The public art program has gained many fans since its inception in 2000, which was followed by Horse Fever in Motion in 2005 and Horse Fever II in 2011. The initial Horse Fever was the seed for the formation of the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA), which has since awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to local artists and organizations. In the prior “herds,” all of the horses were sponsored by private donors and businesses. It was the first time the public could buy a ticket for a chance to win one of the colorful steeds, all of which were painted in different themes by local artists.
The Horse Fever 20/20 herd included 15 horses, many of which have now found permanent homes around the area. The three Giving Collection horses — “Home Sweet Home,” by Carlynne Hershberger; “Sunny Daze,” by Ronda Richley; and “Critters,” by Bonnie Eads — were dedicated to the memory of Richard “Dick” Hancock, the longtime executive director of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. Hancock was one of the earliest supporters of the Horse Fever endeavors. He died on Jan. 20 in Ocala. His widow, Cathy Hancock, drew the winning tickets.
Laurie Zink and Jo Layman chaired Horse Fever 20/20. After Hancock drew the first ticket for “Critters,” she announced the name: Katherine Guida. When no one stepped forward, Zink called the phone number on the ticket and put her cellphone on speaker mode. When Guida answered, Zink asked, “Do you have any idea why I’m calling you?”
“I hope to tell me I won,” Guida said excitedly, which is when a huge roar went up from the crowd.
Zink then asked her, “What are you going to do with our horse?”
“It will be placed at Ocala Downs,” Guida said, which drew an even louder response from the crowd.
When the ticket for “Home Sweet Home” was drawn, there was an audible gasp from Rick Rowan, who was in attendance with his wife, Jeannie. The crowd again roared. The Rowans said their horse go on display in public at The Ocala Preserve, the adult living community they call home.
And then, when Hancock drew Irene McCracken’s ticket for “Sunny Daze,” there was not only another huge round of applause but also a flood of tears from McCracken, a lifetime member of the MCA.
Zink quickly reminded the audience that McCracken had purchased “World Champ” from the 2011 herd and donated the statue to the City of Ocala. It is on display in the downtown square. McCracken said she did not know yet where “Sunny Daze” would be placed.
Jeannie Rowan said they purchased their raffle ticket when the Giving Collection made one of its many “tour” stops at locations around the county, including The Salted Brick restaurant in their subdivision.
“We just fell in love with ‘Home Sweet Home,’ with the birds and horses and birds’ nests,” she said. “We’ll loan it to our community — it’s a huge community — to put on display.”
McCracken said she bought her ticket just last week, in the final days of the campaign.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I’ve never won anything in my life.”
“Tonight was absolutely magical,” said Jaye Baillie, executive director of the MCA. “It’s a great culmination of months and months of work, and to see the reactions of the individuals who won the drawings was priceless.”
Zink, who has been in a leadership role with all of the Horse Fever projects, said she was particularly pleased that the Giving Collection horses would remain in the community.
“And I’m so excited for the arts and the fact they are going to continue to grow and flourish and that these horses have been a part of it for so long,” she added. “It’s going to end a very long era.”
When asked if the Horse Fever endeavor was truly over and there would not be a new herd in 10 years, she paused for a second and then grinned and said, “One never knows.”
The Brick City Center for the Arts, at 23 SW Broadway St., is the home of the MCA. Friday night’s event also served as the opening reception for the alliance’s new members’ exhibit, “Art in Bloom.” For details about the exhibit visit mcaocala.org.