MARION COUNTY, Fla. – The horse breeding and training industry in Marion County has taken a hit from the coronavirus.
Workers in the industry in Ocala said they haven’t been able to move or auction their horses for about two months.
Marion County’s been dubbed the’ horse capital of the world', generating about $2.5 billion dollars a year.
"All of our sales take place in the springtime. The pandemic hit a week before our first 2-year-old sale of the season," said Ocala Stud Farm Manager David O'Farrell.
“It would be devastating. Our horsemean, they rely on selling their product and a lot of our sales have been pushed back to later this year,” said O’Farrell.an major losses.
“It would be devastating. Our horsemen they rely on selling their product and a lot of our sales have been pushed back to later this year,” said O’Farrell.
Some of the largest auctions happen at Ocala Breeder Sales Company. Many of the horses from the area turn champions and their pictures end up on the wall. Due to the virus, April's auction was postponed.
"Certainly these horses are just like athletes in training. When you keep postponing or delaying, it's not good. When they make their appearance on a track, they're trying to perform their best on that day," said Tod Wojciechowsji.
Wojciechowsji is the director of sales at OBS and says they've been lucky that horse racing was still going on during the virus, but with no spectators. He feels confident the auction planned for June will be successful.
Agritourism is also taking a hit in Ocala. The owner of Gyspy Gold Horse Farm said he relies on group tours to make ends meet, showing off their unique Gypsy Vanner Horses.
“With coronavirus, that stopped completely. We were giving tours to 800 people a month - which is a lot for a small farm. We’ve had no assistance and I haven’t lost any employees, but I’m getting to a point where something has to happen quickly,” said owner Dennis Thompson.
With the state opening back up, and racetracks continuing to host events, those horsemen said they are gaining confidence that the horse industry will regain its strength.
Ocala Breeder Sales will be holding an auction in June and said things will be different. They’ve added an online component to cut down on crowds inside their auction room.