This is the nation’s original cowboy country. In 1521, the Spanish brought horses and Andalusian cattle to the state, and by the 1890s, Florida “crackers” (named for the cracking sound made by their whips) were running large cattle herds. Today, Florida is a top cattle producer. Many ranchers enjoy sharing their heritage, and horses, with visitors.
Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides, Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway Land Bridge Trail, Ocala
Horseback ride across I-75 on the nation’s first land bridge, a landscaped overpass built in 2000 to link the east and west sections of the Cross Florida Greenway. The 110-mile greenway connects the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River, and the section running through Ocala’s horse-farm country is the “nicest ride in the state,” says Jamie Zito, co-owner with wife Debbie of Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides, the designated greenway horseback-riding provider. “The trails wind along ridges and through the live oak hammock,” says Jamie, who offers custom, appointment-only rides for both beginner and veteran cowboys. “This is a special place. It’s where we ride on our days off.”
Arnett's Gulfside Trail Rides, Santa Rosa Beach
The Arnett’s ranch includes a 16-site campground so you can stay overnight (with or without your own horse) and ride all day through the adjacent 13,800-acre Point Washington State Forest. “The forest changes with the seasons and is home to many animals,” says owner Karen Arnett. “Don't worry, though. The bears, coyotes, and bobcats keep their distance from the trail rides.”
American Horse Trails, Southwest Ranches
Bucolic Southwest Ranches is a tropical slice of cowboy country located only 15 minutes southwest of bustling Fort Lauderdale. The family-owned American Horse Trails Arabian horse ranch is a private home, adding to the small-town charm. All levels are welcome, but the slow pace of rural ranch life is particularly well suited to beginners who want to learn how to ride, walk, trot, and canter.
Fun Fact: Marion County, one of only four major thoroughbred centers in the world, is home to some 600 thoroughbred farms and has produced 45 national champions, 6 Kentucky Derby winners, and 20 Breeders’ Cup champions.
Best Bet: Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. the Westgate River Ranch Resort in River Ranch hosts a professional rodeo, including bull-and-trick riding, barrel racing, and post-rodeo line dancing in the saloon.