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Local Lifestyle

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Equestrian Lifestyle

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It started in 1953 with a sickly Thoroughbred colt born on a farm no one had heard of in Marion County, Florida—the middle of nowhere, as far as the racing industry was concerned. Suffering from several broken ribs and pneumonia, future Kentucky Derby winner Needles had the deck stacked against him. His health wasn’t the only obstacle. At the time, Florida-bred racehorses were so ill-regarded that state racing rules gave them a five-pound weight allowance when openly competing. But once he was healthy enough to train, Needles started proving everyone wrong—and putting Ocala on the map. His 1956 Kentucky Derby win (the first for a lowly Florida-bred) sparked Marion County’s meteoric rise as Horse Capital of the World and established North Central Florida’s reputation for equestrian excellence that has become an enduring legacy.

Since the era of Needles and his now-legendary home of Bonnie Heath Farm, Ocala’s equine culture has grown to become boundlessly diverse: thoroughbred trainers and breeders make their home here alongside hunter-jumpers, polo players, competitive carriage drivers, trail riders, and breeders of almost every breed in existence. Marion County is host to a variety of unforgettable equestrian events every year, including Horse Shows In the Sun, Live Oak International Combined Driving and Show Jumping, Southeast Pro Rodeo, and many more that cater to almost every breed and discipline. With an inexhaustible wealth of equine resources, built upon a long tradition of equestrian championship, the Ocala-Marion County area endures as a true home of horse people from all walks of life.