Venues, shows, farms and trails make this the place for horsey happenings.
North Central Florida is horse heaven—not just for the horses themselves but also for their human partners: riders, owners, and those of us who simply love looking at horses as poetry in motion. There’s even a retirement home for horses where you can go and offer a carrot to a horse friend. With racehorses being bred and trained in Ocala, colts dot the rolling pastures in herds. With the fact that our underground water is rich in limestone, horse babies lucky enough to be born in North Florida are endowed with strong bones, which is one reason so many horse farms are located here. The Ocala Breeders’ Sales is a world-renowned auction where some of the finest horseflesh in existence tickles the pocketbooks of racehorse owners.
For those of us who love trail riding, there are numerous parks with paths meandering through, as well as the Greenway trail that passes over the Interstate and goes for miles. The state park that we like best is O’Leno, about 30 minutes from Gainesville, which has miles of shaded trails, abundant wildlife, as well as the amazing disappearing river. There are camping spaces, stalls, and a real bathroom, human-style, inside the entrance! The Santa Fe River really does disappear into an underground passage, to re-emerge three miles later at River Rise, where a horse barn and other equestrian facilities are to be found. Organized trail rides to benefit various charities take place in different parks all year. After all, with Florida’s famous sunshine, there are hardly any days when a horse enthusiast has to stay indoors. That’s one reason the area is also among the world’s favorite places for jumpers.
Every winter the HITS, a horseshow that takes place every week, features riders from everywhere jumping fences for fun and prizes. Indeed, their Grand Prix show jumping has money prizes that require a comma! Equestrian centers such as Canterbury in Newberry and the Livestock Pavilion in Ocala schedule horseshows all year—everything from dressage, barrel racing, mounted cowboy shooting to 4-H events and cross-country trials.
Horse heaven, horse paradise, horsey happenings—it’s hard to pick only two words to describe the horse action in these parts.
This article was contributed by Chris Machen and Shelley Fraser Mickle, both of whom can often be found on one of the area’s many equestrian trails.
UF First Lady, Chris Machen, is widely credited for bringing sustainability to the fore at UF, What had been a peripheral movement steadily mushroomed into a central university initiative – one that has fundamentally altered UF’s approach to buildings, transportation and waste. Today, UF constructs only LEED-gold certified buildings, encourages and rewards public and alternative transportation, aggressively recycles and has set a goal of UF reducing its waste to zero.
Author Shelley Fraser Mickle’s first novel, THE QUEEN OF OCTOBER, was a l989 New York Times Notable Book; her second novel, REPLACING DAD, became a CBS movie and is now frequently shown on the Hallmark Channel, starring Mary McDonnell and teen heartthrob Eric von Detten.Shelley takes time off from horsing around to run WILD ONION PRESS which publishes books featuring children with various physical differences. | Visit her website