When Katie Shoultz and her parents, Julie and A.J. Shoultz, began their quest to obtain a sport-horse farm of their own in the Bluegrass eight years ago, they found that most offerings on the market at the time were either too big or too small for them. Instead of buying an established horse operation, they purchased 50 acres of raw land on Paris Pike in 2005 and transformed it into Isidore Farm.
A.J. Shoultz comes from a farming background, and his daughter credits his visionary eye with seeing the potential of the land to turn their shared dream into a reality. Within a year, the family had built a barn, installed fencing and completed most of the construction on the residence. In 2012, the indoor ring with state-of-the-art footing was completed.
The family chose Lexington for more than its attractiveness as an equine epicenter; Katie Shoultz, 29, was applying to law schools, and the University of Kentucky was at the top of her list. Her parents were looking for a community suitable for possible retirement. In all areas, Lexington fit the bill. What began as a small private barn has since grown into a niche boarding and training operation, managed by Jodi Wanenmacher.
In the years since Isadore Farm was established, the economic downturn that began in 2008 brought a swift and substantial decline for the region’s traditional mainstay of Thoroughbred farms. The Thoroughbred industry had been leveraged to a historic degree, and when combined with the banking crisis and a dramatic drop in bloodstock values (and therefore collateral values), many operations exited the marketplace. Although Kentucky’s overall share of the Thoroughbred marketplace held relatively stable and even increased slightly by some measures, according to the 2013 Jockey Club Fact Book, a sharp decline in the foal crop, along with fewer breeding mares and standing stallions, resulted in an unprecedented number of Thoroughbred farms offered for sale. Supply outstripped demand, and as a result, the average price of farmland dropped significantly.
At the same time, however, the World Equestrian Games (WEG) brought an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the assets of the Bluegrass to another global market of elite equine competitors: sport-horse riders, trainers, owners and enthusiasts. The commonwealth of Kentucky, the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government, private individuals and companies including Alltech, invested significantly in WEG, the Kentucky Horse Park and Fayette County infrastructure. The city fast-tracked previously planned projects. Downtown improvements such as the Fifth Third Pavilion, restaurants, wayfinding signs and beautification projects all contributed to the WEG experience. Importantly, improvements were lasting legacy improvements. The world took note, and more sport-horse enthusiasts like the Shoultz family have since begun investing in the Bluegrass.
“In the past few years, we have seen quite an influx of members of the sport-horse industry calling Lexington their home,” Shoultz said. “It is thrilling to see.”
Zach Davis and Michelle Mullins of Kirkpatrick and Company recently completed an informal survey of farms sold to sport-horse interests. Approximately 60 farms sold in 2012 for a collective sales price of $93 million, with another $34 million changing hands just in the first half of 2013. These numbers do not include all transfers and do not include riders and trainers who come to Lexington and lease facilities from April to October. Proximity to the Kentucky Horse Park is paramount with these purchasers and has turned Ironworks Pike into a veritable “show jumper alley.”