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OCALA, Fla. – Central Florida is bracing for some of the coldest temperatures of the season.
The World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Ocala is taking precautionary measures to ensure their two and four-legged guests stay comfortable.
Some pampered ‘ponies’ are sporting blankets in the climate-controlled barns to keep them warm. Bethany Britton, barn manager for Barrett Farm of Florida, said she and her team feed their horses a special diet when the temperatures begin to dip.
“We feed them bran-mash; that helps their bellies set in, so when the cold weather does come, they’re not too frisky for us,” Britton said.
Britton will be riding Gabriel as she competes this weekend in the hunter competition.”He got a fresh haircut, so he is quite naked,” said Britton with a laugh.
Fortunately for newly ‘naked’ Gabriel, they’ll be competing indoors. Some of his barn mates are not as lucky – which means extra work for riders and barn managers.
“When you’re [competing] outside, you’ve got to double down a couple extra hours per horse of work,” Britton said. “Probably lunging an hour, prepping an hour, doing a calming pace and all sorts of things to get them mentally prepared as well as physically.”
Throughout the week, 1,700 horses are expected to be at the WEC in Marion County, participating in this competition portion of the series, said TJ Campbell, WEC general manager.
“We’re running a dual competition this week… hunter/jumpers and dressage alongside it,” Campbell said.
This current series kicked off in January and continues through March. With Florida’s coldest temps of the season, they’re opting to make some schedule changes, said Campbell.
“We’ve pushed the start time back a bit to 9 o’clock just to give the temperature a bit to start to come up a little bit,” Campbell said.
It also allows crews to uncover plants and bring the potted ones back outside to the arenas for competition time.
“As we get through the next several days of cold weather, each night we’ll do the same thing – carry everything in, so the staff also has plenty of work ahead of them,” Campbell said.
No time for horsing around with coveted championship titles on the line.
“Just bundle them up and hope for the best,” Britton said.
According to Campbell, WEC is the largest equestrian center in the United States. In addition to the 1,700 horses estimated to be on the grounds this week, they’re also expecting approximately 25,000 attendees.