Florida Vacation – Part One

As promised I’m ready to write about my extraordinary trip to the sunny state of Florida and specifically the city of Ocala. It was a vacation that had been on the calendar since last Summer. A little Winter get away for two friends and myself. I’ll do my best to give full details of the trip while still keeping this post from turning into a novel.

The first stop of our trip was our AirBnB. A cozy little apartment built into the barn of a horse farm. During the planning of this trip as we were searching for accommodation ideas we knew this was the place for us as soon as we came across it. Our hosts were warm and welcoming and being horse people themselves we all had much in common.

We were in Florida for four full days and had roughly two adventures planned per day. The morning of our first day we headed to Two Tails Ranch to view and learn about the elephants and the other animals that lived there. The owner, Patricia Zerbini is 9th generation circus family and at the time that elephants were allowed in the circus she was a trainer, supplier and performer in the shows. Now, sadly, elephants find themselves without jobs and their populations both in the wild and domestically are suffering. Without the breeding support which has become entirely illegal of captive elephants it is predicted that the species will be extinct in the next 10 years. They were beautiful and I learned a lot, but the visit was a bit of a downer to begin our trip.

After the elephant sanctuary we hiked around Payne’s Prairie. We were really hoping to see some of the wild horses or bison that lived there, even an alligator would do. The prairie, however, was extremely flooded and the trail had only recently been opened back up to hikers. Even though freshly opened, you still could only get out about a mile and a half before water took the trail over and you were forced to turn back. We saw plenty of evidence that the horses and bison had frequented the areas we walked in, but sadly other than scat no animals made an appearance.

On our way out of the park we were treated to a pretty special sight. High over head we could see a Bald Eagle’s nest, we heard the screeching and soon after saw one of the parents take flight. We stood quietly in the woods and could hear the babies calling for their meal to be brought home to them. Before long they were quieted as the eagle came back with something (we could not make out what) held between its talons. The nest was too high and to full to see the birds while they were in it, but I was grateful to see the parent take flight. I had never seen a Bald Eagle in the wild before and it was something majestic to behold.

The next morning our first stop was a van tour of the Ocala Horse Farms. We were treated to a stop at a race track training facility, a breeding operation (complete with days old foals), an Arabian farm and a drive through HITS. We laughed as we listened to our tour guide, who happened to be an exercise rider for the racing Thoroughbreds, repeated that she felt the only friendly horse people were those in the racing industry. I have to believe this conclusion comes from a lack of exposure to people in other disciplines.

As I am writing this post, recapping all of the great memories we had, I’m realizing I still have much to say and already the post is a bit long. So I will take a break as I prepare to write about the next adventure of our trip. Stay Tuned!

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