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Water Quality Improvement Projects

The Kentucky Horse Park contains a unique combination of urban and agricultural features: the park is comprised of many urban, impervious surfaces such as parking lots, sidewalks, roads, and building roofs to accommodate more than 800,000 visitors annually, but it is also visited by 18,000 horses annually and is home to a great many horses.

These animals annually produce 30,000 cubic yards of muck, a combination of manure and bedding, which is a water pollutant because of the nutrients, pathogens, and organic matter it contains. By generating this volume of muck on mostly impervious surfaces, protecting water quality at the park becomes a major challenge and priority, especially since the park is in the Cane Run Watershed.

To protect the Cane Run Creek from water quality pollutants such as muck, urine, sediment, and more, the park has worked with the University of Kentucky to implement a variety of water quality improvement projects. Many of these projects were chosen for their applicability to horse and land owners.

Use this brochure to visit the projects while you visit the park.


To convey stormwater quickly and prevent flooding, urban drainages have traditionally consisted of pipes and concrete ditches. However, these types of drainages do not allow water to infiltrate the soil and do not provide any water quality treatment before the runoff enters the receiving water body. This results in a large volume of potentially polluted runoff entering our waterways, causing erosion, eutrophication, and other negative consequences.

 Bioswales are vegetated or rock-lined drainages, which are pervious and allow runoff to infiltrate the soil, reducing the volume of runoff conveyed and helping recharge groundwater. Bioswales also offer some water quality treatment through settling and filtration. Sediment and other solids can settle in the bioswale and pollutants can be naturally treated by vegetation and soil bacteria.


Horse wash water and stormwater that enters the stormdrains located near barns 17-21 travels under the parking lot until it reaches the bioretention basin. This water is typically polluted from the muck, urine, sediment, and soap that is washed from the surrounding impervious surfaces into the stormdrains. The bioretention basin provides flow attenuation and some water quality treatment through natural processes before slowly releasing the water to a drainage that leads to the Cane Run Creek.


  • Transport your muck to the back of the closest muck storage structure.
  • Instead of hosing muck off the asphalt, use a broom to sweep it up then transport it to a storage structure.
  • Use the least amount of water when washing your horse.
  • Be mindful of the products you use to groom and wash your horse.


Dry lots are used to keep horses out of the mud during wet times of the year. Keeping horses confined during these times will prevent mud and loss of pasture and keep the animals clean and healthy. Similarly, dry lots can also be used to protect pastures during a drought. Dry lots can also be used for feeding, handling, and managing caloric intake for overweight horses. Dry lots used in conjunction with a rotational grazing system provide a versatile and efficient grazing system. Unlike a sacrifice lot, dry lots contain an all-weather surface . These surfaces prevent soil loss and facilitate manure collection thereby helping protect water quality.


Floating wetlands allow plants to grow hydroponically in the pond. The plant roots and the beneficial microbes that live on them filter, consume, and break down nutrients and organic matter, which helps improve water quality and prevents algal blooms. Floating wetlands also provide wildlife habitat and shelter for fish, turtles, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and more. These systems are inexpensive, easy to construct, low maintenance, and aesthetically pleasing.


Horse wash water can be a water quality pollutant because of the manure, soap, and other chemicals it may contain. If wash water is diverted to a stormdrain, it does not receive water quality treatment prior to being discharged into surface waters. Allowing the wash water to infiltrate into the soil, as opposed to entering a stormdrain, can provide water quality treatment. Beneficial microorganisms that live in the soil degrade the mild pollutants in the wash water. Two pervious wash stalls were installed behind the Horses of the World arena. One stall allows water to infiltrate between the gaps of impervious concrete blocks, and the other stall was constructed with pervious blocks, which allows water to infiltrate through the entire block. Because these stalls are frequently used, a two-foot deep rock sub-base was used to provide a larger volume of wash water storage. For wash stalls used less frequently, the pervious or concrete blocks can be installed directly in a well-draining soil.


A rain garden is a vegetated area containing a well-draining soil that is used to collect and filter stormwater runoff. Runoff from one of the paddocks used to flow onto a nearby sidewalk, causing visitors to walk through puddles. A rain garden was installed between the paddock and the sidewalk to allow runoff to soak into the soil as opposed to flowing across the surface. Rain gardens help prevent erosion, water pollution, and flooding, and help recharge groundwater.


A riparian area is the land adjacent to a water body. These areas are also called riparian buffers because the dense vegetation that naturally exists helps buffer the waterbody from water quality pollutants. However, this vegetation is often mowed or removed to achieve a more manicured look. The park used to mow to the water’s edge, but has now implemented a “Growing Not Mowing” policy, which improves air and water quality and reduces energy consumption. Two tributaries to the Cane Run have been intentionally planted with native trees, shrubs, and flowers to create an optimal riparian buffer. The rest of the Cane Run and its drainages within the park have a no-mow zone along both sides of the water. Over time, trees and other vegetation in the seedbank will begin to grow and provide many benefits:

Contaminant Filtering
Runoff can easily infiltrate into soil in vegetated areas, allowing bacteria and plants to filter contaminants from the water.

Sediment Trapping
Vegetation slows runoff, allowing sediments and organic matter to settle before entering the stream.

Nutrient Utilization
Growing vegetation degrades organics and utilizes nutrients.

Erosion Reduction
Roots of vegetation help hold soil in place.

Wildlife Habitat
A diversity of trees, shrubs, and grasses provide food and shelter for birds, insects, and more.


The gravels in the parking lot near barns 8-12 used to be transported by runoff into a small drainage. Concrete curbs were installed to direct runoff to a settling basin. The settling basin allows solids such as gravel and sediment to settle from the runoff before entering the drainage. The gravels can then be reapplied to the parking lot, saving time and money and protecting water quality.


The horses that live at the park used to have access to surface water drainages. Even though the horses had an automatic watering fountain in their paddock, they would often drink from the drainage. The drainage water was likely polluted from muck runoff, which is bad for horse health. Allowing horses to have access to drainages degrades water quality and increases streambank erosion. New fences have been installed throughout the park to exclude the horses from streams. If paddocks are bisected by a stream, a stream crossing can be installed. Excluding horses from riparian areas does not mean a loss of pasture; these areas can be periodically flash-grazed during dry times of the year.


The stream behind the American Saddlebred Museum used to have eroding streambanks. The channel of the stream was so deep that water could not readily access the floodplain, so water was continuously carving the channel deeper and closer to the nearby buildings and sidewalks. The stream was restored to enhance the physical, chemical, biological, and societal functions of the stream:

  • Physical Functions: The stream’s dimensions and pattern were altered to prevent streambank erosion and to create a floodplain.
  • Chemical Functions: By helping prevent stream bank erosion and by allowing vegetation to grow along the stream, water quality parameters such as sediment, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, and others have been improved.
  • Biological Functions: Because the chemical functions have been restored, the stream can now provide suitable aquatic habitat for macroinvertabrates and other lower food chain organisms that support healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Societal Functions: With the aforementioned functions restored, the stream is now aesthetically pleasing and provides an opportunity to see and enjoy the wildlife associated with a healthy aquatic ecosystem.


A covered muck storage structure was installed near barns 17-21 to prevent rain and runoff from coming in contact with muck, minimizing water pollution. A covered muck storage structure can also be used to compost animal mortalities or the muck could be composted for other beneficial reuses.


  • Transport your muck to the back of the muck storage structure.
  • Instead of hosing muck off the asphalt, use a broom to sweep it up then transport it to a storage structure.


New automatic watering fountains surrounded with an all-weather surface were installed to collectively establish a healthy and durable watering area. The area surrounding a water source is frequently and heavily used. Consequently, this heavy-use-area is prone to mud and the creation of surface depressions. The surface depressions can become a health concern for horses because the animals are standing in excrement and mud while they drink. An all-weather surface such as a combination of concrete, rock, and geotextile fabric is necessary to prevent erosion and animal health concerns.

This work was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under §319(h) of the Clean Water Act.

University of Kentucky