Why Horses, Bourbon Drinkers, and Corvette Drivers Should Care More About Geology

Kentucky_Derby 2

If you have any doubts about the boast that Kentucky is the horse capital of the world, just look at the statistics for winners of the Kentucky Derby.

The first derby was in 1875, and of the 142 races, a Kentucky horse has won 107 times! Florida horses are number two on the list with 6 wins. Let me say that again: 107 vs. 6. WOW! There must be something in the water – and as a matter of fact, there is. It’s called calcium.

River Styx, a partly subterranean waterway, emerges onto the surface in Mammoth Cave National Park as a result of limestone karst topography .
River Styx, a partly subterranean waterway, emerges onto the surface in Mammoth Cave National Park – a prime example of limestone karst topography.

Just beneath the soil of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region are thick, calcium-rich limestone beds which dissolve when rain water percolates through them.

Sinkhole 2

For you science nerds, the geologic term for this process and the sinkholes and caves it produces is called karst. Famous examples are Mammoth Cave National Park …


and the notorious, overnight-surprise sinkhole beneath the Corvette Museum that swallowed 8 classic corvettes!

Corvette Cave

The dissolved minerals in the water eventually end up in soils that grow naturally calcium-rich grass. Horses like nothing better than lazy grazing, and they don’t know it, but the extra calcium in the grass they’re nipping helps build stronger bones and greater durability.

Grazing on Kentucky's Calcium-Rich Bluegrass

And now to the third entrant in this trifecta: bourbon. To say that bourbon is a passion in this part of Kentucky is an understatement.

Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah Label on Woodford Reserve Bourbon Bottle
Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah Label on Woodford Reserve Bourbon Bottle

Ninety-five percent of all bourbon is made right here in KY, and its history is just as long and rich as the horse business. All of the old-house bourbon makers claim that this same limestone water that grows the best grass for horses makes the best bourbons for humans. Who knows? Maybe it will make my bones stronger as well.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

IMG_1891 - Version 2

Photo Credits:
1. PandamicPhoto.com via Wikimedia Commons
2. Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons
3. Scott Ehardt via Wikimedia Commons
5. Courtesy of the National Corvette Museum
8 Courtesy of Woodford Reserve

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

37 thoughts

  1. I will say after reading that title I thought ” Now just how does he plan to tie all of that together?!” Of course as always you weave it together. In summary drink bourbon to prevent osteoporosis, bet on the horse from Kentucky and definitely watch where you walk when visiting. Do I have it summed up about right? 🙂
    How are things going for you Terri?

    1. Yep Sue. Very perceptive reader that you are – you perfectly nailed the takeaway from this post. Another takeaway is that it took a bourbon-drinking, horse-betting geologist to put this post together. ~James

  2. Wow, 75% Kentucky raised horses and 95% of all bourbon. Bragging rights for sure. I’m betting they would be just as happy to skip the sinkhole part.

    1. Laura, I grew up exactly 10 miles from Mammoth Cave National Park, and not one but both of my grandparents had house-sized sinkholes on their farms. So caves and sinkholes were no big deal for me as a kid. It took a degree in geology to teach me how rare karst is and the impact it can have on daily life. Just ask those folks in Central Florida who’s houses are routinely falling into sinkholes. ~James

  3. To get that calcium benefit, you’ll have to drink up. And more. What a pity! And as for the sinkhole that swallowed the Corvettes? Another pity. Thanks for letting us in on a geologic secret while showing us your state assets!

    1. Rusha, until writing this post I wasn’t aware of the Ky derby horse stats. It really is amazing. And it explains why many of the 450 horse farms around Lexington are owned by rich, horse-loving foreigners who can’t duplicate the unique conditions in their own countries. And the Corvette Museum had turned lemons to lemonade, because they’ve made the sinkhole an new exhibit, which has increased visitors. Not to worry, I keep working on my calcium intake. 🙂 ~James

    1. Thanks Suzanne. For folks from our neck of the woods, caves and sinkholes are pretty normal, but for lots of people, they’re a rarity. And the connection between karst, fast thoroughbred horses, good bourbon and a disaster at the Corvette Museum is just too good not to talk about. ~James

  4. That was a fun post. I bet the calcium in the water would make a big difference in the strength and endurance of the horses. I’m heart broken about the corvettes. Couldn’t they retrieve them?

    1. I’m glad you commented Martha, so you can possibly answer a question that I had. If extra calcium in the grass helps KY horses, do any horses take calcium supplements for stronger bones – like old folks with Osteoporosis? ~James

      1. Supplements are big business with horse owners. It is best to test your pastures, hay and water to see what is lacking. On the other hand, I figure if they are doing well with what they have, why rock the boat? So to answer your question, yes some do add things like calcium but if you aren’t raising a race horse it may not be necessary. Every thing can be over-done?! Good question, James.

    1. I’m a little biased Pam, but I love geology as well. My degree is from the University of Kentucky, and you better believe that before anyone graduates with a degree in geology from UK, they know ALL about karst topography. ~James

  5. Glad to hear calcium’s good for horses, hope it’s good for humans too – we have a high concentration in our municipal water. But only horse-drawn buggies around the Coliseum and no Bourbon. Btw I’ve nominated you for the 3 Day Quote Challenge but if you don’t do these, no worries 🙂

    1. You bring up an interesting point Bea. Our tap water comes from these same limestone aquifers, so it should have a higher level of calcium. I need to check this out. Also, thanks for the invitation for the quote challenge. I love quotes and use them frequently in my posts, but unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a house move and won’t be able to participate. Thanks for thinking of us, and we’re looking forward to your quotes. ~James

  6. My son-in-laws grandparents had a farm near Frankfort and Clay is quite the fan of bourbon. He gave me a bottle of Woodford Reserve last year and I am still working my way through it. Even though it is only 12:30 here, I just had a sip in honor of the limestone water and your blog, of course. Any excuse, eh. 🙂 –Curt

    1. Curt, bourbon has had an interesting and colorful history. What started out as a bunch of good ol’ boy farmers sitting around a lantern-lit barn drinking home brew that could take paint off the wall, has turned into a billion-dollar industry with no shortage of snobs. And wine connoisseurs will laugh me out of the building, but every bourbon has its own unique flavor, and it all comes down to what tastes good to the drinker. FYI, I enjoy Woodford Reserve, but my go-to favorite is Evan Williams Single Barrel. It’s hard to find, maybe impossible out your way, but it’s excellent. Check it out:

      1. Thanks for the heads up, James. BTW, my Kentucky ancestors started producing whiskey near Cynthia in the 1790s. Must make them something of a pioneer in the local business. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I too was wondering how you were going to tie all this together James, and you did so beautifully. I am not a bourbon drinker but have to admit to indulging while in KY, and I actually liked it. Must have been the calcium. Who knew I was helping my bones in the process. 🙂

    1. Glad to hear that KY’s amber nectar made another convert LuAnn. When I started this post, it was about the grass/thoroughbred connection. And the more I thought about it, the karst hook to bring in bourbon and corvettes seemed a natural. I hope the KY Tourism Board discovers this post. Maybe I could get free tickets to Mammoth Cave, The Corvette Museum, and a nice bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. 🙂 ~James

  8. The summer we visited Louisville a few years ago, I discovered bourbon for the first time. I LOVE bourbon. I LOVE Woodford Bourbon.
    Now that I know it’s good for my bones, I will drink it with even more enthusiasm 🙂

    Betting on horses and Corvettes? Nah. I’m good with just the bourbon, thanks 🙂

    1. I’m glad to hear that you’re a bourbon fan Joanne. I’m sure that a few sips on a cold winter night brings some southern warmth and sunshine into your life. And since you’re a fan of Woodford Reserve (a very good bourbon no doubt), I’ll make the same recommendation that I made to Curt. My go-to favorite is Evan Williams Single Barrel. It’s hard to find, maybe impossible north of the border, but it’s excellent. The interesting thing about all single-barrel bourbons is that they really are from one, single barrel. The master distiller has tasted that particular barrel and likes it enough to not mix it with any other barrels. They even hand date the date the bourbon was barreled and bottled.

    1. You pegged this one Anita, because KY really is My Old Kentucky Home. Yes we are settling in nicely, and it feels great. We both attended university in Lexington, and as poverty-stricken college students, we really didn’t have the time or money to do much exploring. And it’s fun to be back in the area, with a more “global” perspective under our belts. ~James

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