This week's Kentucky Derby will feature a grand display of horses, hats and wealth. And as the number of wealthy horse owners grows, demand for pricey horse estates is also picking up speed.
The market for horse properties and equestrian estates has started to rebound after a dramatic fall during the recession. Realtors in horse country say that sales in 2012 rose between 20 percent and 50 percent over the previous year.
From the rolling green pastures of Virginia and Connecticut to the palatial paddocks and horse-centric mansions in Texas and California, equestrian estates are back in vogue among wealthy home buyers—tracking similar demand for private vineyards and ranches.
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Web traffic on Horseproperties.com—the leading site for horse properties—has doubled, according to the site. Barbara Greenhill, the site's founder and owner, said equestrian estates in Florida and Arizona were especially hard hit during the recession.
In the downturn, one agent told her, "I can't even give it away for free!"
Now, the properties are attracting multiple bids and selling much more briskly, realtors said.
"The market has come back very strongly," said Suzanne Perkins, a realtor in Santa Barbara, Calif., who represents equestrian estates.
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Perkins and others said demand is coming from the growing population of wealthy horse owners in the U.S., as well as from foreign buyers—especially rich horse owners from the Middle East and China. "The clients in the Middle East really love horses," she said.
She's currently listing a $14.95 million equestrian estate in Santa Barbara where the horses have ocean views. It's on 10 acres, with an 8,725-square-foot main house, pool, spa, guest house and well-appointed stables—with brass fittings and chandeliers—for more than six horses.
Among the largest and most lavish equestrian estates on the market is an estate in Fairfield County, Conn., co-listed by Gail Murphy of Higgins Group. The property has 154 acres, a 10,000-square-foot Tudor mansion and 8,000-square-foot barn. The 11-stall barn is built from mahogany and rare butternut wood and looks out over a man-made waterfall.
The property also has five miles of riding trails, two lakes, a pond and two helicopter landing areas—for when the trip is too long for horses.
-By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter: @robtfrank