Published May 13, 2014
It is hard to come to Marion County without becoming almost immediately aware that it is the “Horse Capital of the World.” Only 5 cities in the world are permitted under Chamber of Commerce guidelines to be called “Horse Capital of the world.” The city of Ocala just so happens to be 1 out of 4 that are located in America. Ocala has more than 70,000 acres of thoroughbred breeding and training farms, which makes Ocala/Marion County capital to all things equine. The history of horseracing runs deep in Ocala’s roots. It stretches back to the 1940s, when Carl G Rose moved to Ocala and founded the 1st Thoroughbred Farm in the country. A decade later things began to take off when horsemen formed farms such as Bonnie Heath Farm, Hooper Farm and Live Oak Plantation. It wasn’t until 1956 that Bonnie Health Farm produced the 1st Florida horse to win the Kentucky Derby. The winner Needles, was owned by Bonnie Health and Jack Dudley. Later in 1978 Ocala was home to the Triple Crown winner Affirmed. In more recent years, 11 of the 21 horses entered into the Kentucky Derby had roots in Ocala, securing all top 3 places. In 2013 KY Derby, I’ll have Another, was started in Marion County and this past 2014 KY Derby; 12 of the 19 horses entered all had roots in Ocala. Maybe it is Ocala’s rich limestone soil that helps these stallions race to the top. Ocala’s limestone soil is packed full of calcium, which strengthens horses’ bones and hooves much like calcium does for humans. Whatever the reason the community is glad that the horse industry is here to stay.
Ocala’s horse industry helps promote the local community immensely. Not only does the industry generate money for the economy but it also helps with local tourism. “Postime Farms” and Ocala serve as hosts for one of the largest horse shows in the country. The equine industry here also actively participates in H.I.T.S or “Horses in the Sun” , which is a Dressage/Jumper event lasting about 2 months; generating 6 to 7 million dollars to the local Marion County economy each year. The show features classes with more than 100 different breeds, including the Tennessee Walker, Paso Fino, Morgan horse, Saddlebred, Draft horse, and the American Quarter Horse. Other equine events in the area include cowboy mounted shooting by the Florida Outlaws, as well as endurance rides, barrel races, “extreme cowboy events, jumper shows, trick shows, parades, draft pulls, rodeo events, and more. All of the great equine events contribute to building our towns tourism and they help promote local business.
Ocala has held on to its title and proven its self to truly be “Horse Capital of the World”, with many great horses and riders being produced in this equine rich town, the horses are here to stay and the citizens of Ocala couldn’t be happier. It seems the residents of Ocala have all caught Horse Fever.