The highly anticipated 40th Anniversary of the Horse Shows In The Sun (known locally as HITS Ocala) Winter Circuit at Post Time Farm is set to run for a combined 12 weeks of USEF-Rated competition. The Ocala Holiday Series runs from December 9th to the 20th, 2020, followed by the Ocala Winter Circuit, from January 19th through March 28th, 2021. Since its inception, HITS Inc. has grown into one of the largest producers of Hunter/Jumper horse shows in the United States.
Following a record-breaking 39th season that resulted in more champion titles and blue ribbons to every level exhibitor, from lead line to Grand Prix, the upcoming shows are expected to offer the best season yet.
With a history of excellence spanning several decades, the HITS organization has established itself as a market leader and built a legacy of community involvement and unrivaled competition that is truly undeniable.
HITS has called Central Florida its winter home since 1982 and has been hosting shows in Ocala since 1985. With the move to Post Time Farm in 2002, HITS cemented its commitment to the Ocala/Marion County community, basing one of the largest and most popular show circuits in the country here.
The economic impact of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit on the area is particularly notable. According to an independent study conducted by the Sport Management Research Institute (SMRI) in 2014, the show infuses approximately $94 million annually into the local economy. Taking inflation into account, today that number would be closer to $101 million. HITS also has been honored with a number of community and business awards over the years.
This winter, HITS will award more than $4 million in combined prize money throughout the season. The crown jewel of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, the annual Great American $1 Million Grand Prix, is perhaps the most anticipated event of the series and takes place on Sunday, March 28th.
President and CEO of HITS Tom Struzzieri is the passionate visionary behind the brand. A true leader in the industry, he has been guiding the evolution of the modern-day horse show for the past 40 years. Struzzieri is not only one of the most accomplished show series founders in the history of the business, but he has an eye on innovation and is dedicated to providing a consistent and top-notch experience for both his clients and spectators. His deep industry knowledge, enriched over time, is a true advantage and allows him to guide HITS in a way that honors his personal vision while also maintaining a strong and profitable vision for the future.
Struzzieri followed his passion for the equestrian world during the 1970s, when he purchased Rose View Stables in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he trained hunter/jumpers and produced local horse shows.
“I always wanted to be a professional horseman,” he recalls. “At 18, I acquired a little horse farm. I held a few one-day horse shows at the farm and found myself really enjoying those. Around the same time, I realized that my career as a rider was not going to get me as far as I hoped. So, I started to concentrate more on running horse shows. I put on a couple of multiple-day horse shows and then decided it was time to do something a little more challenging—that was running horse shows in Florida in the winter.”
While he first focused on Gainesville, it didn’t take him long to find his true place in the sun.
“I did horse shows in other parts of Florida, but since Ocala is the Horse Capital of the World, it felt like a good fit,” he explains. “It’s a pretty special place for the equestrians. You can walk into any restaurant, really any place in Ocala, in your boots and breeches and not be looked at as someone who stands out. Horse people are everywhere and they can feel at home wherever they go. If you don’t feel at home there, as a horse person, I’m not sure where you do feel at home! If I’m wearing one of my HITS jackets or something with the brand on it, invariably someone will want to talk to me about our shows or their horses.
“There are very few places like it in the world, as far as I know,” he adds. “And when I travel to other horse events around the world, people there know Ocala. It’s unique that way.”
Another unique place soon became a part of the HITS Ocala story and has helped enhance the experience for all.
“I had horse shows at the Castro Farm and then went on to buy the equestrian property from the Castro family. I later sold that and bought Post Time Farm in 2001. I really love the property,” Struzzieri shares enthusiastically. “It’s very horse friendly and the horses are really happy there. There’s very little concrete or steel. There are lots of big, wide-open spaces to ride, with four-board fencing and huge oak trees. All that puts a horse and rider in a very relaxed state.”
Bobby Braswell, the owner and trainer at Terrapin Hill, has echoed that sentiment.
“The facility is a top-notch competition grounds, but it also has a wonderful ambience for the horses. If you need to ride and train, there’s plenty of room for that, or if you want to take a horse out for a relaxing graze or trail ride, there’s plenty of space for that too,” he offers. “You couldn’t ask for more than to have this caliber of USEF-Rated show in such a horse friendly area.”
The HITS Ocala Winter Circuit also has a tremendous impact on tourism in the Ocala/Marion County area.
“We look forward to being back in Ocala each winter and bringing all our clients back,” Struzzieri asserts. “Those folks will be staying in local hotels and eating at local restaurants. Ocala and HITS have been great partners throughout the years. Ocala and Marion County have offered HITS so many opportunities to serve our clients and offer great, quality experiences…with open arms! We have been so supported and we feel we return the favor by supporting the community with patronage and by offering some great entertainment.”
HITS has been able to stay at the forefront of equestrian sports by offering a varied range of classes for every level of horse and rider, and with such diversified offerings that one may find a child attending his or her first show while standing alongside a real life Olympic athlete.
“When we started, high-performance riders had great programs that they could go to,” Struzzieri explains. “I cut my teeth on the grassroots program. Then, as we expanded and grew, we began to attract the high-performance riders as well. So now you will come to one of our horse shows and it is terrifically eclectic. You will find lots of grassroots classes and yet we do the biggest Grand Prix in America, prize-money wise,” he continues. “Our goal is to cater to a broad range of clients.”
Another distinguishing factor of the HITS shows is consistency, which Struzzieri explains extends both to the purses but also to the overall quality of the experience for all involved.
“It’s always excellent prize money,” he offers. “But you also know the event is going to start on time and finish on time. You’re always going to get a consistent feel at all our horse shows.”
For those who cannot attend, HITS has you covered.
“To allow for social distancing and for parents and others to watch from home, we put all our classes on a live feed so they can still watch and enjoy. You go to our HITS Shows website (HITSShows.com) and click on ShowHorse TV,” Struzzieri explains. “You can choose the ring you want to watch and watch it live. That goes around the world and we get huge viewership numbers.”
The success of HITS is due largely to Struzzieri’s ongoing passion for the industry and providing the best possible shows he can produce.
“I still have that same passion I started out with,” he admits. “I say, if you are blessed enough to follow your passion, then good for you. I still work 24/7 on my horse shows. It’s what I do. I never think of it as getting up to go to ‘work.’ I look at it as getting up to do the thing I love. That is not to say that it isn’t challenging, but I’m so happy I chose this as a career and that we’ve been as successful as we have been with it.”