Experience Horse Country Up-Close & Hands-On
Want to get behind the fences in the Horse Capital of the World®? Ocala/Marion County is widely hailed as an international hub for breeding, nurturing and training equine champions. Our area claims six Kentucky Derby Winners and 20 Breeders’ Cup Champions. We also offer visitors the opportunity for up-close experiences. Here’s a primer on how to spend a rewarding day, or days, in horse country.
Mount Up & Ride
This one’s obvious, right? Ocala/Marion County has several operators that offer guided trail rides, allowing you to enjoy the fun and freedom of horseback riding while taking in the stunning natural beauty of the area.
Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides, located 10 miles due south of Historic Downtown Ocala, offers guided horseback riding for individuals, families and groups of up to 30 people — 365 days a year — through picturesque Cross Florida Greenway State Park. Most of Cactus Jack’s 48 horses are rescues, and are rotated to provide them sufficient rest.
Makin’ Tracks Trail Rides is based in Ft. McCoy on the western edge of the Ocala National Forest. This outfitter is unique in that its tour menu includes a three-hour river ride that puts you on a horse while it swims. It’s exciting, refreshing and you can dive into the water from the horse’s haunches. They don’t mind a bit.
Trail rides at The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours, an adventure center seven miles north of downtown Ocala, distinguish themselves with elevation changes of 100 feet or more, not found elsewhere in Florida. You also get to ride down into Big Cliff Canyon and Sky High Canyon, experiencing some of the most remarkable lake, woodside, and clifftop views you’ve ever seen.
Trot Over to the Florida Horse Park
A fitting attraction for the Horse Capital of the World®, this 500-acre gem offers everything equestrian, and then some. The facility presents more than 250 events a year, from all manner of equine competitions and shows to rodeos and car shows. The park is home to a dozen trailheads that connect to the Cross Florida Greenway. Book a horseback ride at nearby Cactus Jack’s, or hike or bike through a vast expanse of Sunshine State fauna. Florida Horse Park is centrally located, just 10 miles south of downtown Ocala.
Take a Carriage Tour
Based at Kimberden farm — a beautiful, 55-acre hunter & jumper training facility amid Ocala’s finest farms and estates — Horse Country Carriage Co. provides guided tours in quaint, comfortable carriages. Your horse-loving driver/guide will fill your head with info and history, and you can interact with the many horses that greet you along the fence lines. Groups of 10 or more enjoy lunch on the farm’s beautiful patio, which overlooks the riding area. After the tour, feel free to hang around and watch riders train their horses and practice their skills. While you’re there, be sure to feed carrots or peppermint treats to the farm’s horses — they’re always hungry, and always friendly!
Take a Farm Tour — It’s Golden
Gypsy Gold Farm is home to the distinctly beautiful Gypsy Vanner horse, a black-and-white breed brought to Ocala by Dennis and Cindy Thompson after encountering one on a trip to England in 1995. Dennis leads two-hour tours on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. He’ll explain the history of the breed, from its discovery in Great Britain to its growth here in America. During a walking tour of the farm, you’ll meet beautiful stallions, mares and foals, as well as other animals. Bring your own carrots to offer up a treat, and be sure to take a selfie with a Gypsy Vanner horse. Gypsy Gold is 23 miles south of downtown Ocala.
WORLD EQUESTRIAN CENTER (WEC)
Experience the luxury side of the Equestrian lifestyle at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala. Known as WEC, this massive complex sitting on about 6,000 acres hosts various horse shows and competitions throughout the year, most of which are free to watch. WEC features multiple large outdoor and climate-controlled indoor arenas, a western arena, Expo centers and more event space, so the types of horse events that visitors can enjoy are endless! In addition to events, the property has an incredible equestrian themed hotel, five full-service restaurants, two sweet shops and a variety of shopping.