For the past 20 years, statistics have supported Ocala/Marion County being known as an equine epicenter.
Ocala/Marion County’s claim to fame as the “Horse Capital of the World” is all about numbers. Big numbers.
The boast began when a 1999 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census reported that Marion County had some 35,000 equines, more than any other county in the United States. The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association seized the opportunity and began the process to trademark “Ocala/Marion County: Horse Capital of the World.” The designation became an instant hit, and the FTBOA continues to maintain the trademark.
The 2012 USDA Census had Marion County with 37,880 equines, still the most in the country by counties. The 2017 USDA Census will not be released until February 2019. But the 2018 American Horse Council Economic Impact of Horse Ownership in Marion County Study shows that the equine industry has continued to grow and prosper significantly. It should be noted that this particular AHC study was based on a survey of horse owners in equine associations; numbers do not include non-association horse owners. The AHC study was commissioned with major support from the FTBOA.
According to the AHC study, there are 80,260 horses in the Ocala/Marion County area. In the county, an eye-opening 195,000 acres are devoted to the equine industry. The horse industry accounts for 21,691 direct and indirect employment positions in the county. The AHC study pegs the overall economic impact of the horse industry in Marion County as $2.3 billion.
“We’ve known for a long time that the equine industry made a significant impact on Marion County’s character and economy,” says Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership. “After the 2015 CEP study, which showed a $2.6 billion economic impact, we created a director of equine engagement position. We feel like we’ve really turned a corner in connecting our broader community with the equine industry.”
For Sheilly, the latest AHC study is simply more verification.
“These studies, whether it’s the CEP or the AHC, show that the equine industry in Marion County is more than just a few horses in a pasture,” says Sheilley. “It makes up 18 percent of our economy. And in addition to the equine business aspect, there is a large leisure and tourism component. Going forward, we at the CEP will continue to emphasize the importance of the equine industry to Ocala and Marion County.”
When it comes to the sector of the equine industry that has the largest impact in the county, the thoroughbred industry wins handily. This is not surprising considering the thoroughbred industry has been part of Ocala/Marion County since 1936. That was the year that Carl Rose established his Rosemere Farm, the first thoroughbred operation in Marion County. In the ensuing eight decades, the thoroughbred industry has continued to flourish, producing 52 Florida-bred national champions to date.
The AHC study reported 37,290 thoroughbreds in the county with the industry accounting for a direct and indirect employment of 11,134. The thoroughbred industry contributes a $1.3 billion annual economic impact to the county.
“Thoroughbreds stand out in the county’s equine landscape being the largest population. The industry is a creator of extensive jobs, accounting for 51 percent of the equine jobs in Marion County,” says Lonny Powell, CEO of the FTBOA and current vice chair of the Florida Horse Park. “The thoroughbred industry has a substantial sweeping economic impact, accounting for 56 percent of the equine industry’s overall economic impact to the county.”
Powell is also quick to acknowledge the overall equine industry’s impact on Ocala/Marion County’s character.
“Marion County is the epicenter of the acclaimed thoroughbred industry statewide, but it doesn’t stop there. The “Horse Capital of the World” brand is recognized nationwide and globally,” says Powell. “Ocala is the launch pad for champions of all breeds and disciplines. Here we have all the equine sectors, including racing, competition, recreation, veterinary and therapy programs, sales, retirement facilities and sanctuaries. Horses are literally a part of the fabric of our community, contribute to the quality of our lives and make Ocala/Marion County a truly unique place in the world.”
Florida Equine Industry By The Numbers
- $6.8 Billion: Florida
- $2.3 Billion: Marion County
- $1.3 Billion: Marion County thoroughbred industry
- 113,079: Florida
- 21,691: Marion County
- 11,134: Marion County thoroughbred industry
Acres Devoted To Equine Industry
- 717,000: Florida
- 195,000: Marion County
- 387,078: Florida
- 80,260: Marion County
- 37,290: Thoroughbreds in Marion County
Sources: 2017 American Horse Council Economic Impact Study, 2018 AHC Economic Impact of Horse Ownership in Marion County Study