HITS and Marion County – 37 Years and Counting
For 37 years, HITS has called Central Florida its Winter Home, and since 1985, Ocala, the Horse Capital of the World, has been that home. From the Golden Hills property HITS leased for 10 years and then purchased from the Castro family in 1995, to the purchase of Post Time Farm in 2002, HITS’ commitment to the Ocala Winter Circuit has been unwavering.
“We started to outgrow the Golden Hills property,” said Tom Struzzieri, Owner and CEO of HITS, Inc. “As much as I loved it there, and as much history as we had there, it was time to make a change.” Post Time Farm wasn’t for sale when Struzzieri first found it, but the moment it was, he jumped on it. “There is such a great feel to this property. It’s a great place for horses to be. I remember how I felt the first time I stepped onto this property – and I still feel that way today.”
The HITS Ocala Winter Circuit has been a staple of the Show Jumping calendar for decades, and is a proud member of the Ocala and Marion County communities. “We’ve always felt welcome here. We always felt like the community embraced us, but that relationship has really gone to another level in the last few years.”
HITS works closely with the Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Marion Country Tourism Development Council, and the Florida Sports Foundation. “The HITS Ocala Winter Circuit brings a great tourism impact to the Ocala/Marion County area each season,” says Corry Locke of the Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau. The economic impact of the show on the community is unmistakable – $94 million annually according to an independent study by the Sport Management Research Institute (SMRI) conducted in 2014. And the County and state have noticed: HITS Ocala was named Best Event of the Year – Small Market by the Florida Sports Foundation in 2015, and the Medium Business of the Year Award of Excellence by the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) in 2016.
“We want to give back to our communities,” said Struzzieri. “We bring so many people to the area and it translates into jobs, spending, real estate purchases, heads in beds – it’s all part of creating a symbiotic relationship that is good for HITS and for the communities where we run our events.
“I believe the backing of the community is also one of the reasons we have been awarded the Longines FEI Nations Cup for the fourth time. When we first brought this event to Ocala, I knew that we could run the horse show part of the event. I hoped the community would get behind it too – and they did – to an extent I never imagined.”
The City of Ocala hosted a Welcome Parade and Rider Reception for last year’s Nations Cup, and plans to expand that event this year. “HITS is the event we have looked forward to each and every year for the past 37 years. We appreciate so much the people who attend and participate in the event and the economic impact it creates for our community. It is one of the great events that makes Ocala, Marion County, the ‘Horse Capital of the World,’” said Kent Guinn, Mayor of Ocala.
While the Corporate Office is in New York, you could say the Heart of HITS is in Florida. HITS even got its name here – Horse Shows In The Sun. “It all started with our first horse show in Gainesville in 1982. It’s been 37 years, and we’re still counting,” Struzzieri exclaimed. HITS is excited to be back in Ocala for another year of fantastic Horse Shows In The Sun, and of community involvement and camaraderie in 2018 and beyond.
What It Takes: The Road to the FEI Nations Cup™
For the last 105 years, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Nations Cup Jumping ™ series has been a hallmark of international jumping competition. Noted as one of the most distinguished jumping series for teams from around the globe, The FEI Nations Cup ™ serves as the ultimate test of horse and rider. One might come to question, what does it take to show at this prestigious level?
As with most professional sports, there is no checklist for success or easy way into the big leagues. For a show jumping rider in pursuit of this level of competition, it’s a blend of the right ingredients: a strong support system, a fiery passion for the sport and an unwavering commitment to a lifestyle.
Equestrian events, like the FEI Nations Cup™, are among the most visually compelling competitions in the world of sport. It is also a unique Olympic sport where a human and animal are partnered and a sport where both men and women compete on equal footing, in the same arena.
“This the only Olympic sport where you will see men and women competing equally,” McLain Ward explains. “It is also a sport that involves people in a range of weights, from 100 pounds and up, competing against each other. There is also a range of ages at the international level, which varies from 18 to over 65. I think that very few sports can combine all of these variables together.”
“What it all comes down to is, when you’re talking about the top riders in the world, it’s not just a job,” said the Olympic gold-medalist and ten-time veteran of the FEI Nations Cup™ Finals. “This is not a regular ‘9 to 5’—it’s all you do, and it’s your entire life.”
For equestrians competing at the FEI Nations Cup™, show jumping is not so much a sport as it is a way of being, and a strong support group is just as crucial to the process as the commitment to the goal.
“One thing to be understood, it takes an army meaning the people behind the scenes, including the stable staff, veterinarians, horse owners and, of course, the great athlete underneath you to make it possible,” said Ward.
The road to the FEI Nations Cup™ requires a team effort, and so often the bond between horses and riders of competing teams is overlooked as a major contributing factor to their glory. This is different from other professional sports. The horse and rider act as a team, and without that bond, the sport would not exist.
“You may be the best rider in the world, yet it means nothing without the horse,” said McLain.
Preparation for the FEI Nations Cup™ begins early in the journey for teams who have set their sights on attending. This is a unique event in the fact that there are really two teams in one, the horse and rider as one team intertwined with the other riders and horses for their country. This is
different than any other equestrian competition because the riders have to be aware and help support each other, more so than they might at a regular competition. This is another reason that the FEI Nations Cup™ is so prestigious. It is a true test of teamwork in every sense.
Athletes who compete at the FEI Nations Cup™ level so often execute a course with such precision and power, that the physical and mental demands for these athletes is often not understood.
“It’s a sport which demands both strength and speed, balanced with finesse. There are many mental pressures involved in order to get the job done correctly,” said Ward. “Show Jumping should be treated like any sport. And to maintain a long career you must take care of yourself, with a focus on your weight, your strength, and keeping a healthy lifestyle. Those things are very important.”
Riders at the FEI Nations Cup™ must demonstrate excellent emotional control, as well. To put these skills into perspective, riders must think quickly and proactively while simultaneously using a series of subtle demands to guide an animal that might easily weigh a full ton, through a course of jumps that exceed the height of an average female.
“The sport certainly has an extreme element,” McLain said. “It’s exciting to watch horse and rider work together, and when it’s done well it can be spectacular to witness.”
It is those extremes that make the sport of Show Jumping distinct. Those extremes bring together unique and immensely talented horse and rider teams from around the globe, to compete for victory under one common denominator: the FEI Nations Cup™.
In 2015 Team Ireland took the win at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala with Team USA as the runner up. Team Columbia and Team Canada tied for a third place finish.
In 2016 Team USA forged ahead for the win at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala. Team Mexico came in second place, with Team Columbia close behind in third.
In 2017, again Team Ireland reigned supreme, winning the FEI Nations Cup™ qualifier in Ocala. Team USA came in second, with Team Canada in third.
For the 4th year in a row, HITS Post Time Farm has been chosen to host the FEI Nations Cup qualifier, which is being sponsored this year by Longines, making it the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping of the United States of America 2018. It is also being offered as a CSIO5* this year, with unprecedented prize money including $300,000 and $450,000. This event brings attention not only to HITS, but to Marion County. Last year over 5,000 spectators attended the event, making the usually quiet, City of Ocala, a bustling place full of people from countries all over the world.
This year there will also be a Nations Cup section for Junior and Children’s Riders. This will run during the same week, with classes offered Thursday-Sunday.
The locals are extremely supportive of the event, including the Mayor of Ocala, Kent Guinn. “It is one of the great events that make Ocala, Marion County, the Horse Capital of the World” Guinn said. The second annual “Jump Downtown” event will be held in Ocala’s Downtown Square on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 4:30pm. Presented by Ocala Main Street, IHMC (The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition), and the CEP (Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership), Jump Downtown will feature a Parade of Nations honoring the countries and the riders participating in the Longines FEI Nations Cup Jumping event, followed by a Celebration of the Horse presentation of the 30-plus horse breeds showcasing the diversity of the “Horse Capital of the World”. Additional festivities on the Square will include snacks, music, horse drawn carriage rides, s’mores, and more! This is a free event for all to attend.
Join us on Friday, February 16 for the $300,000 Longines Grand Prix, Saturday, February 17 for the Parade of Nations and Breeds, and Sunday, February 18 for the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping of the United States of America 2018.
Special Events to Attend During the 2018 Ocala Winter Circuit:
$300,000 Longines Grand Prix | Friday, February 16, 2018 | 2pm
Come watch some of the most competitive show jumping riders in the world, compete for the win in this prestigious Grand Prix, before taking on the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ on Sunday.
International Village | Friday-Sunday, February 16-18, 2018 | 10am-3pm
Join HITS in attending our International Village during the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Week of the Ocala Winter Circuit, February 14-18. This family friendly event will feature different food selections from around the world, activities for adults and children, and a meet and greet with some of the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ riders. This event will be fun for equestrians and non-equestrians alike. Activities will include face painting, pony rides, music, and more! We will also be hosting the Budweiser Clydesdales throughout the week. The hitch will make several appearances, including at the International Village. The International Village will take place Friday-Sunday, February 16-18.
Jump Downtown | Saturday, February 17, 2018 | 4:30pm
The second annual “Jump Downtown” event will be held in Ocala’s Downtown Square on Saturday, February 17, 2018. Presented by Ocala Main Street, IHMC (The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition), and the CEP (Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership), Jump Downtown will feature a Parade of Nations honoring the countries and the riders participating in the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ event, followed by a Celebration of the Horse presentation of the 30-plus horse breeds showcasing the diversity of the “Horse Capital of the World”. The Budweiser Clydesdales will also be making an appearance during the event. Additional festivities on the Square will include snacks, music, horse drawn carriage rides, s’mores, and more!
Nations Cup-Children/Juniors | Saturday, February 17, 2018
This event will follow a similar format to the Longines FEI Nations Cup™, but is catered toward young upand-coming riders. Come cheer on these young riders as they put their skills to the test in this challenging competition!
Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2018 | Sunday, February 18, 2018 | 1pm
An event you won’t want to miss; the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA 2018 is back for the fourth year in a row at HITS Post Time Farm. Watch some of the most talented show jumping riders in the world take on this unique team competition.
Great American $1 Million Grand Prix | Sunday, March 25, 2018 | 2pm Join us for the 5th Annual Great American $1 Million Grand Prix. This is the second Grand Prix in the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping, which includes the AIG $1 Million Grand Pix in Thermal, California (Match 18), and the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York (September 9).
Check HitsShows.com for more details and more events in the near future.