature. After the Civil War Kentucky’s economy was in ruins, and the leaders wanted to lure money back into the state. They did so by cultivating a Southern image and appealing to horse owners (who had money) to come to Kentucky farms, where gambling was still legal and land was plentiful. “Novelists and newspapermen started depicting a land of white-suited ‘Kentucky colonels’ and columned verandas — a place where the living was easy for wealthy white people and black folks knew their place,” writes Maryjean Wall in her How Kentucky Became Southern book.

And it worked. So then one thing led to another and now equines are a $3 billion* industry in the state.

If Kentucky can intentionally brand itself as the Thoroughbred Capital of the World, what can you do for your organization? It helps to start by determining why you want something before jumping in to figure out how.

— beth triplett

*2012 Kentucky Equine Survey  

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