Wonder how many travelers zip along Interstate 75 enroute to Orlando or Tampa without knowing about Ocala in northern Florida?
On a recent road trip to Florida, our family made a pit stop in northern Florida, overnighting in Ocala, which was somewhere new for us. We arrived around midnight after a full day of driving–a couple hours later than expected thanks to the bumper-to-bumper traffic radiating from Atlanta. We checked into the Comfort Inn & Suites on Blitchon Road, newly renovated into a sleek, contemporary design decked out with chandeliers in the lobby and equally impressive rooms.
Knowing we’d only have the morning to explore–as we needed to pick up my Mom at the Orlando airport at 2pm–I had done my homework online in advance to see what Ocala had to offer. I was surprised to learn that Ocala and the surrounding Marion County is dubbed the “Horse Capitol of the World.” (Not Lexington, KY?!) There were many equestrian activities from horse farm tours, horse shows, and trail rides to riding lessons. According to the tourist website (ocalamarion.com) the largest concentration of horses in the world exist here, on thoroughbred farms scattered over 70,000 acres. Some of these individual horse farms offer tours, and many offer trail rides. One tour in particular caught my eye–visiting horse farms by horse-drawn carriage!
My carriage tour started at 8:30am from the Kinderden Farm, conveniently located just 10 minutes west of our hotel, in a tranquil country setting. I drove through the gates to find Kimie, my tour guide, saddling up Duke to the carriage. Duke is a handsome black horse of the Percheron breed who made his film debut in the 2014 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie.
Kimie, another passenger, Francesca, and I traveled down beautiful country roads under canopies of giant live oaks with draping moss. We stopped by farms along the way and jumped out to pet the horses that came to greet us by the fence.
Kimie educated us about the many breeds of horses in the area and entertained us with stories as we clip-clopped along the quiet roads, sharing insider tidbits about famous locals such as John Travolta and Kelly Preston. Kimie was a very knowledgeable, kind and gracious host.
She explained that the title Horse Capitol of the World refers to Ocala having the greatest number of different breeds in the world, including the unusual Gypsy Vanner horse. She also talked about past Derby winners that were bred in the area–including those that placed in the most recent race.
The morning passed too quickly! At the end of our tour we were invited to feed Duke as many carrots as he liked and to hang out at the farm to watch trainers with their horses. Highly recommend a morning with Kimie and her beautiful horses! Contact her for more information here: www.HCCCandT.com
While I was riding peacefully through the tranquil countryside, David took our teenage daughter and her friend ziplining at Zipthecanyons.com. He captured these with his iphone.
Choosing the long course over the shorter one, they spent the morning zipping through the forest from tree top to tree top, flying over a lake, canyons and cliff walls.
Who knew northern Florida had canyons?
The girls were animated about their adventure afterwards, grinning ear to ear.
The timing and location worked out perfectly for us that morning, as both the carriage ride and ziplining were 3 hours long. By noon we were all finished, then ate lunch and drove further south. So glad we didn’t just “wing it” and drive through Florida without a plan. Neither tour can be arranged without advance notice. Had we just a little more time I would’ve liked to explore some of the natural springs in the area.
Silver Springs State Park, about a 25 minute drive east of Ocala, is a landmark that has lured tourists since the 1870s. Visitors can take a guided glass-bottomed boat ride over crystal clear water, or drift around the spring by kayak or canoe on their own looking for herons, ibis, turtles and even alligators. I remember taking a glass-bottom boat elsewhere in Florida as a kid. Would be nice to go back as an adult and visit the natural springs. Next time we pass through, we will!