Commentary: Horse Farms Forever supports the WEC Jockey Club proposal to preserve the farm as a world-class equestrian event facility

Home » Opinion
Posted February 25, 2022 | By Busy Shires, Director of Conservation Strategies, Horse Farms Forever

Ocala Jockey Club [Photo supplied by prior owners]

Editor’s note: At the request of Horse Farms Forever, the date HFF reached an agreement with GOEL was corrected to read September 2021.

The Ocala Jockey Club has a rich history of hosting top equestrian events. The clubhouse facility, which sits on top of one of the highest hills in Florida, offers one of the most iconic views of Marion County’s rolling hills and magnificent sunsets.

The property has the perfect terrain for a challenging cross-country course. The Nygaard family owned the farm for 16 years and they developed the cross-country course into an international CCI4*L 3-Day Event. It was also the only facility in the southeastern United States to host a qualifying event in eventing for the 2020 Olympic summer games.

The proposal by the Golden Ocala Equestrian Land (GOEL) organization to preserve and expand the iconic property into a world-class equestrian facility for polo, 3-Day eventing, driving, rodeo, and other equine activities is the best way to protect the land from incompatible development and to further uplift the horse sport industry in Marion County.

The property was purchased by GOEL in 2021 for $10.5 million and with a price tag like that, the 1,028 acre property could have easily been developed into 100 exclusive 10-acre estate sized lots, but at the expense of losing the equestrian event facility, race track, and cross-country course.

While the Ocala Jockey Club is located within the Farmland Preservation Area, and is subject to 10-acre lot minimum, GOEL has proposed clustering approximately 94 three-acre to eight-acre home sites on 300 acres (74 if the existing town homes are included as part of the density.) By clustering the home sites, over 60% of the remaining acreage is reserved for equestrian activities.

There are plans to add commercial and retail space to serve the equestrian events, including a fueling station, and the addition of the 100-lot RV park and 200-room hotel will help alleviate traffic on CR 318. The onsite accommodations will also allow people to be near their horses during events.

In addition, Horse Farms Forever reached an agreement with GOEL in September 2021 to support their plans for the Ocala Jockey Club in exchange for preserving the scenic view shed of two farms on US 27. GOEL replaced the B-2 zoning (commercial uses) on the 256-acre Crupi parcel (the farm with the castle entrance) and the farm directly across on US 27, the 247-acre Plumley parcel, with A-1 zoning and to develop these properties into farms of 10-acres or larger.

While Horse Farms Forever strongly favors maintaining 10-acre or larger parcels within the Farmland Preservation Area, the GOEL agreement to replace the Business zoning with Agricultural zoning on the high-profile Crupi and Plumley parcels in return for HFF’s support of clustering the Jockey Club farm sites into 3-acre or larger tracts and thus allow a much larger common area for equine activities was smart planning.

For event riders, losing the cross-country course to 10-acre lots would mean one more eventing facility was lost to development. The venue hosted one of only six CCI4*-L events in North America, but with GOEL’s proposal, the Ocala Jockey Club can once again host world-class 3-Day Events and other equestrian activities.

Pavla Nygaard was quoted in a 2019 Eventing Nation article about looking for partnerships to help take the Ocala Jockey Club to the next level. “In order to do so, the Event and the property deserves to look to upgrades and a larger team than we are able to commit on our own for the long term. This is why we believe that the property and the Event will have an opportunity to be stronger with either strategic partners or with a new buyer who will be able to take the property further and faster than we are able to do on our own.”

Nygaard also added: “Erik and I wish the best for the property, as it is a historic farm that we are proud to be associated with. Whether we find strategic partners or a new owner, we want this property to retain its rustic and natural character, as it is what makes it so special and beautiful.”

Lynn Symansky, a 2019 Pan Am Games Individual Silver and Team Gold Medalist in eventing was quoted on the previous Ocala Jockey Club website:

“The OJC is a real destination event with a true international feel. It’s a world-class facility with spectacular viewing and entertainment for spectators and owners. It’s an event I look forward to bringing my horses to every year…great atmosphere and courses on beautiful rolling terrain. The OJC does a fantastic job putting on a top class event.”