Major Events Highlight: Equestrian Season in Ocala/Marion County

There are many ways to experience The Horse Capital of the World™.

You can ride horses, pet them, take a tour of a local horse farm or simply stop by the side of the road to gaze over acres of rolling green hills and behold the regal beauty of these magnificent creatures.

Here's another: watch show horses prance and gracefully leap over colorful obstacles — with expert, elegantly attired riders guiding them through challenging courses. You can also marvel as teams of horses pull carriages and their drivers through a series of imposing tests.

Ocala/Marion is home to two of the top show horse competitions in the world: the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit and Live Oak International. The competitions are held on picturesque properties in casual settings that provide plenty of room to move around.

Ocala/Marion’s equestrian season runs from mid-December to late March.

Types of Equestrian Competitions

  • Hunting — Riders guide their horses through a hurdle-filled course while equine experts judge style, movement and overall quality of the rounds.
  • Jumping — This contest is based on best time, while also taking into account faults such as rails knocked down or a horse’s refusal to jump.
  • Combined Driving — Carriages are drawn by a single horse, a pair of horses or a team of four, and include three competitions: dressage, which involves presentation and style; cross-country marathon, where driver(s) pace through a course of 10 to 22 kilometers in pursuit of best time; and obstacle cone driving, a test of speed and accuracy around 20 cones.

These competitions are part of the fabric of Ocala/Marion County’s culture and lure legions of equine aficionados. But we also recommend them to our visitors who may know little about equestrian competitions. The events are easy and inexpensive (or free) to attend, and we are sure you’ll find them riveting and majestic — an ideal way to spend an unhurried sunny afternoon during a beautiful time of year.

HITS Ocala Winter Circuit

This equine extravaganza starts in mid-December with the Ocala Holiday Classic and runs well into March. Beginning in mid-January, a different competition takes place every week — Wednesdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That’s a lot of jumping and hunting. Prize purses range from $50,000 to $200,000 — culminating in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix — so you’re getting the cream of the show-horse crop.

The 38th annual HITS Ocala — part of a prestigious national series of equestrian competitions (Horse Shows in the Sun) — takes place at HITS Post Time Farm, a postcard-worthy layout of 450 lush acres 16 miles northwest of Historic Downtown Ocala. Attendees can grab a spot in the bleachers, spread out a blanket, open a lawn chair or just plunk down on a patch of grass to take in the spectacle. You can also roam the grounds, grab a bite at the HITS Restaurant or Diamond Hills Paddock Club Cafe. The facility also features a vendor courtyard with souvenirs, apparel, jewelry and more. Admission is free, except for Sundays, when it’s $10. Parking is free.

Unless you’re already a show-horse enthusiast, a day trip to a HITS Ocala event will open the gate for an exciting new experience. We will not be surprised when you come back for more.

Live Oak International

One of Ocala/Marion’s heritage events, Live Oak International is celebrating its 29th year as a world-renowned show jumping and combined driving competition. Each year, this event draws the leading drivers, riders, trainers, coaches and owners from Europe and North America. The event started out as a small local combined driving event and grew steadily. In 2012, show jumping was added, expanding the appeal.

We all see show jumping on TV, but combined driving is a horse of a different color. It gets pretty rambunctious, with equine teams careening around corners and splashing through water as the drivers bark commands.

Live Oak International take places at Live Oak Stud, a 5,000-acre thoroughbred breeding farm just 12 miles west of Historic Downtown Ocala. It regularly draws some 10,000 spectators during the four days. Attendees can sit under covered bleachers or bask in the sun in lawn chairs and on blankets. The showgrounds are rimmed by stately live oaks.

Live Oak International holds a Tailgating Competition that comes with prizes and bragging rights. Unlike a football game, these tailgate spreads are within easy viewing distance of the equestrian contests. So if you’re just visiting, put on a smile and hope for an invite. Make sure to allow time to peruse the Vendor Village.

The 2020 Live Oak International edition takes place Thursday through Sunday, March 5-8. Daily general admission tickets are $10, and premium options and VIP packages are available.

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