Big Hats, Horses & Bourbon Showcase this Kentucky County’s Charm

Story and Photos by Celina Colby

Cerulean Farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, sits at the end of a gated drive lined with maple trees. The historic horse farm, dating back to the 1860s, is now a charming bed and breakfast and the home base of a nonprofit that rescues horses from difficult circumstances.

Cerulean encapsulates the magic of Shelby County: it’s rich in history, spilling over with natural beauty, and it’s female-owned. It turns out, women run Shelby County and the region is better off for it. We’re not just talking girl power bumper stickers and power suits. A visit to Shelby County inevitably means benefiting from the hard work and kindness of the female entrepreneurs dotting the district.

Shelby County is conveniently located 40 minutes from Louisville and an hour from Lexington. It’s smack dab in the middle of the Bourbon Trail and is home to a number of distilleries, including Bulleit. With just shy of 100,000 people, it’s the largest of Kentucky’s 95 counties and it strikes a perfect balance between expansive farmlands and urban conveniences like tasteful accommodations and au current restaurants.

Strolling along Main Street in Shelbyville, a boulevard so scenic it practically looks like it’s a movie set, visitors will take in the warm sunshine and note the beautiful dogwood trees lining the sidewalk. Those very dogwood trees are the subject of a town-wide festival in April featuring local craft vendors and artists, live music and delectable Southern cuisine.

A picture-perfect scene like this could only benefit from one thing: ice cream. Well, gelato to be more specific. Spotz Gelato is nestled in the heart of downtown and it’s pretty hard to miss. The bright pink polka-dotted interior is topped only by the taste of their award-winning banana pudding flavor. Owner Beth Richardson pioneered Spotz out of love for the depth of flavor found in gelato and the special charm of small-town ice cream shops. She now operates six locations in Kentucky, one in Las Penitas, Nicaragua, and a fleet of mobile gelato trucks, wagons and bikes.

Derby Hats and Horses
Once your sweet tooth is satisfied, pop across the street to The Polkadotted Pineapple Boutique. There’s no doubt you’re in Kentucky when you stroll into this women’s clothing boutique, because every spare corner or mannequin is sporting an elaborate Kentucky Derby hat. Shop owner Dori Lewis makes many of the hats herself, piling feathers and flowers onto fascinators in true Derby style. The tradition of wearing hats to the famous horse race was brought over to the U.S. from English and French horse races and some say the bigger the hat, the bigger the luck.

But long before you don your Derby hat and order a mint julep, the horses that race the Derby are training. Melanie Defler, owner of West Meadow Farm in Eminence, has been training thoroughbred winners for years. Visitors can tour the farm and meet some of the soon-to-be Derby competitors. Though Defler breeds and houses race horses, she also accepts rescues and finds new careers for horses that are past their racing prime.

The Derby is an important part of Kentucky’s history and culture, but some of the side effects have been less than productive. Jeanette Aumon, the owner of Cerulean Farm, is using her own rescue program not only to rehabilitate horses but also to preserve original horse breeds. Native quarter horses are much healthier in their original foundation breed than when bred with thoroughbreds in order to race. Watching so many happy horses gallop across Aumon’s fields, it’s hard to believe some of them could barely walk when they arrived in her care.

Not all souvenirs from this trip are horses’ kisses and dusty boots. The Shoppes at Blue Gables is a complex of small shops by local vendors and artists. Built in an old motel compound, the shops include clothing, handmade bath products, an art gallery and much more. Shelby County is also home to The Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass, the only outlet in the entire state.

Bourbon? Of Course!
Alternatively, you could bring home a bottle of bourbon. After all, is it really Kentucky if you haven’t sipped a locally made Old Fashioned? Jeptha Creed is a unique stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. Co-owned by master distiller mom Joyce Nethery and marketing manager daughter Autumn Nethery, the bourbon is distilled from bloody butcher corn grown by the Nethery family. The red corn, an unusual style for bourbon distilling, adds a richness of flavor to the beverage.

Start your visit to Jeptha Creed with a barrel tasting. You’ll be brought out to the barrel rooms where all the bourbons age. Sitting in leather armchairs, wrapped in furs in the cooler months, you’ll sample limited edition bourbons and learn about the company’s history. If you visit on a Sunday, Jeptha Creed’s lavish brunch Bloody Mary is a must. It comes with the distillery’s hot pepper vodka and enough skewered food to feed four people. Your Instagram will never be the same.

Back at Cerulean Farm you can nap off your trip along the bourbon trail or enjoy tea and homemade cookies on the year round porch. Aumon may join you to check in on your stay or she may be out caring for her horses, photographing local animals, educating students about equine health and generally saving the world. That’s women’s work in Shelby County.


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