When Jona Ryan moved to Richmond, Kentucky from Texas in 1991, she brought with her years of experience in the rodeo industry and a passion for the Bluegrass state’s favorite animal. She witnessed central Kentucky’s thriving thoroughbred industry up close; what she didn’t see, however, was an opportunity for families to interact with and learn about the horses. That’s why in 2004, she founded Deer Run Stables (also called Stepping Stone Ranch).
At Deer Run, visitors over the age of 7 can take a one-hour guided trail ride through serene Daniel Boone country, just 7 miles south of the hustle and bustle of Lexington. (For younger visitors, 10-minute, guided pony rides around the corral are available.) In Ryan’s experience, tourists from all over the world– Ryan reported visitors from countries like Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and Korea– come to the area for a more authentic horse country experience than may be found elsewhere. With its rustic charm and up-close-and-personal approach, the ranch does not disappoint.
“People come to Kentucky to ride horses,” Ryan said. “They want to get up and see what it’s like to ride on a trail. They want something scenic, to see more nature and wildlife than they would on a horse farm. People all the time tell us they can’t believe how beautiful Kentucky is.”
It’s not uncommon, in Ryan’s experience, for guests to bring some apprehension around interacting with horses to their experience. The large, majestic beauties certainly command a level of respect. But, taking care to alleviate those anxieties is a highlight of the business for Ryan. Before setting off on a ride, Ryan and her experienced guides engage in “one-on-one confidence building” with the riders and horses, most of whom have been hauling guests at Deer Run since its founding.
“I think my favorite part is having people come in, and they’re afraid of horses, but by the time they leave the trail, they have enjoyed themselves and feel so much more confident,” said Ryan. “They understand that even though the horse can be dangerous, they’re not something to fear if you know how to be with them in a calm and relaxed manner.”
People from all walks of life, as well as all over the world, have visited Deer Run Stables for pleasure and for personal reasons. Ryan recalls several guests who visited to fulfill items on their “bucket list” after terminal diagnoses or before major medical procedures. One man, she recalled, visited shortly before a leg amputation– he wanted to ride a horse while he still had both legs. Another guest wanted to ride a horse before her upcoming double mastectomy. There’s a reason, in Ryan’s estimation, that those across the spectrum of experiences are drawn to her favorite animal:
“I enjoy seeing people appreciate the horses for what they are, they’re so spiritual and special,” she said. “I don’t think horses get the credit for the personality, love, and passion they have.”
To reserve your trail ride, call Jona Ryan at (615) 268-9960 and visit the stables’ website and Facebook page to learn more.