Kicking Off the Holidays with Horses at Southern Lights

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

I know, I know. It’s
too early to start with the Christmas stuff. Thanksgiving is still
nearly a week away and we’re all still snacking on leftover
Halloween candy. But I can’t help but look forward to the annual
launch of the Kentucky Horse Park’s Southern Lights, which takes
place every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

Southern Lights is
an annual tradition that started more than 20 years ago. Lighted
holiday displays line more than three miles of roads throughout the
park and its campground. Visitors can drive through the display from
opening day through December 31. But the event kicks off with a 5k
run/walk called the Southern Lights Stroll—it’s the only time
visitors can see the display on foot.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

A lot of the light
displays are equine-themed, naturally, and most others are
Christmas-themed (a series of displays illustrating gifts of the 12
Days of Christmas is a popular mainstay of the event.) Others seem
completely random. Like this deer—who does not look like a
reindeer—standing guard in front of the USEF headquarters in the
photo below.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park
Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

I’ve run the 5K
with my dog, Brit, for the past several years. Yes, it’s a
dog-friendly run, and stroller-friendly, and there are more walkers
than runners, so no need to be intimidated if running isn’t your
thing. It’s truly an event for everyone.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

If you’ve ever
been to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, you’ve likely walked on
this road in the above photo, although it isn’t this Vegas-like in
April. In the zoomed-out image below, you can see the Rolex Stadium
and the lake on the right (and the lake monster. Who knew there was a
lake monster?)

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

Some of the light
displays aren’t on the actual 5k route, but there are other
activities that take place near the visitors center during the
Southern Lights Holiday Festival. Heading over in that direction also
gives you the chance to visit the newly refinished Man o’ War

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

The Kentucky Horse
Park is also home to the National Horse Center where dozens of equine
organizations have their headquarters. Many of these offices get into
the holiday spirit, too. The United States Dressage Federation hasn’t
yet outfitted the statue in front of its headquarters, but I still
had this photo from last year’s Southern Lights Stroll and I think it’s worth sharing.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

The U.S. Pony Club
headquarters is all decked out already. I stopped by to get a closer
look at their Santafied horse at the front door.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

The American
Saddlebred Horse Association and Museum gave their statue of Supreme
Sultan a bit of holiday cheer, too.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

Visiting Southern
Lights is always a good way to kick-start the holiday spirit. But for
those of you who are still adamant that Christmas celebration should
not begin until after Thanksgiving, Brit agrees with you. That’s
why she ran the race in her autumn-themed bandana.

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park

Want to know more
about Southern Lights? Visit

Leslie Potter is a
writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, KY.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.



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