Bringing tourism to Kentucky is an important aspect of the economic viability of the state, and Anne Sabatino Hardy is doing her part. The Kentucky bourbon industry has been marketing bourbon tourism for 20 years, and now the horse industry is getting in on the game. Anne is Executive Director of Visit Horse Country, a nonprofit that not only helps horse farms create experiences on their farms for visitors, but also helps market those experiences for them. Find out more about her life, horses and Kentucky tourism. Meet Anne Sabatino Hardy, our newest FACE of Louisville!
Tell us about Visit Horse Country.
Visit Horse Country is a nonprofit organization, and it is really an industry initiative where the farms came together, people who have a stake in the horse industry in Kentucky — it was formed to develop experiences on the farms. We put our services to the members, training them and making sure that they feel comfortable giving tours. We also do the back-office support — all the things that go into planning, arranging and keeping things safe and happy on the farms so that when people show up they can have a great time and be a storyteller, which is what they’re really good at.
What got you involved with horses?
A stroke of luck, I would say. I had a background in marketing and public relations as well as some tourism work. So when this organization was formed, I looked at the job description — it was three pages long, single-spaced — and you needed to do a little bit of everything. I looked at it and thought I can do this! I’ve been here since 1999, and I just love Kentucky so much. I love the Kentucky Derby, the bourbon and the culture, and horses are a huge part of the culture. That, nostalgia-wise, is what attracts people to the brand of Kentucky. So I said, “I wanna be a part of that.”
Do you have a background with horses?
It’s crazy, because when I first got married, we lived abroad, so the first time I was around horses was in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We visited Sheik Muhammad’s horse stables, and that was the first horse farm that I actually toured. It was on the other side of the world from our home in Kentucky. I don’t really have a background in horses, but I just love them.
With the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, everybody said if we were doing as much work to welcome our guests as bourbon has been doing, we could really change people’s perception of our sport and the horse. When you come and you engage with a horse, and it’s actually a really sweet mare or a brand new foal, you just can’t help but fall in love.
What do you love about your job?
I love getting to tell the story of Kentucky. Being a part of horse racing and being a part of the farm life is really fun. If you don’t understand it, it seems like a very closed world, because it was a closed world for a period of time. I lived in Lexington for 10 years and never knew how to get on a farm. Being part of an organization that opens the gates and says, “We want to make sure that you know about this, and we want to share it with you,” and getting to tell those stories — it’s just the best.
I also love being in tourism and hospitality because I’ve found that this crew of people is the most hospitable, the most friendly, the most proud of what they do; they will always give you a recommendation, and I think Kentuckians, as a rule, are like that. But being a part of tourism, it’s your job to share your passion. It’s just fantastic!
What do you think about tourism in Kentucky?
It is absolutely on a boom. I think that the “Top Chef” effect is going to be something that we will continue to see. They filmed that in so many iconic locations between Louisville, Lexington and all the way down to London and Somerset at the lake. When we have that kind of caliber of viewer and we start thinking of travel to see Kentucky the way we all see it, it’s just a huge encouragement.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job?
We always want to make sure that our members who are running these really amazing operations — operations where they are raising, training, nursing and breeding these thoroughbreds — we all want to make sure the experience is exceptional. So, finding the right ways to weave in experiences that really delight our guests while also making sure the operation can keep running, that’s a huge challenge for us. We’ve just learned so much about it.
What do you like to do for fun?
My husband Jacob Hardy and I still really enjoy traveling. We were in Eastern Europe last year to see all the Christmas markets. We did Prague, Vienna, Hungary and Croatia. We really enjoy cooking, and we’ve been trying to learn more about it.
And then of course the Colts — I am from Indianapolis originally. But I always tell people not to worry because I did not come to the state with basketball loyalty. I’m a huge Colts fan. The Colts came to Indy when I was a kid, and my dad took me to a game. And so that’s where I became a sports fan.
Do you have any hobbies?
Horse Country is just about four years old now, so the last four years I feel like all of my hobbies have been working. We really both enjoy music, and we’re putting together a collection of records of some of our favorite musicians and albums. We really enjoy going to music festivals.
Do you have any mentors?
Ann Bakhaus from Kentucky Eagle Distributing and I have been meeting. She’s such a strong woman in an industry really dominated by men, especially when she took it over. I just love her, because she is so confident in what she’s doing and who she is, and that is what informs how she makes decisions. I admire that so much.
Tell me something about you that most people would be surprised to know.
When we were kids, our family participated in “BattleBots,” the TV show on Comedy Central with fighting robots. Our family had a fighting robot. Its name was SABotage, because my maiden name is Sabatino. It had a hydraulic clamping and flipping arm.
What’s your best advice?
Don’t take my advice!
With the exception of faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Football, coffee and my rescue dogs, Kipling and Kelbi
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your story. To learn more about Visit Horse Country, go to visithorsecountry.com.
And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos of Anne.
And lastly, thank you to Hermitage Farm for allowing us to use their gorgeous property as the backdrop for these images of Anne.
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