WEG Brings the World to Kentucky

A Visit to the Caves and Mountains

Whew am I tired but it’s a good tired.  With two days before the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games I decided to take the Hart County Tourist Commission and Sandra Wilson up on their offer to do an Underground & Off Trail Kentucky Eco Tour.

I’d read the itinerary that indicated we were going to go caving at Mammoth Cave National Park in Edmonson County, KY and Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, KY.  In addition to that the day included  ziplining at Mammoth Cave Adventures in Cave City, KY.

Of course we had to eat, so breakfast was at the famous local eatery, Cream and Sugar Café.  Lunch was at the Travertine Dining Room at Mammoth Cave and dinner was at Big Bubba Bucks Belly Bustin BBQ Bliss.  I bet you can figure what they were serving for dinner along with sweet tator fries, fresh fried green maters and nanna pudding to name just a few of the homestyle cooking items we had to choose from at Big Bubba’s.

We had a traditional Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich, which consists of ham, turkey and bacon on a sourdough bread covered with cheese sauce and tomatoes at Travertine.  The icing on the cake was the black cherry ice cream.   The key to the ice cream was that it was locally produced at Chaneys Dairy in Bowling Green, KY.  Travertine is the only certified green restaurant in the state of Kentucky.

So now that I’m done with my food detour let me tell you about my first experience wandering and crawling through caves.  I know this has little to do with horses but in a way it does.  It’s the World Equestrian Games that gave me the opportunity to see what else Kentucky has to offer.

I think the first thing I learned was how passionate our guides were for everything we did throughout the day and the second thing was that I was doing things I’d never done before.  

Mammoth Cave National Park
Our guide for the Mammoth Cave was Kevin Carney and let me tell you that man had the book memorized.  I discovered his grandfather had been a guide and though he never knew him, the tales of the cave passed down through the generations.

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave and covers some 53,000 acres with 12 miles of tours open to the public.  More details about the Park and the caves can be found by visiting their web site at http://www.nps.gov/maca.   

One story we kept hearing throughout the day was about Floyd Collins, who was a local spelunker (a person who explores caves).  In the early 1920s his death in a cave brought worldwide media attention to the caves.  As the story goes while exploring an old cave he got stuck when a rock fell on his foot in a narrow passageway and as much as he and others tried they never succeeded in freeing him.  Eventually he died in the cave but his legacy and fascination for caving continues even today.

From my perspective it was fascinating to see the stalagmites and stalactites throughout the cave as well as the many rock formations.  As Kevin explained, think of stalactites as being “tight” to the ceiling and stalagmites as the ones that “might” reach the ceiling.  It was fascinating seeing these in all different shapes and sizes in the cave.

Hidden River Cave
Caving at Mammoth Park was interesting but didn’t quite prepare me for what it would be like at Hidden River Cave.  Our guide was Peggy Nims and she was the one that took us crawling through the mud, literally, as we wandered deep into the younger cave.

We had the helmets on our head with those lights to see where you are going since there are none in those caves.  At times we were knee deep in water or walking through what Peggy referred to as “peanut butter” mud.  We saw a crayfish which was all white because of the lack of light 160 feet and more below the surface.    There were moments when I felt just a little panicky being deep within some of the areas of the cave that we carefully wandered through but when it was all done it was almost like the victory was all about having done something I’d never expected to do while covering the World Equestrian Games.  

We took a brief tour of the American Cave Museum that is adjacent to Hidden River Cave. Executive Director Dave Foster showed us the exhibits and explained about the miraculous cleanup of the cave. To find out more about the cave and museum go to www.cavern.org.  

Mammoth Cave Adventures
The other part of our day took us ziplining at Shane Bull’s Mammoth Cave Adventures where they also do horseback riding on the trails below where we were speeding down a series of wires.  Our guides included Kent Hood (a former teacher), Joe Berry and Ramona Stevens.  They were the ones who hooked us up with care, explained to us the importance of keeping our knees up high, sent us off from one platform and caught us on the other.

It was scary at first but the more we did it the more relaxed we became.  It made me think of the times I’ve seen that done in some movie and wondered what it would feel like.  It was that Peter Pan feeling of flying through the air.  It was lots of fun.  To find out more about ziplining (they are the only ones in Kentucky and safety is their number one priority) call 270-773-6087, email info@mammothcaveadventures.com or visit their web site www.mammothcave-adventures.com.

Country Girl at Heart Bed & Breakfast
After crawling (and walking around caves),climbing up the over 200 steps at Hidden River Cave, and ziplining, we were all looking pretty tired.  Fortunately after dinner we were off to our Bed & Breakfast for the night and one look at my bed in the Country Girl at Heart Bed & Breakfast put a smile on my face.  The owner is Darlene Ill who a year ago decided to fulfill her dream of living on a farm (this one has 140 acres and has four horses and a pony).  So, she decided to share that farm experience.  If you stay there you can also go and collect some eggs from the chickens to take home or feed the animals, tend the garden or do whatever else they do around a farm.  If you prefer just to relax or even have a meeting and country meal, Darlene also welcomes you.  When staying overnight you can choose from a variety of creatively decorated rooms.

While creating this B&B Darlene put a lot of effort into keeping this place “green.”  They have radiant floor heat on some of the floors which runs hot water through them.   The exterior walls are poured concrete ICF which means it stays warmer in the winter and colder in the summer.  Most every piece of furniture is recycled and she gets many of her items from a place that donates part of the proceeds.  

Her innovations are unique and so much of the place was actually done by Darlene and her daughters that when  Kentucky Living Magazine found out about some of the do-it-yourself features she and her daughters had done they featured the B&B in the magazine and on the cover.  No surprise as the place is really special.  It’s located in Munfordville, KY and you can find out more about them by going to www.countrygirlatheartfarmbandb.com.

The great thing about all I did on that one day tour is that you could do it too, because all the venues are close together and the B&B is a great way to end your day.

The American Saddlebred
The next morning I got up early and head to Shelby County, KY to learn about the American Saddlebred.  We visited Edward Bennett’s Undulata Farm.  Bennett’s nickname is Hoppy. 

He earned that name when just a boy because Hopalong Cassidy was his hero. One vivid incident happened while he was watching the show and Cassidy lost his gun.  Wanting to help him out, little Ed ran to get his toy gun and threw it to him (or rather to the TV) smashing the set and leaving the evidence for his dad to find later that day.

Hoppy told us how the breed was first called the Kentucky Saddler in 1892 and in the 1900s was changed to the American Saddlebred to be more inclusive.   Kentucky is the American Saddlebred capital of the world and Shelby County has 85 documented American Saddlebred stables.

It was clear listening to Hoppy that he believes the American Saddlebred to be the peacock of the horse world.  “It’s the Ferrari, the Lamborghini,” he explained as he outlined the significance of this breed and brought horses out for us to watch.

Hoppy explained how in the 1800s horses were the means of transportation and just like you have your specialty cars so they had their specialty breeds.  As time went on and the horse was replaced by vehicles those still passionate about horses created horse shows to show off their breeds. 

Full of all that Saddlebred information we digested that over a meal at Claudias.  If you are ever in Shelbyville stop here for some of the best Kentucky Fried Chicken and the best unique creation of vegetables even non-vegetarians will love.

And with that my tour of some of Kentucky was over and so I headed quickly over to the Press Center to claim my locker and then onto a shuttle back to the hotel.

Now I look forward to getting into the competition and so my focus will continue as I bring you my view of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.  Be sure to follow me daily and take the ride with me and just remember, the next time you visit Kentucky don’t just go there for the horses!  Kentucky is a great place to spend some time.

Feel free to email me with your questions or comments at dderosa1@optonline.net.

Article and all photos by Diana DeRosa