Round up of new equine happenings in 2019 expected to leave a lasting horseshoe print in Ocala/Marion County.
By Louisa Barton
One of the newer initiatives at the Ocala, Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership (CEP) is the Equine Engagement Committee, presented by New Millennium Realty. This initiative brings the true importance of the 2.6 billion economic impact of the horse industry to our nearly 1,500 partners at the CEP, It also helps to encourage the integration of the non-horse world with the horse world, engaging in regular meetings with news and updates and plenty of Equine 101s at local farms and Ocala Breeders Sales. This is all designed to build awareness in our community of the horse industry’s integral role here in Marion County.
New Equine Walk of Fame
I have had the pleasure of meeting with Ocala City Manager, John Zobler several times to discuss the importance of the horse industry and bringing the horse world and our downtown together with a variety of ideas to encourage that. One of those, of course, was our Ocala Main Street Parade of Nations and Breeds held on the downtown square for the past two years, which was a hugely successful event. Moving forward, we hope to add horseshoes and farm plaques in two of our main sidewalks, near restaurants to share our many equine, equestrian and farm claims to fame in Ocala, Marion County. This will provide a way to permanently showcase the many infamous horses and farms in our community-close to some of the best restaurants in our idyllic downtown square. At the next opportunity to replace sidewalks, this is top on our priority list.
Parade of Nations and Breeds
The Parade of Nations and Breeds on the downtown Square has continued to grow from its inauguration in 2017. The 2018 Parade featured the world-renowned Budweiser Clydesdales and drew a tremendous crowd, 8 or 9 deep all along the downtown square. The crowds were able to see and hear about over half of the 61 known breeds of horses that call Marion County home. In 2019, due to the Nations Cup relocation to Palm Beach Masters, the Parade will be held on March 7 at 5pm, in conjunction with the Live Oak International event. The Parade Grand Marshal will be legendary four-in-hand driver Chester Weber. All visiting and local equestrians who are competing at HITS and at Live Oak, in both driving and in the Grand Prix show jumping, will be invited to walk in the Parade that evening. This event will celebrate equestrians and horses alike and showcase why we are indeed, the Horse Capital of the World’.
World Equestrian Center
With World Equestrian Center (WEC) under construction, Ocala, Marion County is fast becoming THE place to be for all equestrians, from every discipline, even in the summertime. WEC will offer a variety of indoor arenas and a world class stadium, hundreds of stalls and a beautiful hotel. There will be restaurants, retail and more. All of this will be climate controlled, making the usually humid summer months, which are not normally not quite so attractive to equestrians for competing, much more appealing. Equestrians from all over the world have already heard about what is to come in Ocala for horse lovers and I believe we will see a very deliberate move by more horse riders to be here year-round, rather than only in the Winter months. We should also see many more diverse events and shows, highlighting all disciplines and many different breeds at WEC.
The Horse Talk Show
The Horse Talk Show, a radio talk show presented by Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital and Palm Chevrolet, has been ‘edutaining’ listeners on all things equine for 5 years on Florida SportsTalk in Ocala. In the last two years, the show added the additional opportunity to listen and/or watch on the Horse Talk Show’s Facebook page. That has become more of a television style broadcast and has grown in popularity with the addition of Digital Savvy as a partner. The really exciting news for 2019, is the show will now be aired on Saturday morning at 7am on 97.3 the Sky. This will increase the listening audience considerably and will be a great next step towards hopeful syndication in the future to other radio stations outside this area. Make sure you tune in and listen and “happy horsing around until next time!”
As Ocala is rapidly growing and becoming an even more popular place to live, work and play, new businesses are encouraged to choose Ocala, for its low cost of living and great quality of life. Also, Ocala does sit logistically in a very favorable position. Remember, not everyone involved in horses makes a living from owning them. Many just own horses for the pleasure they derive from it and all horse owners know that is not an inexpensive hobby. In order to offer the best in employment opportunities with above average salaries, we need to grow our existing businesses and encourage new businesses to locate here. Fortunately, we have tremendous leadership in our community that understand how to manage this growth responsibly. Deliberate planning and development are key to success in the growth of our area. The horse industry is 17 percent of our total economy here, but there remains another 83 percent. If we want high paying jobs and lots of opportunities, we need businesses to choose this area, but we also need to preserve our farms and agricultural areas. It is all about balance and good planning, so that Ocala-Marion County, the Horse Capital of the World, will continue to grow, flourish and prosper in both the equine world and beyond. Om