Lori and Bobby Jones teamed up to foster the nascent North Marion Equine program, immersing students in the Florida thoroughbred industry via her North Marion High School classroom and his Bobby Jones Equine’s hands-on thoroughbred farm experience.
Some people spend a lifetime seeking out their true passion. Lori Jones had the good fortune to be born into hers. And she has made the most of that rare opportunity while also paying it forward to others.
“I was born into a third-generation farming family in Citra. My dad, Jerry Bunn, grew peanuts, vegetables and ran a cattle operation. My mom Jodie also grew up in a farming family; later she owned and operated a swine operation,” says Lori. “My twin sister Lisa and I grew up doing our farm chores seven days a week. We also showed horses, steers and hogs through 4-H and then Future Farmers of America.”
While she loved every aspect of the farming life, Lori has always had a particular affinity for horses.
“My sister Lisa and I started showing horses when we were 5 years old. I had a half-Arabian and half-saddlebred and an Egyptian Arabian. My sister had a Polish Arabian,” she shares. “We showed in every class we could, including saddle seat equitation and western pleasure, right up into high school.”
The inseparable twins soon took on a new equine-related challenge in rodeoing. Competing in Florida High School Rodeo Association events, the duo were standouts in goat-tying, barrel racing, pole bending, cutting and team roping. The latter two were Lori’s favorites and both developed from ranch work. In rodeo cutting events, horse and rider are judged on how well they work to separate, or cut, cows from a herd during a two-and-a- half-minute time frame. Team roping involves two riders, a header and a heeler, who work together to rope the horns and the back heels of a steer in the fastest time possible.
“I really focused on cutting in high school and went to work in the summers for Al McDonald at his Cutters Quarters in Reddick,” recounts Lori. “I learned so much from Al and he made me a better cutting horse rider.”
Indeed, Lori’s summers with McDonald paid off. In1989, as a North Marion High School (NMHS) senior, she earned a trio of titles: Florida High School Rodeo Association Girls Cutting State Champion, Gold Coast Cutting Youth Champion and Florida Cutting Horse Association Youth Champion.
“I continued cutting horse competitions while I attended Central Florida Community College and the University of Florida,” notes Lori. “Of course, my focus was on the agriculture industry in college. I figured after I got my degree, I would go back to the family farm and work it. But when I told my dad about my plans, he said no and that I needed to get a real job. But I wasn’t sure what that was at the time.”
When Lori told her UF advisor of her dilemma, she had her answer and a new calling.
“I had never thought about teaching at all,” she says. “But when my advisor suggested a degree in agriculture education, that sounded like a plan to me.”
And Lori took to teaching as easily as she had competing in rodeos. After graduating in 1994 from UF with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture education, she became an agriculture teacher at Kathleen High School in Lakeland. In 1995, she moved to Fort King Middle School and taught agriculture there for 20 years. In addition, she was also the school’s advisor for the National FFA Organization (known until 1988 as the Future Farmers of America) chapter throughout her time at the latter.
“I discovered that I really loved being able to share my knowledge and past experiences with my students,” says Lori, a self-described tough but fair teacher. “I feel anytime that students can apply their classroom learning to the real world, it helps make a positive influence and impact on their education.”
An Equine Epiphany
In 2015, Lori returned to NMHS, this time as an animal science teacher and National FFA advisor. As for her competitive riding, she had switched from cutting to team roping.
“I can both head and heel, but mostly these days, I head with various heeling partners at weekend shows. My sister Lisa also team ropes and she’s a header too,” notes Lori, 51, who has two sons, Andy (24) and Cody (21), Albritton from a previous marriage. “I have two roping quarter horses, Buster and Gus. I raised Buster, he’s 24 now and still a good roping horse.”
As she settled into her teaching position at NMHS, Lori began to envision something more than just the current animal science curriculum.
“Most of the focus was on livestock, which is obviously very important. But I did have several students who really loved horses and competed in rodeo and other disciplines,” recounts Lori. “And we do live in the Horse Capital of the World, so I decided that it would be a good thing to incorporate more equine-related topics into the curriculum. I went to my principal and he said, if you can fund it, then you can do it.”
Ever the go-getter, that was all the approval Lori needed. In 2016, she and Animal Science Level Four students wrote a grant proposal to establish the North Marion Equine program. In 2017, the Public Education Foundation of Marion County awarded a $5,000 grant to fund equine facilities on the school campus.
“I was delighted with the grant, but knew I would have to reach out to the thoroughbred community to really make the program work. I had no connections to thoroughbreds, but I wasn’t afraid to ask for help,” says Lori. “My brother-in-law Brian Hoey, who is a farrier, mentioned Bobby Jones might be a good person in the thoroughbred industry to contact. I was in a local restaurant one night and someone pointed out Bobby sitting at a nearby table and that’s how we met.”
A Bit of Serendipity
Despite being born in Lexington, Kentucky, a major thoroughbred industry center, and growing up in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, Bobby Jones had no involvement then in the thoroughbred business.
“I grew up riding quarter horses and started competing in cutting horse events when I was 13,” says Bobby, 61. “My mentor was Al McDonald. Just before I graduated from high school, he moved to the Ocala area and set up his Cutters Quarters in Reddick. In 1980, about a year after I graduated, I moved to Reddick to work for Al.”
And, yes, he is the same Al McDonald who Lori worked for at his Cutters Quarters during her junior and senior high school years. But by that time, Bobby had indeed transitioned to the thoroughbred business. From 1985-2010, he co-managed Brylynn Farm and after that established Bobby Jones Equine.
“I was eating at the Petro Truck Stop restaurant just off the interstate in Orange Lake when this woman walks up and introduces herself,” recalls Bobby. “She tells me she’s an animal science teacher at North Marion High School and she wants to start an equine program. She needs someone in the thoroughbred industry willing to help out with the program. I tell her to get back to me when she has her plans in order and I’d see what I could do.”
Bobby pauses, chuckles and says, “I didn’t think she’d be back, but she did come back and that’s how it started.”
Lori chimes in, “First Bobby helped us design and build paddocks and a barn at the school. Then he donated our first broodmare, Clueless Brook, in foal to Chitu. We kept her at the school facilities until she was close to foaling and then moved her to Bobby Jones Equine. Clueless Brook foaled a colt on April 19, 2017.”
The colt was the first hands-on experience for the North Marion Equine students as they learned about foaling, weaning, farrier and veterinary care and sales prepping. And they learned about the sales business, working with the Bobby Jones Equine consignment every day at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company (OBS). Their day began at 5:30am, cleaning stalls, grooming and showing the colt to prospective buyers. Their hard work paid off when the colt sold for $10,000 at the 2018 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s January Mixed Sale.
“It was so exciting for all of us to raise and sell the program’s first foal,” recalls Lori. “That money and all the money from future sales goes right back into the program.”
Bobby donated another broodmare, Perfect Biscuit, and the program sold her 2019 Jess’s Dream colt for $15,000 at the 2020 OBS January Mixed Sale. That was followed by Clueless Brook’s 2019 Valiant Minister filly selling for $5,000 at the 2020 OBS October Yearling Sale.
“We didn’t have anything to sell in 2022, but Valerie Dailey surprised us and graciously donated a 2021 Valiant Minister out of Charmed Gift, by A.P. Indy, colt in late June,” shares Lori. “By this time, I had 22 students, grades 10-12, in the program. Eleven students were selected to participate in the sales prepping and then work at the OBS October Yearling Sale. The colt sold for $14,000.”
Clueless Brook, the first broodmare that Bobby donated to the program, is now retired. Perfect Biscuit has been joined by Country Song and both mares are expecting 2023 foals. Country Song’s 2022 Awesome of Course colt is slated to be sold at this year’se 2023 OBS January Mixed Sale.
For three high school seniors, the North Marion Equine program has made a major impact on their lives.
“I’ve always had horses and showed quarter horses,” says Caroline Cassidy. “But until I became involved in the North Marion Equine program, I had no idea how big the thoroughbred industry was here in Ocala. Being able to work on Mr. Bobby’s farm and at the sales has been great. I’m considering a career in the veterinary field.”
Fianna Roberts-Squier, who has three thoroughbreds and competes in show jumping, moved to Ocala from Volusia County and enrolled at NMHS specifically because of the equine program.
“Mrs. Lori and Mr. Bobby have been so amazing to work with from the first day. Being able to work at the sales has been the highlight for me,” she says. “I plan on getting a degree in equine psychology and behavior.”
Without an equine background, Alexis Riley was coaxed into the equine program, explaining, “I visited the horses on the school campus and that’s what got me interested. Mrs. Lori encouraged me to enroll in the equine program and I’m so glad that I did. It’s been a great experience and I’m thinking of specializing in equine shockwave therapy.”
“The success of the North Marion Equine program, which is an elective class, has exceeded my expectations. I never imagined that this program would have taken off and grown the way that it has,” says Lori. “And that success led to equine science being offered as a curriculum course in 2022. Each year another course will be added and will allow our students to become more knowledgeable about the equine industry.”
Lori is also quick to give credit where credit is due.
“I can’t overstate how important Bobby has been to the North Marion Equine program,” she says. “Thanks to him, the students have been able to get hands-on experience at the farm and at OBS that can’t be taught in a classroom.”
Bobby adds, “I’ve been involved in the horse industry for more than 35 years and being part of the North Marion Equine program is the best thing that I’ve ever done. I love working with the students and the energy I get back from them is priceless.”
And something more personal came out of Lori and Bobby working together for four years with the North Marion Equine program.
“I fell in love with with Lori, a woman who is a beautiful human being and who gives her heart to her students,” offers Bobby.
Lori shares, “Bobby loves what he does and has such a big heart. Our first date was in February, 2018, when Bobby invited me and my son Cody to dinner at his house. He cooked dinner for us and that really impressed me.”
The couple married on December 18th, 2021, fittingly at Bobby Jones Equine, underneath a wooden arch with a massive oak tree as a backdrop. Home is a 2,200-square-foot log house, sitting up on a rise looking down on the farm that brought them together—perhaps proving that giving back rewards in unexpected ways. OS
To learn more about programs at North Marion High School, go to marionschools.net/nmh