Ocala, Florida - A horse-centric city
Three months a year Ocala is a hive of horse activity accented with nice weather, live oaks and Spanish moss. Take a week or take three and fill your soul with all things horsey. You won’t be disappointed.
What to expect
Boredom will not happen in Ocala. There are stunning horse farms and horse activities as far as the eye can see. Ocala tends to fill mostly with show jumpers and eventers however, there are many thoroughbred farms to scope out as well as some polo, rodeo, Paso Fino shows, reining and cutting. Also, it is Florida, which means the land of sunny weather, theme parks, beaches and a few famous people.
John Travolta, Pat Parelli, David and Karen O’Connor, the Campbell Soup and microwave popcorn people have farms in Ocala. There is also Robert’s Quarter Horse farm, which is rather opulent and the World Equestrian centre is presently being built. American Pharoah has even spent time in Ocala and several Olympians live there year round.
It is quite the place to visit and explore. You will see more in a week than you can imagine.
Best time to go
The best time to go to Ocala is between mid January and the end of April. Below is a list of show dates to help you decide when you should head to sunny Florida.
5-7 – Cutting FCHA
16 – HITS Ocala begins
24-25 – Winter Mix Sale -Ocala Breeders’ Sale (OBS)
26-28 – Rocking Horse Winter I – Beginner novice to Intermediate
16 – Polo at the Villages begins
2-4 – Cutting FCHA
9-11– Ocala Winter I – Beginner Novice – Advanced Combined test
21-26 – Reining FRHA
23-25 – Cutting FCHA
15-18 – Rocking Horse Winter II – Beginner Novice – Advanced
18 – Nations Cup – HITS Ocala
2-4 – Rocking Horse Winter III- Beginner Novice – Intermediate
2-4 – South Regional Paso Fino Show
5-6 – Eventing Prix Invitational
7-10 – Live Oak International – FEI combined driving and show jumping
8-10 – Red Hills – Prelim -CIC3* – Tallahassee (3 hours from Ocala)
13-14 – OBS -two-year-olds in training – under tack 8-10 of March
16-18 – Ocala Winter II -Beginner Novice – Advanced Combined Test
22-23 – South Eastern Pro Rodeo
24 – HITS Ocala – $1 million Grand Prix
23-25 – Reining FRHA
30-1 – Rocking Horse Spring – Beginner Novice – Intermediate
6-8 – Cutting FCHA
6-8 – Reining FRHA
11-15 – Ocala International 3-Day Festival of Eventing
20-22 – South Region Paso Fino Horse Association Extravaganza
24-27 – OBS two-year-olds- in training – under tack 16-21 of April.
Fancy taking a drive to look at horse farms, checking out some tack stores or casually bumping into famous riders? Here are some suggestions.
- Horse and Hound: Casual dining and full of horse people
- Dish: Wagyu specialists but have something for everyone. Hours and days of operation differ from the norm so be sure to check it is open before heading that way. Horse people frequent Dish.
- Pepe’s: When you enter you may think you are walking into a corner store. You are, but the restaurant is straight ahead and to the right. Great Mexican food.
- Beach Bar and Grill: Located close to HITS. They don’t seem to have a website but people talk about this place all the time.
- Winning Edge: Located beside the restaurants Dish and Horse and Hound.
- Tack Shack: Near OBS
- Country Lane Tack: Close to the Florida Horse Park
Tampa Bay Downs: Live racing is free on Wednesdays and $3 Friday-Sunday. Link to the FAQ. Tampa Bay Downs is approximately 2 hours from Ocala. If you are going to make the drive you can also visit Busch Gardens, Ybor City and the beaches. Find out more about Tampa in the non-horsey side trips.
Theme parks, water and beer. Sound good?
Beaches: Chances are since you are in Florida and wouldn’t mind going to a beach. There are several to chose from and here is a link to get you started.
Budweiser Tours: Take a tour of a Budweiser brewery in Jacksonville, 2 hours north of Ocala and close to beaches.
Busch Gardens: Found in Tampa not far from beaches and Tampa Bay Downs.
Craft beer: Here is a link to all the great craft beer places in Ocala.
Disney World: 2 hours from Ocala
Islands of Adventure: 2 hours from Ocala.
Silver Springs State Park: Take a glass bottom boat tour and see some Florida wildlife and marine life.
Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours: You can also take tours on horse back or in a kayak.
A little about some of the venues
If you love watching the hunter/jumpers then this is where you will want to be. There are ten consecutive weeks of 5* and 6* show jumping and premier-rated hunters. If that isn’t enough, HITS Ocala hosts the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ in February and the final Sunday of showing in March is the $1 million Grand Prix.
HITS Ocala is held on the 450-acre Post Time Farm and has some extremely pretty rings with live oak trees, adorned in Spanish moss in the center. The layout can be a little confusing as most show rings are within an old training track, the remaining rings are all beyond the track at one end and the main grand prix ring is across the street. There is a vendor’s village and food hall along the old track and from there you can see a few rings while you have lunch.
HITS Ocala has a relaxed atmosphere Wednesday through Saturday with free admission and thinner crowds, allowing you to have a front row seat to some top notch riding. Sunday there is more buzz due to the grand prix and it will set you back a whopping $5 to watch.
During the Nations Cup and the $1 million GP, admission will be $10.
If VIP is more your speed, HITS Ocala has you covered. You can pre-order your $100 VIP day pass which includes ring side seating, free lunch, beer and wine.
Live Oak International
If you are looking for picturesque scenery, look no further. Live Oak is absolutely stunning with hundreds of huge live oak trees throughout the endless rolling green fields. Add a few horses and you will be in heaven.
Live Oak makes sure spectators don’t get bored. Along with the FEI combined driving and grand prix show jumping taking place Wednesday to Sunday, there is also a vendor’s village to peruse and several food trucks from which to snack. You can also take a walk around the marathon course to try and figure out each “maze.”
General day admission Thursday to Sunday is $10 or buy a pass for the week for $30. Tailgating is also an option for $250 for Saturday only but spots are limited.
The Live Oak plantation itself is a 4500-acre thoroughbred farm and commercial cattle operation. You can take a drive around the perimeter of the farm on the road and gain a little understanding as to how huge and beautiful the place is. You will see signs outside various driveways of Live Oak depicting all the different divisions of the farm. There is the broodmare, yearling, training, stallion, plantation, and combined driving divisions as well as all the agricultural divisions. You will not believe your eyes.
Rocking Horse and Ocala Horse Trials
These are the two best places to go if you want to see Olympians and noted upper level event riders. They are local events but even the best have to prepare somewhere. It is free to attend both and you can wander around as though you know exactly where you are going. Both places are well laid out and it isn’t hard to find where the three phases take place. All the famous faces and happenings will shock you. There is a small vendor’s village and a few different places to eat.
Rocking Horse runs four recognized events throughout the winter season all from Beginner Novice to Intermediate, though Rocking Horse Winter II in February, runs an Advanced.
Ocala, which is held at the Florida Horse Park, has three recognized events running from Beginner Novice to Intermediate as well as an Advanced combined test. The Ocala event in April is called the Festival of Eventing which runs a CCI1* and 2* as well as Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse classes.
The Villages Polo
A unique and interesting event. Polo is fascinating to watch but when attending a polo game at the Villages, polo almost comes second to the golf carts. Fancy golf carts with all the accoutrements one could want. The Villages is a senior community and there are a lot of golf carts.
If you attend a polo match in the Villages be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before the start of the game. You don’t have to have a souped up golf cart to tailgate but you won’t find a spot to park along the field in a regular car. You can still squeeze in by the golf cart spectators and maybe join their picnic.
General admission is $15.00 and children under 12 are free.
Grand stand seating as well as north and south end tents are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12.
*** This post was written for the love of Ocala. I have not be compensated in any way for my unlimited talent ***
All photographs are the work of Horse Sport Destinations