Horsing Around in Florida
By Lauren Tjaden
Florida and horses go together like the beach and sand. Like Minnie and Mickey. Like puppies and cuddling. Like . . . oh, you get the idea.
The state’s year-round moderate climate, mineral-rich water and soil, coupled with its exceptional facilities and support industries make Florida the perfect place for breeding, training and racing, for horse shows, polo and rodeos, and almost every other kind of equine activity.
In fact, with more than 900 farms contained within its boundaries, Ocala/Marion County boasts more horses and ponies than any other county in the nation (according to the United States Department of Agriculture census).
If you’re a horse lover like I am, get in on the action. Here are some top-notch facilities that feature a regular stream of events, and some places where you can climb in the saddle yourself.
Florida Horse Park is a dandy place to begin. Situated on 500 acres in central Florida, this world-class facility offers Olympic-level equine sports competition. Its schedule of world-class events draws top competitors and spectators from every horse sport discipline, from three-day eventing to dressage to driving. It also offers fun family events like the Festival of the Horse. Visitors can ride through the hundreds of miles of unspoiled trails that curve through the luxuriant Florida Greenway.
The Horse Shows in the Sun Florida show series (more commonly known as “HITS”) runs out of the 450-acre Post Time Farm in Ocala, a fabulous facility nestled amid ancient oak trees. Each winter, you can watch some of the country’s best equine athletes and riders compete.
At the 400-acre Florida Carriage Museum & Resort in central Florida, you can admire their collection of carriages, one of the finest in the world, but I’d recommend you try a carriage ride (you’ll need a prior appointment). You’ll traverse the roads through tall oaks draped in Spanish moss, around the Qin Dynasty Gardens and past the Japanese koi pond. You can stay there, too – and even bring your horse.Their equestrian "Bed and Barn" invites you to vacation and train with your own horses or with theirs.
Rocking Horse Stables is a 150-acre, world-class training facility that features over 100 cross-country fences scattered throughout its scenic pastures and woodlands, and in the winter months, it’s a favorite location for Olympic hopefuls to train and compete. The farm is a great place to camp with your horse. It has 40 RV hookups as well as showers and bathrooms, but even better, while there, you can explore the 70,000 acres of unspoiled Ocala National Forest that’s adjacent to the farm.
Besides offering one-, two- and five-hour guided rides, Fiddler’s Green Ranch hosts hayrides, campouts and bonfires. There are villas, a heated pool, a lake and tennis courts, though the main focus is horseback riding. The Ranch borders the 400,000-acre Ocala National Forest, which offers endless miles of scenic trails to explore.
Orange County’s Clarcona Horseman's Park (3535 Damon Road, Apopka, FL 32703) offers weekend horse shows throughout the year and possesses plenty of space for practice and lessons. These facilities feature show rings with bleacher seating, judging towers and horse stalls. Also home to the Mid-Florida Quarter Midget Race Track and Association, this public park offers car races on most Friday evenings.
Horse World Riding Stables, just south of Orlando in the Walt Disney World Resort area, offers 3 levels of guided trail rides, depending on your riding experience. If you’re tempted by the idea of a good horse beneath you, a blue sky above, and hundreds of acres to explore on horseback, check them out. This family-owned and -operated facility is geared toward healthy fun and a love for land and nature. Yes, I’ve been there. They are friendly and the horses are well cared for.
Florida Eco-Safaris, at Forever Florida and the Crescent J Ranch, presents 4,700 acres of pristine Florida wilderness and a working cattle ranch. Forever Florida offers an overnight ride (ride all day, camp at night). Camping is available if you want to stay.
If you have a yen to experience the natural charm of North Florida, I’d suggest the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. With 20-plus miles of trails to ride, much of it along the banks of the historic Suwannee River, it makes for a great family outing. The park offers cabins, camping, concerts and events, as well as hiking, canoeing, and even miniature golf.
Grand Cypress Equestrian Center offers countless options to guests interested in combining top riding instruction, a luxurious and relaxing getaway, and superb fine dining. They’ll personally design your equestrian vacation for your needs and level of equestrian expertise.
Want to horseback ride on the beach? It's awesome! Check out these Sunshine State destinations where you can get some sand in your boots.