Horsin’ Around

Equestrian adventures for horse lovers new and old. 

Written by Cynthia McFarland

It’s no surprise that horses are the reason many people relocate to Ocala/Marion County. From breeding and showing to pleasure riding, race training and sales, the equine industry here is multi-faceted and booming.

Some residents are Florida natives or have lived in this area for decades and built their lives around horses—for both business and hobby.

And then there are the many new faces moving to Marion County who are just discovering the “horsey” side of life. 

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some equestrian-focused adventures both close to home and within a couple hours’ drive. Whether you ride regularly and have your own horse or just want to experience time with horses up close and personal, there are options for everyone. 

Read on to find an adventure or two, and let the memory-making begin. 

Meet A Magical Breed

You don’t have to own horses or know anything about them to enjoy a tour at Gypsy Gold Horse Farm in Ocala. If you are a horse person, however, you’ll appreciate the story behind the Gypsy Vanner breed.

Gypsy Vanner horses have a big fan base in the United States, and it all started when Dennis Thompson of Ocala and his late wife, Cindy, took a trip to England in 1995.

During their travels, they discovered these colorful, personable horses and the fascinating Gypsy culture that envisioned and created them. They returned to the States with a plan: introduce these intriguing horses to America.  

Dedicated Gypsy breeders in England chose the name Gypsy Vanner horse over Romany horse, and on November 24, 1996, the Thompsons established the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, the world’s first registry for a breed of horse developed by Irish and British Gypsies.

The breed was officially introduced in June 1998 at Equitana USA in Louisville, Kentucky, and on the internet at gypsyvannerhorse.com. Today there are over 12,000 Vanner horses registered in America.

The Thompsons imported the first 16 Gypsy Vanner horses to the United States beginning in November 1996. Among these was the Gypsy King, a stunning black and white stallion who became a foundation sire for the breed. His striking looks and personality made the Gypsy King a “poster horse” for the breed. Breyer even made a model of him in 2001. (Cindy was able to enjoy all these accomplishments before her passing in 2002.)

Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, which is home to over three dozen Gypsy Vanners, hosts two popular tours that are the perfect introduction to this enchanting breed.

Tours appeal to both horse people and those who don’t consider themselves equestrians.

“We have women bring their husbands and think they’re going to be bored, and they love it. The longer tour is very historical, and you learn about a culture you didn’t know about,” says Dennis of the Horses & History Tour.

“Every horse on the farm is an ancestor of the original horses we brought to the country, starting in 1996. The latest foals born on the farm are fifth generation Gypsy Vanners,” adds Dennis, noting that the farm is the home of the winningest Gypsy Vanner stallion and mare in history.

The Horses & History Tour is two hours long. If your group includes young children, you may want to opt for the one-hour Walking Farm Tour.  

In both tours, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the farm’s stallions, mares and foals, as well as other beloved farm residents—including donkeys and parrots. Tours are conducted by Dennis and his wife, Erin Thompson.

Tours take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Book your tour online, and feel free to bring carrots for the horses when you visit.

Gypsy Gold Horse Farm

12501 SW 8th Ave, Ocala

(352) 307-3777


Ride The Greenway

Since 2007, Golden Acres Foxtrotter Ranch Rest N’ Ride has been a favorite place to camp and ride the expansive Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. 

Horse owners come from across Florida and out of state, as well as the Ocala area, to ride here. The Greenway features 110 miles of trails—40 of which are devoted strictly to equestrian use.

When staying at Golden Acres, you have private access right onto the Greenway. The trail system is divided into East and West, with I-75 being the dividing line. You can access both sides from the ranch, and the terrain varies significantly, depending on which trails you take. Hunting is not allowed on the Greenway, so you never have to worry about riding during hunting season. 

Trails are clearly marked with separate trails for mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers. The only time you have to be aware of hikers or bicyclists is where trails intersect.

“We’re located at the Land Bridge, which is on a lot of people’s bucket lists to ride,” says ranch owner Peggy Litt. “This is our 16th year of offering the Rest N’ Ride for campers and trail riders.” 

The Land Bridge Trail is so named because you actually ride over a bridge that spans the interstate, safely above the traffic on I-75 below. 

Peggy offers maps of the Greenway trails, and you can also learn more about the trail system at floridastateparks.org/crossflorida.

Golden Acres has eight 30-amp electric hook-ups and two 110-amp electric hook-ups, which come with fresh water. Guests also have the use of the barn’s restroom facilities, shower and mini kitchen.

Stabling options include 12 individual turnout pens and a four-stall barn available for a modest nightly fee per horse. Each is equipped with automatic waterers. You can tie up and wash your horse after riding at the barn wash racks. Dogs on a leash are allowed; just pick up after them.

To reserve a camping spot and stabling for your horse, call ahead and ask for Peggy. There is a two-night minimum stay on weekends, and Coggins papers are required for all horses.

Golden Acres Foxtrotter Ranch Rest n’ Ride

11330 SW 27th Avenue, Ocala

(352) 817-2862

[email protected]

Rest & Recharge

A relaxing getaway in horse country can be a reality—whether you own a horse or not.

Diamond Oaks Farm near Anthony is a 25-acre facility designed to provide a memorable equestrian “Stay and Ride,” a “Stay,” or a “Just Ride” experience. Think of Diamond Oaks Farm as an equestrian Airbnb. You can come for a day riding trip or stay for the weekend, a week or even the whole winter.

Co-owners Jami Walker and Jennifer Schuck have gone above and beyond to make it possible for guests to relax, reset and recharge in a peaceful setting surrounded by horses and nature. Jennifer is a career equestrian who formerly competed in three-day eventing and dressage through the Prix St. George level. Jennifer runs the farm’s horse program for ages 2 and up to provide personal, customized horseback riding.

Lodging options include six RV park full hookup campsites for those who prefer to stay in their RV or living quarters horse trailer. The farm offers four of their own RVs for lodging, plus there’s a historic stone home, which sleeps six, and the king hotel suite, which sleeps four.

The farm is pet friendly, and three of the lodgings allow pets, so some guests bring their dogs. For those bringing their own horse, both stall and pasture board are available. If you don’t have a horse, or you’re coming with a friend who needs a mount, the farm has 13 horses available for riding.

“We have Lusitanos, draft horses, quarter horses, Paints and a miniature horse that are all part of our riding program for guests to enjoy,” says Jami.

Because excursions are customized to fit the specific guests, there are numerous options for all ages and skill levels of riders—from beginner to advanced.

Guests ages 6 and older can take a hands-on workshop and learn about horse care. Young kids love spending time with “Magic the Unicorn,” which makes for memorable photo moments.

You can go trail riding, take a lesson or try your hand at the working equitation obstacle course. For experienced riders eager to explore beyond the farm, arrangements can be made to trailer to a local trail head or even to the beach.

Another popular excursion is the Horse Country Carriage Tour, which takes place through Ocala farmland and lasts about 1.5 to two hours.

Jami notes that guests include a wide variety of horse lovers, from singles to couples to families and groups of friends.

“We get a mix of locals and people from Florida and around the country, as well as international guests,” she says.

If you’re ready to enjoy a restful escape, reserve your getaway now at Diamond Oaks Farm.

Diamond Oaks Farm

900 NE 100th Street, Ocala

(352) 502-5742


Ride The Beach

The images in magazines, movies and online are mesmerizing: riders cantering along the beach or playing in the surf at sunset.

It’s no surprise that riding a horse on the beach is a “bucket list” item for many people. Florida Beach Horses in Bradenton has been making that dream come true since 2010.

In addition to helping people achieve their beach riding goals, owner Jimmy Edwards created a business that helps horses and also works with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“We specialize in taking in horses from rescue organizations in Florida and other states and also from private donors. Instead of just going out and purchasing horses, the owner decided to take in horses that needed to be rescued,” says manager Heather Smith.

All horses have professional training and specific beach riding training before they are ever used for guests. 

Florida Beach Horses has 39 horses of all different breeds, sizes and colors. Great care is taken to match each guest with the most appropriate horse for their ride.

Although four different rides are offered, the Sand and Surf Ride is the most popular and also allows children as young as 3 to participate. Guests ride on the beach and in the water.

The adventure begins with riding in saddles along the beach, and before the excursion is over, guests are riding bareback in the water. The fun factor is amped up with the option to experience “horse water surfing” and “skiing.” Florida Beach Horses is promoted as the only company in the state that allows expert riders to trot, canter and actually swim with their horses. 

“All rides are beginner friendly, and guides are provided for every ride,” says Heather, adding that safety and fun are the priorities for every outing.

Although over half the guests are tourists, Heather says about 35 percent of riders are from Florida and many of those are local.

Rides last 1.5 hours. On average, there are eight to 10 riders participating in each ride.

Horses are trailered to the beach where guests mount up and ride from there with a guide.

 While the guides are happy to snap some photos with guests’ phones during the ride, if you want a professional photographer to capture the moment, this can be booked ahead of time when you book your ride. Additional information is available on the company’s website.

Florida Beach Horses

8400 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton

(941) 527-9621


Beach Time

You have your own horse and have always dreamed of riding on the beach. You live in Florida, so that should be do-able, right? Yes, but planning is required. 

Florida may have a total of 1,350 miles of coastline, but horseback riding is only allowed on a handful of beaches around the state.

Riding with a beach tour is a great solution for some, but if your goal is to ride along the surf on your own horse, take heart. There’s a great option within two hours of Ocala.

Horseback riding is allowed on specific beaches covering about 30 miles of coastline in St. Johns County.

A permit is required and is free of charge. It takes about two weeks for processing but can be expediated as necessary. To obtain your beach riding permit, follow the online instructions at sjcfl.us/HCP/Riding.aspx.

Once your permit is issued, the laminated permit must be attached to your saddle or saddle bag whenever riding on the beach.

There are several beach access points, which can change throughout the year, depending on the season. For example, during sea turtle nesting season, which begins May 1, there are additional restrictions on access and beach hours.

The Exxon Beach Access offers year-round access, but there is a fee to park. Contact the Guana Tolomato National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) for clarification at (904) 823-4500. The GTMNERR also offers riding trails along the Intercoastal waterway.

At Frank Butler Park East, there are picnic pavilions, restrooms, watering amenities for horses and a designated horse trailer parking area. Horse owners are asked to be mindful of other beach users and pick up their horse’s manure in the parking and beach entrance areas and place it in available disposal containers. 

“The tide is the determining factor as to when to ride,” says Jade O’Neill, environmental specialist with St. Johns County. “Permit holders are strongly encouraged to begin their ride two hours before a low tide event. This ensures there is adequate beach to navigate horses below the most recent high tide line.” 

For additional information contact Jade O’Neill at (904) 209-0619 regarding equestrian beach access. Get your permit and start making plans to enjoy a beach riding adventure with your own horse.