Humans of Lexington | Anne Hardy

Anne Hardy of Visit Horse Country in Lexington Kentucky

Are you a Kentuckian by birth or are you a “transplant”?
I’m a transplant, from the Indianapolis area originally. I moved to Lexington in 1999 and, aside from a short stint away abroad, it’s been home for more than 20 years! I always joke that I was perfectly prepared for life in Lexington because I was a fan of the Indianapolis Colts – a horse mascot with blue & white for the colors.

What is your professional background?
I’ve had a wonderfully strange career path, starting in public relations and marketing with clients ranging from public affairs & politics to tourism & hospitality. I also worked in pharmaceutical sales and as the Editor in Chief of the Chevy Chaser and Southsider magazines. When my husband and I moved abroad I studied Arabic and did some freelance work, upon returning to Lexington I worked in association management, which led into my current position as Executive Director of Visit Horse Country, which is a not-for-profit membership association. 

What inspired you to start Visit Horse Country?
This is one of the most amazing parts of Visit Horse Country – I love sharing this with folks who don’t realize it: Visit Horse Country was actually dreamt up and started by the members! All the wonderful equine related locations that comprise our membership were the ones who said, “We have something special here and it’s our responsbility  to find a way to share it with fans and future fans.” So four “mules” (self-titled!) – Headley Bell, Price Bell, Brutus Clay and Dr. Luke Fallon, gathered a group of initial members who pledged membership fees to generate initial capital to start up the not-for-profit, which would serve the members by running all back office, guest support, sales and marketing of the tours so that they could just focus on giving a great experience once folks arrived on property. We started with 20 and we’re now 40 members who represent farms (sport horse and Thoroughbred), clinics, a feed mill, training, racetracks and TAA-accredited aftercare facilities. 

Anne Hardy Executive Director of Visit Horse Country in Lexington Kentucky

What is your favorite thing about Lexington?  Why?
I think the people and the culture, which are so entwined. I truly believe we have the kindest folks around – always willing to help and happy to offer a smile or recommendation. It’s also a place where I’ve seen, in the 20 years I’ve been here, this is a place you can get things done – decision makers are accessible and willing to try things. If you have the time, energy and passion to do something, this is a place you can get it done. That’s why I think we have such a dynamic scene for small businesses, local restaurants and bars, etc. Plus, our historic signature industries like horses and bourbon set off by the landscape of the Bluegrass – it’s bliss!

Who is your hero?
I’m going to cheat and say (both of) my parents. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized one of the most influential and important things you can ever do is love and invest in the people around you to cultivate ethical, caring people to populate our society – raising kids isn’t easy but it’s one way you can impact the world generation over generation.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Reality TV! *cringes* Sometimes I just need a little brain junk food and a Bravo show hits the spot.

What’s your favorite place on earth?
Other than Lexington?! Every time we come home from travel anywhere I take a deep breath and a long look around and am so thankful to live here. I will say, though, wading on a sandbar in the Florida Keys has always been a favorite when I need to get away, especially in winter!

Fill in the blank: _______________ is underrated.
Cooking a lovely dinner for yourself, or friends & family. Doesn’t have to be fancy – there’s such a sense of accomplishment, anyone can do it (with a little practice) and it’s such a gift of love to those you share it with.

What movie could you watch on an endless loop?
Bridget Jones’s Diary (the original)

Where do you take out of state guests when they visit you?
How much time do we have?! A member or two of Visit Horse Country, of course, depending on their interests I’d choose different locations for different friends. We’re also going to have to spend some time walking around downtown – Thursday Night Live or Farmer’s Market for sure, and we love Dudley’s rooftop. County Club or SRO are neighborhood haunts for us, but we also love the distillery district for Middle Fork Kitchen Bar and Crank and Boom, plus The Burl for a show or the arcade for ski-ball. And no matter what time of year, you have to make a stop at Keeneland – early morning for training or afternoon if it’s racing season. 

What is your most prized possession?
The watch my dad gave to my mother for their anniversary before he passed away. 

What places or adventures are still on your bucket list?
We’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Asia and Australia/New Zealand. But any trip or opportunity to travel is an adventure we love – even around the states. 

Speaking of bucket lists, A Visit Horse Country Tour is on mine.  How has your business been impacted by COVID19?
Shew. Well, it’s been rough, is the bottom line, like so many other businesses. Typically March-June are the biggest months of revenue generation in the entire year and we’ll miss out on that, of course, because tours are closed in accordance with best practices. Additionally, we’ve had a tremendous amount of cancellations and refunds so that we’re not just missing sales, we’re actually facing a months of substantial negative transactions.

How have you adapted to keep your business alive during COVID19?
One thing we’re committed to as an organization and as a representation of our members’ various locations is to be accessible and kind, and to treat people well – that’s stayed consistent even as this crisis has created a lot of stressful situations for our guests and our business. But we’ve also started something really exciting – many of our members who have essential staff still on the farm taking care of horses are offering free Virtual Tours now and they’ve been featured on Southern Living, Frommer’s and other major media outlets! It’s a respite for people who are cooped up, and it still lets us share our passion.

How can the general public help your business during this time and after everything returns to normal?
Buy a gift certificate for yourself or a friend for a future visit, or buy some merchandise – both Horse Country branded and also our members’ brands (sort of official team merchandise, if you will)! You can also participate in the virtual tours with your kiddos or friends, spread the word about Visit Horse Country to all your community, friends and family! We’re doing everything we can to hang in there so we’re ready to come back strong when things return to normal.

What’s the greatest gift we can give each other?
Time, attention and experiences together.

What’s the greatest gift we can give ourselves?
A clear, calm heart and mind, and a well body; however you can get it. And people around you that make you laugh really hard and feel safe.