Shade Tree Farm : Moving into a New Chapter
Ocala didn’t become Horse Capital of the World® overnight. It took the steadfast efforts of dedicated horsemen decades to establish this area as a proven site for breeding, raising and training successful horses.
Through the years, specific farms become industry leaders, their accomplishments branding them as icons in Florida’s horse business.
Showcase Properties of Central Florida, Inc. has had the privilege of representing both sellers and buyers of several of these iconic farms when they changed hands. To celebrate their storied histories and learn about the plans of current owners, you’re invited to explore the “then” and “now” of these noted farms.
Our journey continues with Shade Tree Farm.
One of Marion County’s successful, decades-old Thoroughbred operations has been sold and is undergoing a changing of the guard. Tucked into the lush northwestern corner of the county, Shade Tree Farm is a 58-acre, full-service Thoroughbred facility that sold in December 2021.
With a proven track record of producing winners, Shade Tree is a working farm that was thoughtfully designed by hands-on horsemen to run efficiently and effectively while providing the best care for its equine residents. With five barns for a total of 60 stalls, 14 paddocks and pastures, round pens, Eurociser free walker and more, the farm is also conveniently located barely 20 minutes from the World Equestrian Center, HITS and the World Equestrian Jockey Club (formerly known as Ocala Jockey Club).
“They had found a farm on Zillow, and I am a Zillow participant, so I’d been talking with the Becks for months, but we couldn’t make the deal go through on that farm. Then Shade Tree came on the market. With their own farm responsibilities, it was hard for them to leave, so we talked on the phone for several months before they were able to get here and see it in person,” recalls Elizabeth (Liz) Gray of Showcase Properties, who served as the buyer’s agent on the transaction.
“They had found a farm on Zillow, and I am a Zillow participant, so I’d been talking with the Becks for months, but we couldn’t make the deal go through on that farm. Then Shade Tree came on the market. With their own farm responsibilities, it was hard for them to leave, so we talked on the phone for several months before they were able to get here and see it in person.”
—Elizabeth (Liz) Gray of Showcase Properties
– representing the Buyers
“Shade Tree farm has such fabulous grass and soil, so that was really Michelle’s motivation because she breeds sport horses,” says Liz.
The Becks don’t plan to live in Ocala full time but are excited to develop the operation into an ideal sport horse facility where clients can stable for the winter, and also have their mares foal out. Training arenas are being added to the property, which the new owners are renaming Willow Tree Warmbloods. The fact that “tree” is still in the farm name is a comfort and seems serendipitous to sellers, Bert and Martha Pilcher.
Claire Khuen of Showcase Properties was the listing agent on Shade Tree Farm. One of the conditions of sale was that the Pilchers would be able to keep their own yearlings at the farm until they went to the 2022 January sale at Ocala Breeders’ Sales. It was also important to them that their remaining broodmares would be foaling in the same location where they’d been living.
Having their horses in the capable hands of long-time employee Alejandro (Tony) Delgado was reassuring to the Pilchers.
“Tony has worked for me for over 20 years and has been the farm manager for over five years. He’s been handling all the day-to-day work and has been a super asset to the farm,” says Bert.
He was happy to learn that the new owner is keeping Tony on as manager, and that some of Shade Tree’s Thoroughbred clients will continue to board at the farm.
“Michelle fell in love with Bert and Martha; they really connected,” adds Liz. “Bert was worried about where his manager and existing help were going to go. Michelle wanted to keep them on if they were willing, and they were happy about that.”
Bert noted that knowing things would not have to change for those employees and clients made the sale a bit easier.
“My dad was the one who found this land; he wanted it because of the ground and the water. He believed you can’t have a good horse without a good foundation and that foundation comes from the ground. There were some old limestone pits near the farm, and he believed the extra limestone in this soil helped in the development of the young horses’ bones. There’s also a layer of clay in this soil which helps hold moisture and that is good for the native grass.”
— Bert Pilcher, Shade Tree Farm
The Pilcher family has been part of Ocala’s Thoroughbred scene since the industry’s early days. When Bert Pilcher was born in 1957, his father, Hubert Pilcher, was working for Joe O’Farrell at Ocala Stud, one of the county’s original Thoroughbred farms. Bert was just 14 when his family bought a 7-acre property a few miles from where Shade Tree Farm is located.
“That home place had a lot of big oaks and dad called it ‘Shade Tree.’ When he bought the farm, there was a big oak out front and we said, ‘This is Shade Tree II!’
“My dad was the one who found this land; he wanted it because of the ground and the water. He believed you can’t have a good horse without a good foundation and that foundation comes from the ground,” recalls Bert. “There were some old limestone pits near the farm, and he believed the extra limestone in this soil helped in the development of the young horses’ bones. There’s also a layer of clay in this soil which helps hold moisture and that is good for the native grass.”
The family also added to that big oak out front.
“In Florida, it’s important to have shade where you have horses, so we planted a lot of trees. Some of the oaks we planted are still here and are really big now,” says Bert.
In 2000, Bert officially purchased Shade Tree Farm before his father passed, proudly keeping the operation in the family. When setting up the business, he intended to register the name Shade Tree Farm, but found out a tree farm business had already taken that specific name. He settled on Shade Tree Thoroughbreds Inc., which became the farm’s name as breeder going forward.
Among the many successful racehorses bred by Shade Tree are multiple grade one winner Imperial Hint ($2,209,055), graded stakes winner Three Rules ($971,825), graded stakes winner Two Sixty ($478,604), and stakes winner and multiple graded stakes-placed My Pal Chrisy ($862,168).
Among the outstanding client-owned horses that were raised at Shade Tree Farm are multiple graded stakes winner It’s A Bird ($1,176,985), multiple stakes winner Holywell ($437,267), graded stakes winner How’s Your Halo ($649,704), graded stakes winner Jackson ($485,195), and stakes winner Jay’s Way ($427,401).
Stallions that stood at Shade Tree Farm through the years include Shamrock Ridge, R. Cooper, Brief Ruckus, Strike the Anvil, Hooched and Recitalist.
“If it’s been done with a Thoroughbred racehorse, we’ve done it in some capacity at the farm. We’ve done every facet of the industry—breeding, standing stallions, raising babies, racing, selling at the sales and at the racetrack. Our main thing was foaling and raising those babies.”
— Bert Pilcher, Shade Tree Farm
“This is like our second home,” says Bert of the Crystal River home, which is less than an hour from the farm. “It’s getting more and more attractive because I like to fish, but I also love the horses.”
He notes that although they’ve sold the farm, he and Martha will remain actively involved in the Thoroughbred industry. The Pilchers will continue to maintain several broodmares, boarding them at their old home farm.
They are also excited to see the future unfold for their young stallion Three Rules, who is standing at Robert Smith’s Wesfield near Ocala.
We love where we live and we hope to inspire the same in our customers– you can browse horse farms for sale in Ocala to learn more about what we have available in the Marion County area. If you’re interested in creating your own equine legacy in the Horse Capital of the World®, contact an equestrian real estate agent today! You might also like to view Alachua County Farms for sale.
The Iconic Horse Farm series was created with the goal of exploring the history of the farms and local equine industry that helped make Ocala the city that we love. You can take a look at our previous Iconic Horse Farm series posts here.