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Working Farm

Smokey Valley Farm offers vacation spot, horse breeding enterprise

Tucked in Kentucky’s Carter County near Olive Hill is a farm that many know as a destination for an interesting alternative to staying at a hotel. Smokey Valley Farm boasts of a wedding chapel, a guesthouse and a barn apartment where guests can stay in a rural setting on a working horse farm.

What many guests may not realize is that they are staying on the farm where a new breed of horse was created, Smokey Valley horse, a representative of the traveling horse breed.

Smokey Valley Farm’s owner, Bob Coleman was born 70 years ago at the farm that has been in his family for five generations.

But while Coleman was born on the farm, he has spent his life working in the medical device field and spent the past 35 years bring back the traveling horse, a breed of horses that people used to travel great distances before the advent of trains and automobiles.

Coleman said breeding the traveling horse line was an old passion. His family line goes back to the 1700s and it was the story of one of his ancestors, who was Methodist preacher that inspired him to bring the traveling horse.

Rev. James Coleman was a circuit rider and one of the founders of the Methodist Church in America. He rode some 800 miles several times a year on a smooth-gaited traveling horse preaching and building up churches in New England. His son moved to Lewis County, Kentucky and brought some of the traveling horses with him.

“So my respect and passion for the good horse was passed down through my family,” Coleman said. “So you could say I’m just the latest keeper of the flame.”

Coleman went to Morehead State University to study science, then went to get his PhD at the University of Tennessee and got a faculty appointment at Harvard Medical School.

“I left Harvard to form medical companies to pay for my horse habits,” he said, adding he developed medical device business in Boston and California that built things like glucose self-testers and a critical blood care analyzer. His current company builds vascular access devices and he co-founded a cancer diagnostic company in California.

“I kept my feet in two worlds,” Coleman said. “One was pretty ancient with the horses and the other was full-fledged biology and medical technology.”

Coleman began by trying to find a traveling horse that pleased him.
“But ultimately I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to recreate, by mixing and matching the gene pool, to achieve the goal of having something that would have the athleticism and the right qualities and the look and finish that met my aspirations,” he said. “Selective breeding will ultimately get you what you desire as long as it is within the gene pool.”

The farm is on its fifth and sixth generation of Smokey Valley horses from the starting material. He has raised hundreds of horses and there are about 50 at Smokey Valley Farm.

“They just keep getting better,” Coleman said. “They are unique. Some of these horses can do up in the range of mid to upper 20 miles per hour at a smooth gait, which is as fast as some horses can run.”

“You can call them Ferraris you can put saddles on,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the farm has about 650 acres on three pieces of property and his wife, Jane, decided she was going to use some of it for Airbnb and vacation rentals.

“She’s getting quite a bit of traffic on those, so let’s call it a parallel activity,” Coleman said. “A two bedroom apartment on a working horse farm is an attractive option for people as they travel down the interstate. Guests enjoy the diversion of it.”

Coleman said that despite living in big cities, he enjoys his time at Smokey Valley Farm.

“I enjoy the beauty of that country and candidly, the honesty of the people that live there,” he said. “There is a higher proportion of real people that live there and it is only when you experience the paucity of that in other places, that you tend to truly appreciate it.”