What Makes Ocala the Horse Capital of the World?
Cruising along the outskirts of the Sunshine State’s 45th most populated city – on slow-winding country roads – gently propels motorists into an animated realm of contrasts: The age-old days of cowboys and horses and simple ways juxtapositioned into modern times of technology, efficiency and hyper convenience.
The two. Together. Locked in splendid unison. You have just entered Ocala, population 57,468, in the Central Florida county of Marion. Marion County’s population is nearly 340,000.
This ain’t horse country, by no means – despite the vast backdrop of horse farms, horse barns, horse tracks and, of course, horses, ever trotting so elegantly and nobly across rustic green . No. This isn’t horse country, not in the same way other areas are designated that way.
Ocala is the horse capital of the world. And we at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club are proud to take our place in the “Big Hammock” – the meaning linguists believe is translated from the name of the 16th century Timucua village, Ocale.
Although this small urban sprawl stretching across nearly 40 square miles of Florida flatlands has gained certain renown in other matters, including being situated just hours away from the infamous “Lightning Alley” between Titusville and Tampa, it is its recognition of the horse that puts Ocala on the high tower.
Ocala’s Horse History Goes Back Nearly 80 Years
Carl G. Rose developed the first thoroughbred horse farm in Florida in 1943. The Indiana resident had come to Florida nearly 3o years earlier to oversee the state’s first asphalt road. Rose discovered that using limestone to build roads was considerably more efficient and easier to use; and Kentucky, known for its many horse farms, had abundant supplies of the material.
Rose bought land along State Road 200 in 1943 to build Rosemere Farm. One of Rose’s horses won at Tropical Park in Miami the following year, becoming the first Florida-raised horse to win. Following in Rose’s path, Bonnie Heath’s farm produced Florida’s first Kentucky Derby winner. Highways in Marion County have been named for the men. Needles became the first Florida-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
Other Ocala-raised horses started collecting major trophies. Ocala-bred Affirmed, an American Thoroughbred racehorse, won the Triple Crown in 1978. Marion County has more than 1,200 horse farms, which includes 900 thoroughbred farms on more than 77,000 acres.
Other Cities Hold Designation
While the designation is significant and a matter of esteem, Ocala isn’t the only city to hold the honor. Chamber of Commerce guidelines permit five other cities to assume that title – four in the United States and one in France.
Here are some horse statistics from the American Horse Council:
- The U.S. has 9.2 million horses.
- 6 million Americans work in the industry.
- 2 million Americans own horses.
- The horse industry in the U.S. generates $39 billion annually.
- The industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes.
- More than 70 percent of horse owners live in communities of less than 50,000.