Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ocala/Marion County is the "Horse Capital of the World™”

Ocala/Marion County is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” With over 1,000 horse farms and more horses per capita than anywhere else in the United States, it’s no wonder it has earned this title. Add to that competitive equestrian events, breeding and training facilities, riding trails, a one-of-a-kind horse-drawn carriage museum and more and you have a horse-lover’s paradise.

Initially, horses in Ocala were found mostly on cattle ranches where they were used as work horses. As time passed it was realized that Ocala/Marion County has the perfect soil for producing grass with nutrients horses and their foals need for good health. As a result the horse breeding industry began to grow in Ocala. Now, Ocala is one of the prime locations where owners go to breed their horses, even traveling from as far away as South America. And Ocala/Marion County breeds winners, too. Between the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont and the Breeders Cup, this area has produced over 39 champions.

Things To See and Do in the “Horse Capital”
The Florida Carriage Museum and Resort
is a rare find with over 160 restored carriages on display and 400 acres of beautiful central Florida landscape. Visitors can tour the museum, stroll the walking trails or enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride. Come for the day or stay for a few. This resort offers a place for you and your horse to stay.

The Florida Horse Park is one of the newer equestrian venues in Ocala. It sits on 500 acres and offers a variety of events throughout the season: sporting events, dressage, an annual “Festival of the Horse,” polo matches, combined driving competitions and more. In addition to hosting these events, there are hundreds of miles of riding trails at the park. You can bring your own horse or ride with Cactus Jack on a guided trail ride on the beautiful, protected lands of the Greenway.

HITS (Horse Shows In The Sun) is an annual winter event in Ocala. For eight weeks HITS Post Time Farm plays host to hunter jumping and show jumping competitions held from January through March. Between events at HITS and the Florida Horse Park, equine competitions held locally draw horsemen from all over the world.

Horse breeding is big business here in Ocala and you can witness all of the action as young horses are brought to sale at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales (OBS) quarterly auctions. How much are these horses worth? Twenty thousand dollars or maybe $100,000? But the return on investment is worth it! In addition to the horse sales, OBS features horse racing events.

With the equine industry so much a part of Ocala, it was only natural that the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA) chose the horse as the subject a recent cultural art fundraising project. “Horse Fever,” as the project was called, involved local artists painting life-sized molded horses in themes related to Ocala. These horses were put on display around the county before being auctioned by the MCA. As a result of this endeavor, the 52 painted horses raised $780,000 for the local community. Visitors to the Ocala area can see many of these horses which are still on display. More recently, Horse Fever II featured 30 skillfully painted horses and were sold at an auction that raised $208,500. All of the horses are at local businesses including the theatrically themed "Inspiration" (pictured above) located at Circle Square Commons adjacent to On Top of the LinkWorld Communities.

The Marion Therapeutic Riding Association (MTRA)
is a local organization which provides therapeutic horseback riding opportunities to individuals who are mentally, physically or emotionally challenged. Because of the fine program it provides and the support it receives from the local community, the MTRA has become highly recognized and accredited.

Aside from riding horses on trail rides and being a spectator at the various events, you can also volunteer with many of the activities mentioned above. The sponsoring groups will appreciate your time and service.

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