If you’re in the market for a horse property, Ocala is a great place to buy. One of five cities worldwide known as a “Horse Capital of the World,” you’ll find a thriving equine community here. From people who share your love of all things horses, to world-class services for your animals and farm, Ocala has everything you need to operate a small or large equestrian property. Plus, you’ll enjoy North Central Florida’s year-round mild weather.
Now that you’ve honed-in on a location for your equestrian property, there are still other choices to make in order to choose the right one. Selecting the best Ocala equestrian property for your plans and needs comes down to a balancing of the owner’s goals, the natural workload associated with the property, and the health and safety of your horses. This isn’t always a quick and easy process, so the key is to be patient and wait for the right property to come your way. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the factors you need to consider as you search for your perfect horse farm.
As you browse equestrian properties in Ocala, start with the same personal considerations you would bring to any home purchase. What are your present needs and future plans? What kind of budget are you working with? The answers to these questions will be slightly different for everyone, so it may help to write your must-have list to share with your realtor. Then they can take your personal preferences into account as they filter available listings for the most compatible properties.
What’s your budget?
One of the biggest mistakes any home buyer can make is to take on the biggest mortgage they are approved for. That leaves you vulnerable to feeling “house poor” and missing out on other things you’d like to enjoy with your money. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30-50 percent of your take-home pay on housing. The right ratio for you depends on your other expenses, such as your horse(s) or debt payments. That leaves you with room to save for desired renovations, necessary maintenance, as well as the unanticipated expenses that will naturally occur with any property.
Schools and jobs
These factors don’t apply to everyone, but if you have school-age kids, you’ll want to filter properties by your choice of school district(s). If you plan to send your kids to a private school, decide on the maximum commute time you’re comfortable with. The same thing applies to any off-site jobs a family member needs to travel to. You may have to compromise in order to balance everyone’s needs, but knowing this in advance will help you narrow down the selection of equestrian properties.
Long-term plans and goals
People buy equestrian farms for a number of reasons, from personal enjoyment to wanting to own their own business. You can’t always anticipate how these plans will change over the years, but imagining future possibilities is a helpful exercise. For example, unexpected events like a job loss could prompt you to switch your focus from a recreational property to one that generates income. Even if you’re business-minded from the beginning, you may need to expand as your operation grows. These are all reasons why it doesn’t hurt to buy a property that is just a little bigger than what you think you’ll need.
Its Central Florida location makes Ocala a great place to escape the winter. There are only two seasons: rainy and dry. Expect beautiful weather with nearly endless sunshine in the dry months. During the wet season, afternoon thunderstorms may occur daily, but they are temporary.
Ocala sits atop a natural limestone ridge that produces mineral-rich soils that are ideal for growing a variety of crops – including pumpkins, citrus trees, grapes and peanuts. Better yet, the limestone soil creates healthy pastures and grasslands, which plays an integral role in the breeding of strong and healthy horses. Grazing on the grass grown in Ocala’s calcium-rich soil helps horses build stronger bones!
When buying a property in Florida, hurricanes are always a consideration. However, the centralized location of Marion County allows for a much more manageable hurricane season when compared with the coastal regions and south Florida. With a bit of planning and preparation, you’ll be able to weather the storm with minimal issues. Click here to read more about preparing your equestrian property for a hurricane.
The Surrounding Area
Now that you’ve established your personal priorities, it’s time to figure out what you need from the town or community surrounding your equestrian property. Choose an area that will serve you well, even if the property itself is not ideal. You can always renovate and build on your equestrian farm, but you can’t control your proximity to riding trails and veterinarians.
How isolated is the property?
Some people don’t want to see any signs of civilization around their property, while others prefer to live close to a town. And while no one thinks about selling when they’re in the process of buying, it’s always good to consider the property’s resale potential. Will this location (for example, its school district, commuting distance to job centers, and other amenities) be attractive to future buyers?
When you live on a horse farm you may have a lot of visitors. Think about the property’s accessibility–is it easy to find from the road? Is the driveway wide enough to accommodate horse trailers, construction equipment or emergency vehicles?
Even if you want to live in isolation, you’ll still need local services to help manage various aspects of your equestrian property. Luckily, Ocala is internationally famous for its horse community and has hosted a thriving equestrian industry since the mid-twentieth century.
- Ocala Veterinarians: A quick Internet search will show you that there are more than a few equine hospitals and medical centers in the Ocala area. So, wherever your equestrian property is situated, you can count on having access to quality health care for your horses.
- Food and Equipment: Likewise, there are many equine supply stores and tack shops in Ocala. Before you bid on a property, identify the closest vet and supply store to make sure you’re happy with them (for example, does the supply store sell your preferred brand of feed?).
- Landscaping: Check the availability and pricing of local land management and landscape design services. You may want to take care of most of these tasks yourself or outsource some of it, but it’s good to know in advance that you can, and what it will cost.
Access to Riding Trails
Will you be happy just to ride your horses on your own property or do you prefer trail riding? If the latter, you’ll want to choose an equestrian property within close proximity of a riding trail entrance. Ideally, you would also want to find a property on a safe and quiet road, so you don’t have to navigate traffic to get to the trail. Ocala also offers a number of equestrian communities that feature equine subdivisions with trails and is conveniently located near the Cross Florida Greenway which is home to a several riding trails.
Upcoming Urban Development in Ocala
Ask your potential neighbors about the area and any local community growth that may affect your plans, such as retail or road development or other city planning for growth. Look for “Sale” signs on open land. Even if it seems very rural now, there is always a possibility that farmland will be sold and developed. Check out The Ocala 2035 Vision for a guide to the local government’s long-term vision for the area.
Nearby Equestrian Activities
What are your plans for your horses? Make sure the property you’re considering is close to the equestrian activities that interest you such as horse shows, polo, rodeos, etc.
Ocala Farm Zoning Laws
This is another area in which neighbors can be a great resource. Ask if they’ve had any issues with zoning laws restricting their ability to build on their property or own certain animals. Of course, you’ll want to consult local government, too, especially if you already have specific ideas in mind for renovation or construction. The Code of Ordinances City of Ocala, Florida, describes all of the county’s zoning rules and other laws and regulations. Your real estate agent can also help you understand relevant local zoning laws. Here are the most important questions to ask:
- What are the laws and regulations regarding water rights and land usage?
- Is the property already zoned for agriculture?
- What are the building codes and how might they affect your ability to construct a barn or other new structure?
- What is the property’s tax status and classification?
- Are there any zoning restrictions on animals or buildings?
Assessing The Property
Equestrian properties come in many different sizes and conditions. Before you get overwhelmed by the range of variety out there, identify some specifications for the kind of property you want to buy. Pay particular attention to water, pasture and manure management.
Overall, you’re looking for a property that is compatible with your lifestyle and your horses as well. If it’s not, you’ll need a budget for upgrades. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of considerations for equestrian properties in Ocala.
Neighbors and Privacy
What are the neighbors like? Visit the property at different times of day and night to get a sense of the activity and noise going on next door. For example, if you’re looking for a peaceful, personal-use horse farm, you might not want to be next to a busy riding school. Also consider traffic from surrounding roads–can you hear it from the house or backyard?
Examine the plants and trees on the property from both a practical and an aesthetic perspective. That said, don’t let a beautiful tree-lined drive blind you to problematic vegetation on other areas of the property. Here’s what to look for and avoid
- The best kind of forage for one horse may not be ideal for another type. Good equine forage includes vegetative alfalfa hay, orchardgrass, timothy, coastal hay, and bahia grass.
- Avoid heavy weeds or marsh grasses (an indication of overly wet soil).
- Plants and trees that are purely for aesthetic value should be native to the area to make for easier care and maintenance. This Florida-Friendly Plant Database can help you determine what you have or choose new native vegetation.
- Avoid vegetation that is toxic to horses such as foxglove, cherry trees, and nightshade, to name a few.
Natural Property Features
Look for land with a small slope that will drain well but is otherwise mostly flat. Good drainage is essential to maintaining dry footing for your horses. For grazing, look for land that is already cleared and doesn’t have rocky or clay-based soil. When you inspect the property make a note of the following:
- Are there any drop-offs, ditches, or gullies?
- What type of soil is on the property? Your local county extension office can do a soil evaluation to determine better growth and pasture management.
Nearby water sources
Like well-drained soil, a dependable water supply is very important for equestrian properties. Make sure your property has well water or city water that can supply a minimum of 10 gallons/minute. Also consider the proximity of water sources to the barn and water troughs. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy walking back and forth and carrying heavy loads of water. You also need to account for Florida’s Best Management Practices for protection of local water resources. Improper irrigation techniques not only place stress on water supplies, but can also damage your property and your neighbor’s property by causing erosion, flooding, etc. Uncontrolled animal waste can also be harmful to the water supply long-term.
- Make a list of any creeks, ponds, or other bodies of water on the property. How do they measure up from both a practical and an aesthetic standpoint?
Make sure that landscaping is in place to maximize drainage and runoff of rainwater. This will become especially important during Ocala’s rainy season. In particular, look at drainage conditions around existing or planned barns and paddocks.
- If areas of the property seem prone to flooding, how much will it cost to create better drainage conditions there?
What’s the maximum number of horses you plan to own? If you retire one horse will you replace it? A good rule of thumb for calculating acreage is to give each horse about two acres. They are healthiest and happiest when they have freedom to move about on safe land. As mentioned earlier, you can play it safe by choosing a property with an extra acre or two just in case you end up expanding.
Existing And Planned Structures
This is one of the most important parts of assessing an equestrian property: what condition are existing structures in and what do you need to build or renovate?
Sturdy and proper horse fencing is both a long-term investment and a boost to the property’s resale value.
- What type of fencing does the property have and what is its quality or condition? Stay away from barbed wire fencing.
Would you like to be able to see your horses from the main residence? Consider the location of stables and barns relative to other structures as well as water sources. Try to find out how old these buildings are and how well-maintained they have been. Are they safely constructed with quality materials? Are horse stalls set up to meet the needs of your horses? How many other buildings does the property have and what kind of shape are they in?
Equestrian real estate is a niche market, so while there are plenty of choices in a horse-centric area like Ocala, the selection of available properties won’t be endless. The house on the property may be the area where you compromise the most, as long as the equine facilities and structures are in good condition and well-suited to your plans. Remember that buying an existing horse farm, even if it doesn’t check all of your boxes, is almost always going to be cheaper than building an equestrian property from scratch. Be realistic with your expectations and budget. If you take on a property with too many necessary renovations, you may lose sight of the reasons you hoped to enjoy a horse farm in the first place.
Is the house a good fit for your family?
As long as the layout and bones of the house are good and provide enough space, you can always take care of cosmetic renovations later on.
Weighing the importance of residence vs. property
Overall, is the house as important to your plans for the property as the equine facilities and structures? For example, it’s cheaper to build a barn than a house, but you may encounter more regulations when building animal housing.
Depending on personal preferences, you may want a property with a pool, guest house, and/or tracks.
Make Your Search Easier With An Experienced Equestrian Realtor
Choosing an experienced equestrian realtor is the first step in finding the right equestrian property. Showcase Properties has more than a decade of experience helping Ocala residents buy and sell equestrian properties. Put our local expertise to work for you–a REALTOR® who specializes in horse farms can answer many of your questions or do the research for you, saving you time and headaches. We offer personalized service to help you find a property that matches your short-term needs and long-term goals. Contact us today to begin your search for an Ocala equestrian property.