From Thoroughbreds to Quarter Horses to Arabians, the Sunshine State is home to nearly every horse breed. And for close to five centuries, those breeds – and all equine activities – have been a key contributor to its economy.
“Today, Florida’s 13,755 horse farms are home to nearly 122,000 horses, a fact that attracts businesses from across the globe,” says Deb May, bureau chief of development and information at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
She adds that, in terms of the economy, Florida’s Thoroughbred racing industry, a major aspect of the equine sector, supports more than 12,000 jobs and creates $400 million in wages and benefits throughout the state.
Florida’s year-round mild climate is part of the attraction for horse breeders, but more than just racing, the industry encompasses tourism as well. Of Florida’s 171 state parks, 44 of them feature equine trails with camping facilities to accommodate horses and humans. The state also hosts equestrian competitions throughout the year, such as horse shows, polo matches, rodeos and more.
Many of these events are held in Ocala, the “Horse Capital of the World,” at the Florida Horse Park, which was established in 1996.
“It’s expected that, in the future, the park will continue to add events for all breeds and categories,” May says.
And while Florida’s equine industry is vital to the state, it plays a significant role for other countries as well. Asian countries including Japan and South Korea, along with Central and South American countries are the recipients of Florida’s equine exports.
“The department works together with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association to promote sales of Thoroughbreds internationally,” May says. Since 2000, their efforts have resulted in more than $25 million in sales to South Korea, and to date in 2014, more than $10 million in sales to Japan have taken place over the past three years. May adds that many Thoroughbreds are also exported to the Caribbean nations.
“Florida horses are often more tolerant of the heat and humidity in these countries,” she says.
As for the future of Florida’s horses, May predicts, “From the multimillion-dollar training facilities to the backyard enthusiast, equine activities will increase as the economy grows.”