Title: Florida's Horses
They arrived when the Spanish explorers founded America's oldest city. They enabled Florida's pioneers to open a frontier territory. They helped turn Florida's farmland into a $50 billion dollar agriculture industry. Florida has changed greatly over the years, and few things have impacted that change like Florida's horses.
Carmen Murvin: Our business thrives when the horse people come to town.
Hayley Poinelli: Itís beautiful weather. Itís perfect weather for riding. I love Florida.
Michael O. Page: Coming to Florida in the winter basically is the key to establishing a program for the year.
Philip Matthews: A whole industry is employed around the horse raising and horse training business.
Don Steimle: I wouldn't want to be in the hotel business in Marion Co. without the horse industry here.
Bob Cromartie: The horse industry has an economic impact on the gross domestic product of about $6.5 billion. Itís fairly significant.
On any given weekend in Florida, there is a horse event. The warm climate is ideal for a wide variety of shows, festivals, and competitions; some of the oldest and largest professional rodeos in the country call Florida home, as do a number of the world's finest polo grounds. It's the training ground for the harness horse industry. And Thoroughbreds are quickly making Central Florida the Horse Capital of the World. During the winter months, Florida takes center stage in the international arena. Equestrian Festivals in West Palm Beach, Ocala, and Tampa attract thousands of horse enthusiasts from across the country -- and around the world. And while they come to compete for millions of dollars in prize money, what they take home is an appreciation for one of Florida's greatest assets.
Hillary Schlusemeyer: In Florida, you can ride year-round, everyday, the sun's great, there's no cold weather, it's not like you can't ride 'cause there's snow on the ground, or other things such as that. The weather's never really severe; it's beautiful, you can ride all the time.
Florida -- named for its variety of beautiful and colorful flowers. This mosaic of color and beauty is reflected in the nearly 300,000 horses that call the Sunshine State home. And Ocala/Marion County, located in the gentle pastures of Central Florida, is home to almost one-quarter of them. While the limestone base found under Marion County provides mineral-rich soil and water to area farms, Florida's ideal climate is still the major factor the region raises and trains champion Thoroughbreds.
Bob Cromartie: When you're trying to raise an athlete, during its developmental stages, you want them outside, outdoors, running around as much as possible and trying to do what Mother Nature intended for them to do; I mean they really need to be outdoors.
Philip Matthews: When youíre training young horses, that can make a big difference to your program because you've got horses that you're trying to establish good habits and break some bad habits and if you lose a week here to ten days then you're right back where you started so it makes it difficult. Down here we don't have that problem. I think the other asset is the raising of young foals, because when the young foal is born it needs to get outside it needs to get out of the barn environment. And in Florida we got a situation where a foal can get out the same day itís born, or it can be born outside all winter long.
Renowned for its equine facilities, Ocala/Marion County houses 900 breeding and training farms and has the largest concentration of horse-related businesses on the globe. The quality of its horses places Ocala/Marion County with Lexington, Kentucky; Chantilly, France; and Newmarket, England, as the world's four premier Thoroughbred centers.
The Sunshine State takes great pride in its horses, and with good reason. Florida Thoroughbreds have produced 56 millionaires, 40 national champions, six Kentucky Derby winners, and 17 Breeders Cup champions, as well as the last Triple Crown winner. Florida-bred Arabians have also won numerous championships, both on the track and in the show ring. And the benefits of training in Florida were showcased in the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Michael O. Page: In our discipline of riding, for the first time ever we won a medal in each of the three disciplines in Atlanta, this past time. And partly thatís attributed to the conditioning program that started here in Florida during the wintertime.
The true power and beauty of Florida's horses, however, are not always measured in competitions. Don Steimle: All year long we have people coming to the community that are somehow involved in the horse business.
Kim Jungherr: Yeah, we really move in for the whole six, seven weeks, Ďcause we come a week before the show starts to give the horses a chance to settle in, and then weíre here for another week after to give them a rest. Well we have to have a staff here to take care of all the horses; weíve got about six people here that we brought down from home. So, yeah, itís a big production, bringing everything down.
Don Steimle: These people are in town, they eat in our restaurants, they stay at our hotels; the rental car agencies are impacted, the travel agencies and so on. And Iím sure that even spills over into some other attractions in the community.
Kim Jungherr: We spend a lot of time in town, thatís for sure.
Carmen Murvin: Our business increases by 30 percent when we have a horse-related activity going on. If itís a horse show or a rodeo, whatever it might be, our business definitely increases when there are horse related activities going on.
The importance of Florida horses is reflected in the economic impact it has on the surrounding communities. In all, 72,000 Florida jobs support the state's horse industry.
Dennis Suskind: In terms of the economic impact, horse farms are tremendous buyers. They have to buy a lot of equipment. They have to buy machinery. They have to buy wood. They have to have construction all the time. Itís a business that supports a lot of other businesses within the community, not only making use of the land but also making use of all the other merchants in the community.
Bob Cromartie: As a business, first of all we employ about 25 people in the community. And we purchase many products -- hay, bedding, feed, blacksmith services, veterinary services. We have accountants, a number of things in the community.
A number of businesses, like truck dealerships and trailer manufacturers, veterinary hospitals, and tack shops all profit from the needs of local horse farms. And when a community plays host to an equestrian festival or competition, many more local merchants reap the rewards.
A variety of home-grown businesses have developed and profited from serving the horse industry; craftsmen who don't just make horseshoes and saddles, they keep time-honored traditions alive.
From the days of the Florida Cracker to today's modern cattlemen, ranchers still turn to their horses to help move herds across south-central Florida. Like any horsemen, cowboys have come to appreciate that special bond that develops between a horse and rider. And while many hours go into training a horse, many say it's often the rider that walks having learned something.
Dennis Suskind: Thereís a union between you and the animal. I mean, itís your feet, itís your hands; you have to teach him what to do. He has to help you, but you have to help him.
While many hours go into training a horse, many say thatís itís often the rider that walks away having learned something.
Carmen Murvin: Well, I think it definitely builds a tremendous amount of character and a lot of responsibility because itís an individual sport, nobodyís going to help you when youíre out there on your horse, youíre on your own.
Chris Middleton: It's kept our daughter focused; you that it keeps her focused in an activity, so that sheís not wandering around wondering what to do with herself, and that's a big plus.
Dennis Suskind: You know you donít just show up. The animal lives and breathes and therefor it has to be taken care of so I think itís a wonderful learning experience for them.
Hayley Poinelli: Itís a lot of dedicated work. Itís six days a week, every week, riding. Itís just like, you have to take care of the animal. Itís like a big responsibility.
The horse industry often gives back to the community much more than it receives. Many horse shows raise money for local charities, while some programs, like Equine Therapy, use horses to teach valuable skills to Florida's handicapped children.
The protection of forests and other greenways has always been important to Floridaís horse industry. Such causes are frequently and generously donated to by the stateís horse associations. From the rolling hills in the north to the tropical paradise of the south, the Sunshine State now has more than 2 million acres of forest land and parks in which to ride and enjoy some of the most inspiring scenery found in the United States.
Floridaís horses do have a lot to offer; they provide 72,000 jobs for Floridians; they bring in revenue from all over the globe; and they inspire us with strength, beauty and grace; they provide a link to the past and open a door to the future.
Floridaís Horses: Six Billion Dollars Strong.