The Horse Capital of the World
More than 200 farms and training centers are devoted to breeding, training and showing breeds such as the Thoroughbred, Paso Fino, Missouri Foxtrotter, Arabian, Morgan, miniature horse, quarter horse, hunter/jumper, and the gentle giants, draft horses among others.
One can't come to Marion County without becoming aware immediately that this is the "Horse Capital of the World." The U.S. Department of Agriculture in early 1999, put its seal of approval on promotions using that label. The USDA's Census of Agriculture reported that Marion led all U.S. counties in total number of horses and ponies in residence in 1997, cut-off year for the five-year census. Furthermore, the county ranked third nationally (behind two counties in Kentucky) in total value of horses sold. Horses are big business in Marion County. Between 45 and 50 different breeds are represented in the area. Nearly 29,000 residents are employed in the county's Thoroughbred industry alone.
Florida Thoroughbreds finish first in 20 percent of the foremost stakes races in the U.S. and are counted among Triple Crown, Breeders' Cup, Belmont Stakes, Preakness and Kentucky Derby winners. The Thoroughbred industry's economic impact on the state is considered to be in excess of $1 billion dollars annually, and the exciting horse sales at the Ocala Breeder's Sales Complex run into the millions.
In addition, more than 200 farms and training centers are devoted to breeding, training and showing other breeds such as the Paso Fino, Missouri Foxtrotter, Arabian, Morgan, miniature horse, quarter horse, hunter/jumper, and the gentle giants, draft horses. A newly registered breed, the Gypsy Vanner, makes its home in Marion County. Champions from all breeds are available for breeding purposes, and bring back top place prizes from national and international horse shows.
Each spring the "Horse Shows in the Sun" (HITS) stages one of the largest hunter/jumper shows in the United States. The five-week event which is held at grounds on U.S. 27, northwest of Ocala, draws competitors from across the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe. HITS brings the area an estimated $30 million, to Marion County hotels, motels, restaurants, tack and feed stores. The competitors come from all across the United States and in 2001 more than 2,000 horses took part during the five week show.
Several of horse farms welcome visitors to tour. Arrangements can be made for families or groups with just a phone call. A list of farms open to the public is always available from the Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau. Visitors who bring their own horses can ride forest and greenway trails and may obtain information about the trailheads and trails from the Visitor Center as well. (352) 438-2805
Florida Carriage Museum & Resort
Just a short drive south of Ocala, lies the Florida Carriage Museum & Resort encompassing over 400 acreas of beauty. Visitors to the museum re-live history as they experience one of the finest collection of carriages in the world and they can even take a carriage ride (by appointment) on the winding roads through tall oaks draped in spanish moss, around the Qin Dynasty Gardens and past the exotic Japanese Koi pond. Horses abound on the the property which features 24 well appointed residences and 10 barns that serve as an equine "Bed & Barn". The resort hosts several corporate retreats and events throughout the year. Weekend appointments or group tours are available by calling (352) 750-5500 or visit www.fcmr.org
for additional information.
Additional Equine Resources:
For more information about this article, please contact:
Tamara Fleischhaker, 352-629-8051, ext. 102 Tamara@OcalaCEP.com