If you haven’t heard, major changes are afoot at the iconic Kentucky Horse Park. There are new faces and exciting plans throughout the 1224-acre equestrian competition and visitor attraction venue, and one of the most talked about is that of the new Executive Director of the organization, Laura Prewitt.
“I’m really excited about this new opportunity and really enjoying it,” said Laura, who officially took over as the head of one of Kentucky’s largest tourist attractions at the beginning of July.
A Lifelong Passion
Laura has built her professional life around the horse industry, and it has been part of her personal life as well.
“I grew up riding hunter/jumpers and Plantation Walking Horses,” said Laura. “I was a 4-H girl and we showed at the local shows and county fairs. My husband and I still ride and enjoy going out on the trails, but I stick to walking horses now – they’re easier on my bones.”
Laura’s husband, Ted Prewitt, is president and part-owner of the Hayden Company, a construction and general contractor company based in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The couple has two kids, Carter and Caroline.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky with a journalism degree, Laura started her career in the horse business working at the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association (KTA). Later, she gained Thoroughbred sales experience, showing horses and running cards at the yearling sales.
After working at the KTA for several years, Laura made her first foray into the management side of the horse business, taking on the role of Director of Operations for Kentucky Off-Track Betting, where she coordinated daily simulcasting for the company’s Corbin, Jamestown, Pineville and Maysville outlets. Eventually she was promoted to General Manager of the organization, a position she held for nearly 14 years.
Upon conclusion of her tenure with Kentucky Off-Track Betting, Laura worked as a consultant on a number of projects, most notably the Breeders’ Cup Festival, which showcased the best Lexington has to offer to locals and those in town for the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, including restaurants, live music, bourbon tours, horse farm tours and more during the week leading up to the Keeneland’s hosting of the Breeders’ Cup event.
“My passion is equine and my experience in this industry has been a huge asset for me,” she explained.
Learning a Lot and Learning it Quickly
Laura took over her new role at the Kentucky Horse Park recently and has wasted no time getting up to speed on the various facets of the organization.
“We’re in the middle of our busy season, so I’m learning a lot and learning it quickly,” said Laura. The Kentucky Horse Park encompasses so much. It’s a working horse farm, a major equestrian competition venue, a tourist attraction, a camping location, a business center and so much more.”
Laura has made a name for herself as a “roll up her sleeves and make things happen” type of professional – a trait that proved to be an asset for her with both Kentucky Off-Track Betting and the Breeders’ Cup Festival. This newest position will see her put that attitude to good use.
“First and foremost, my responsibility is to my staff - who devote countless nights and weekends to make sure the park is the best it can be. We all wear many different hats here but share the common goal of ensuring the park is here for future generations to experience,” she said.
It’s More than Just Horses
One of Laura’s key focuses will be on increased promotion of the Park’s wide range of activities, events and offerings to Lexington’s non-equestrian community.
Locally, the two biggest annual attractions at the Kentucky Horse Park are the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April and the Southern Lights holiday display, a fundraising event organized by the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.
“The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation has been instrumental in raising awareness for the park and we greatly appreciate all of the work they do,” she said.
For equestrians both nationally and globally, the Kentucky Horse Park is better known as one of the best competition venues available.
“Riders and horse owners have told our staff that our arena footing is some of the best in the world. It’s a huge investment for us every year but if you’re a competitor, you want to play on the best field. Footing is something that is very important for attracting top talent and competitions,” said Laura.
The Rolex Stadium, along with a number of the Park’s other outdoor arenas, offers Otto Sport, which is a state-of-the-art mix of sand and synthetic fibers. Select arenas, such as the covered arena, offer a traditional sand/dirt mix.
“The Kentucky Horse Park is more well-known nationally than we are in our own community. I’d like to see us create new initiatives for letting people know what’s going on out here. We are literally minutes from downtown Lexington,” she said.
One such example Laura pointed out is the Kentucky Horse Park’s weekly Monday evening running and walking club.
“Every Monday, about 200 people come out to run or walk throughout the Park’s grounds. The scenery is stunning, and we also have food trucks and other vendors on-site that evening for people to enjoy after they exercise. We’ve never promoted it and I expect most people don’t know that it takes place. This is a public park and we want people to enjoy it.”
Laura listed a slew of other non-equestrian and equestrian activities alike, many of which the average Lexingtonian likely wouldn’t have known about.
“We are refreshing our efforts to let people know what we have going on out here. It’s more than horses,” said Laura. “We definitely want people to enjoy the horses, but most probably don’t know how many other activities we have. People can pay the $5 fee to park and can go fishing in the pond, which is impressively well-stocked, bring a picnic or make use of the Horse Park in other ways. It’s a great event space for non-equestrian events, such as meetings and weddings – the setting could not be more beautiful and signature Kentucky.”
One of Laura’s long-term goals is to attract a larger number of high-caliber equestrian competitions to the park, as well as non-equine conferences and events. At the same time, she wants to bolster the Park’s status as not just a “bucket list item” that people traveling from outside of the state might visit once in their lifetime, but rather a destination for repeat visits.
“I want it to be an entertainment, tourism and equine-based destination that people come back to again and again. I want them to tell their friends about it, and eventually I want their kids to bring their kids to it,” said Laura. “We have a core group of longtime, dedicated, passionate employees. To them, this place is more than a job, and to someone like me who is new and learning on the go, they are an amazing resource. They provide outstanding hospitality and customer service, and that is an important part of motivating people to come back again and again. We plan for that to only get better as we continue to grow, and I am very excited about what our future holds.”