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Horsin’ Around in Frankfort Lakeside Arena : Written by Patti Nickell

A love of horses is in Bruce Brown’s DNA and saw dust and saddle leather in his blood. He grew up showing quarter horses in Ohio before relocating to Kentucky with his wife Connie, an equine veterinarian in 1980. He spent three years as general manager of Ashford Stud Farm in Woodford County before purchasing his own farm, Fairview, where he began breaking and training Thoroughbreds.

Brown’s next natural step was to train horses at racetracks, keeping 10 stalls at Keeneland in Lexington and another six at Thistle Downs in Cleveland, Ohio.

While he loved the horses, he didn’t love the travel between the two cities.

“It seems like I kept passing myself on I-71,” Brown jokes.

Tired of the constant travel, he decided it was time for a change, and that change took root when he found land in Franklin County that had once been a tobacco farm.  With a love of horses ingrained, he knew some form of equine business was his future.  He found it through his relationship with various Kentucky horse associations. 

After purchasing the land in the fall of 1999, Brown began construction on a show arena and stalls.  By May of 2000, he was ready to stage his first equine show with the Palomino Horse Association.

Today, the 108,000-square-foot Lakeside Arena is capable of handling any type of horse show, says its owner. A look at his 2023 schedule of events is all the proof one needs to know that this isn’t just an idle boast.

The Arena’s year kicked off in January with a Hunter/Jumper show. February had more of the same, along with the Lakeside Arena Reining Classic.

In March and April came more jumping and reining shows, along with the Ranch Horse Association of Kentucky Show in late April. In May, the Arena hosted the SAHIBA (Society for Arabian Horses in the Bluegrass Area) show, while August saw the American Haflinger Registry Show.  For those who might not be familiar with the Haflinger, it is a small, hardy breed developed in Austria in the late 19th century.

On this particular September day, Brown was preparing for the two-day Kentucky Reining Horse Show that would bring riders and horses to Frankfort to demonstrate that special skill.

As beautiful horses turned and pirouetted as gracefully as any ballerina under the gentle touch of their riders, it was easy to see why equine enthusiasts flock to Lakeside Arena, and why Brown’s horse shows have become a vital part of Frankfort’s tourism industry.

“We have 36 shows on the schedule this year,” says Brown, “and for most shows, the average number of spectators is between two hundred and three hundred people.”

 While the majority of competitors are from Kentucky, some of the shows attract visitors from as far afield as California, Oregon and Texas, as well as up and down the East Coast.

“Our Haflinger show in July had 30 horses registered, some of which came all the way from Kansas and Colorado,” he said.

That means overnight stays in area hotels and meals in local restaurants, both of which boost tourism numbers, according to Robin Antenucci, executive director of the Frankfort Tourist Commission.

Brown says the typical show approved by the various national associations lasts two to three days. There are 176 stalls available (for performing horses only), and if need be, they can accommodate another 50 horses onsite.

As for the human half of the performing duos, if they wish to remain with their horses, Lakeside Arena grounds has 60 camper hookups and a fully stocked concession stand on the arena grounds.

 Currently the two most popular offerings are the reining and ranch horse shows, a trend Brown says might be attributed to the popularity of television series such as “Yellowstone” and “Dark Winds” which are set in Wyoming and New Mexico respectively.

The vast majority of his business revolves around horse shows and competitions, but Brown does offer the occasional clinic and hosts trainers who come in to work out horses at the request of their clients. While Brown says Lakeside Arena has been the location of a few children’s birthday parties and even one wedding, he foresees his future as being devoted to hosting those with four feet.