I am a huge Thoroughbred Horse racing fan and was thrilled today to take a tour with the Farm Tours of Ocala. Marion County has more horses of all breeds and disciplines within it’s limits than any other county in the United States and the equine industries economic impact in Marion county is 2.62 billion dollars thus giving it the name of the Horse Capital of the world.
Most people think of Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby when you mention horse racing but Florida plays a big role in the horse racing industry as well. Florida has 3 major race tracks located within the state and many Thoroughbred Horse breeding farms and major training facilities, many of which are located within Marion county. Ocala is also the home of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales company, a premiere Thoroughbred sales venue. Many a winner have come through Florida and the Ocala Breeders’ sales company. Durring the 2 year old in training sale a potential buyer sits in the grandstand while each horse runs the track. The run is timed and that time is very important as the faster the time the higher the bid can go. A Thoroughbred horse with good pedigree, conformation and health can sell for hundreds of thousands or even into the millions of dollars.
Our farm tour took us by van down some of the most beautiful country roads lined with pristine and prestigious horse farms with many different breeds of horses. If you love horses then the sights of these horses running in these large green pastures can be absolutely breathtaking.
We visited an Arabian horse farm where we got the opportunity to feed them carrots, one of a horses favorite treats and we also had the privilege to meet a few of their yearlings (one year old babies) up close.
Our van adventure took us to a thoroughbred breeding farm where we got to meet some of Florida’s good looking studs. A stud fee is charged based on the pedigree of the stallion and his success on the race track. A stud fee could be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a couple of hundred thousand dollars. At a breeding farm a mare is sent to mate with a stud only after much pedigree research has been done on the potential success of their offspring. The breeding business is high stakes and very complex and with every thoroughbred that is bred, hopes are high that the results will be that of the next Kentucky Derby winner.
The tour began at the Florida Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders building where inside is a display of horse racing memorabilia and beautiful oil paintings of some of the more famous and successful Thoroughbreds in the history of racing, including Affirmed, a Triple Crown winner who was bred in Florida.
Many equine disciplines are represented in Marion County and there are several events that are scheduled throughout the year. Dressage, show jumping and more all represented here and the horse industry in Marion county continues to grow with new state of the art venues being built as I write this. Just one of the many equestrian competitions held in Ocala every year is the Live Oak International featuring Combined Driving and Show Jumping and it is the largest international level combined tournament in the country. Life in Ocala revolves around the horse industry in one way or another and they proudly display their love for the horse everywhere. From statutes in front of businesses and in the downtown park to displays in restaurants and even the hotel we stayed in. The Hilton Hotel in Ocala even had their own resident Clydesdale that resides in a pasture and barn behind the hotel. ” Buddy” as he is called is available for viewing throughout the day and gives carriage rides to the Hilton Hotel guests on a varying schedule.
If you like horses and are at all curious of some of the behind the scenes information on Thoroughbred Horse Racing then take one of the tours offered in Ocala. John and I took the one called Farm Tours of Ocala which we enjoyed thoroughly. It is a small tour with no more than 10 people on the tour at one time, giving us the opportunity to ask as many questions as we wanted. Our tour guide was a thoroughbred horse trainer with many years of experience on the track thus our tour was extremely informative. There are several farm tours in Ocala some by van and some by horse drawn wagon.
The phone number to Farm Tours of Ocala is 352-895-9302 and their website address is farmtoursofocala.com But like I said there are many tours offered in the Ocala area, this is just the one John and I took. We enjoyed seeing the farms and horses so much that we are going to definitely do this again and perhaps try one of the other tours available to compare.
Ocala is about 98 miles north of Tampa via interstate 75 and about 80 miles from Orlando via the Florida turnpike and interstate 75.