Looking for a horse to ride? Check out Cactus Jacks in Ocala, Florida and hit the trail!
Some of the most frequent questions we hear at HRL are “Where can I rent a horse?” or “Is there a trail riding stable close to where I live?” The answer is a resounding: yes!
While Florida is known for its sun, beaches, Mickey Mouse, and general tourism, it is also horse country. Horse country means many different things: The Thoroughbred racing industry, Olympic trials, Polo, Mounted Shooters…the list goes on. But for most of us, trail riding is an essential part of the horse life scene.
Even if you don’t own a horse, you can still participate in horse life. Marion County has a system of trails and trailheads, unique in that they cater to horseback riding.
The Landbridge Trailhead, part of the Marjorie Harris Carr, Cross Florida Greenway system of trails, is an excellent place to begin your riding experience. A well-maintained environment with bathroom facilities and plenty of parking adds to the overall riding experience. As its name indicates, the Landbridge Trailhead features a bridge created to cross Interstate 75, whether on foot, bicycle, or horseback.
The trailhead is also home to paths designated for hikers and bicyclists. While the trails for equestrians, cyclists, and walkers are separate, they intersect at different points.
The Landbridge Trailhead is also home to Cactus Jacks, a trail riding rental stable where people can reserve a horse in advance for an hour and up to two hours ride time. Well known in the area, I decided to give Cactus Jacks a try and reserved an hour and a half ride.
On this particular day, a scheduled morning group ride included two sets of father and daughters, myself and the guide. I was the last to arrive, and assigned to me was an aged gelding named Chochi, a chunky quarter ex-polo horse who most likely prefers his current role to the one in his past.
Horses are saddled in advance and are brought out one by one by the guide to a deck or loading dock for riders to mount easily.
Horses this day ranged from a tall solid black Percheron to my quarter horse mount, Chochi.
Rocky, our guide for the ride, is a young man who impressed me with his love and knowledge of his equine charges. He spoke of them as individuals with a history rather than tools of the trade. There is a misconception that everyone who owns or works with horses loves them or has their best interest at heart. But in this case, Rocky was in tune with his charges and took his responsibility seriously. And from the looks of the horses, management is very much in tune with the wants and needs of their herd.
According to their website, all proceeds go to the care and management of their horses. With approximately fifty head of horses in their possession, the cost must be monumental. Also included on their website is information regarding the rescue of horses. They advise if you know of a circumstance where a horse is in need, to please contact them.
The ride itself was a calm, subdued ride, and while warm, thankfully, the insects seemed to be almost nonexistent. And while our guide advised us not to let the horses get away with snatching the foliage, Chochi enjoyed a mouthful of Spanish Needles on at least one occasion.
It’s worth noting that trail riding rules vary with each rental stable. Some only allow walking single file, others give free “rein” to gaits (pun intended). Weight limits and helmet rules vary as well; it is necessary to implement guidelines for the safety of all riders.
Due to the mix of abilities and ages, Cactus Jacks is of a single file walk only ride, unless you reserve a private ride. The age range on this particular ride was between eight and 65. A novice eight-year-old is not going to have the same ability as a thirty-year-old who has ridden before. And this is indeed a family affair stable; one gentleman and his daughter drove nearly two hours to attend the event!
All in all, it was a nice ride. Even though we only walked, I felt it the next day, since it had been a year since my last ride.
Which brings up another point. If you haven’t ridden in a long time, this is an excellent way to start again. Seasoned horses in a controlled environment are preferable to horses who may or may not have been ridden consistently.
Cactus Jack’s horses are well maintained, and even though the pandemic has affected their bottom line (as it has many businesses), things are resuming at a normal pace. And because it is a natural way to social distance and still have fun, I hope for them to see a significant increase in guests with the cooler Florida weather.
So if you are looking for a horse fix, and want to spend some time in the great outdoors, check out their website for reservation dates and times as well as pricing. They also have a second stable at a different location, Rock Springs (Apopka, FL), offering another scenic ride.
Tell them HRL sent you!