Proactive Planning to Save Farmland

Proactive Planning to Save Farmland

Elma Garcia Cannavino

In Ocala, A Win-Win Is Possible

It’s a familiar and sad chain of events when farmland is lost- growth leads to unplanned development which leads to sprawl. Without intention, open spaces and beautiful places shrink away and the character of a community is changed beyond recognition. Matt Varney comes from a family of real estate developers, and he’s passionate about farmland preservation. Together with Rob and Chris Desino, they operate Ocala Horse Properties – representing the largest portfolio of horse properties in the world. Ocala Horse Properties has been a steadfast ally in forwarding our mission, right from the beginning. Varney and the Desinos are all Founding Members, and Ocala Horse Properties is a Corporate Founder and Gold Sponsor of this year’s Conservation Summit.

We had a conversation about conservation with Matt Varney.

Why is it important to have a Conservation Summit?

“We look into the faces of buyers who come to this area for the first time,” says Varney. They are in awe of the natural beauty and open space. This is one of the few places in the country where I can literally sell a farm that is worth more as a horse farm than as anything else. This area is unique. I want to know that when I’m long gone, there will still be beautiful open space, horse farms, and a community of likeminded people. Horse Farms Forever is looking out for that future.”

Why is now an important time for conversations about conservation?

“Most communities find out too late that shortsighted development has taken over. They then have to react,” warns Varney. “That is not the case here. When we had the Coastal Connector proposal three years ago, Horse Farms Forever formed and reacted very quickly to stop it. In 4 to 5 months, we organized a grassroots effort that can often take years. Now, we are in a position to be proactive, protecting the land before it is threatened.” Varney contends that Marion County is in a position of opportunity right now, and is poised for smart growth.

“Marion County can responsibly grow in a lot of different directions,” he says. “I’m from a family of developers and have seen the effects of shortsighted development. We are unbelievably fortunate to have the Farmland Preservation Area and Urban Growth Area here, and leadership that values them equally.”

Why are you looking forward to the Summit?

“We brought John Malone to Ocala. He was a customer of ours,” notes Varney. “He is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. His passion for land and knowledge for conservation is at a completely different level – something we should all strive for. He is a role model.” It is clear that Varney shares our excitement at the opportunity to learn from an icon, but he also recognizes the pure fact that when people who care get together, good things happen.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a large group of leaders and neighbors gathered together to learn and connect around the subject of farmland preservation,” concludes Varney.

So are we! Thank you, Ocala Horse Properties, for helping to make the Summit possible. See you at Ocala Breeder’s Sales on November 23!

Meet Some of our Gold Sponsors


Ocala Horse Properties

Selling horse farms is our one and only business — not a hobby or a part-time job. With the OHP Team, you hire the entire company of three agents, not just one agent! We are united with one mission & only one mission: to sell your property!

We have been the number 1 Ocala Farm Sales realtors for the past 13 years and counting. And, as leaders who set the pace for how to do business and serve our clients, it’s no surprise that others locally and across the nation seek to emulate us.

Lugano Diamonds

Located in The Equestrian Hotel at The World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida. This world-class facility is the largest equestrian complex in the United States and we are very proud to be a founding partner. Our newest salon can be found in the lobby of the hotel overlooking the VIP Terrace and Grand Prix arena.

JP Morgan Chase

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are integrated into the policies and principles that govern our business and reflect our commitment to sustainable growth.

Our approach to ESG management includes having robust governance systems, risk management and controls; striving to serve our customers exceptionally and transparently; investing in our employees and cultivating a diverse and inclusive work environment; working to strengthen the communities in which we live and work; and advancing sustainable solutions for our clients and within our operations.

Tri-Eagle Sales

Tri-Eagle Sales has been the leading beverage wholesaler in the North and North Central Florida area since 1996. Our 210 knowledgeable beverage professionals service over 2,000 retail customers in our 14-county territory from our two facilities in Tallahassee and Ocala. 

Niall Brennan Stables

Success is no accident was chosen as Niall Brennan’s motto because it embodies his philosophy of life. Sometimes people are lucky in the horse business but success generally comes from hard work, attention to detail, integrity, leaving nothing to chance, and striving to fine tune the quality services of our program. NBS is the leader or amongst the leaders in EVERY Category from Winner to Grade One Stakes Winner at the Two Year Old Sales from 2015 -2019.  


Naturally Healthy Ocala

Naturally Healthy Ocala

The great explorer and forest conservation advocate, John Muir, said

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Like Muir, we recognize the instinctive connection between beautiful landscapes and healthy healing.

We are honored to have AdventHealth Ocala as a Charter Member and Gold Sponsor of our Conservation Summit – happening in just a week on November 23. AdventHealth Marketing Manager, Natalie McComb, echoes the sentiments of John Muir as she explains why it is so important for Marion County to have conversations about conservation:

“As healthcare providers, we know that experiencing nature can be a powerful tool in the healing process. Our environment can also greatly impact our health and quality of life. AdventHealth Ocala is excited to support this year’s Horse Farms Forever Conservation Summit.”

Meet Some of our Gold Sponsors


AdventHealth Ocala


At AdventHealth Ocala, uncommon compassion meets unparalleled expertise to help you feel whole in more ways than one. Discover how we put innovation, expertise and research to work for your whole health.

HDG Hotels

With a reputation for success without compromise to integrity, HDG Hotels is looked to as an experienced voice in the hospitality industry for those looking to build, own, and operate hotels. As both a respected developer and preferred management company, HDG’s team employs its core values of teamwork, communication, innovation, leadership and resourcefulness consistently. HDG has an established reputation for living out its vision to “positively impact” and mission of “being brilliant in the basics of hospitality”, all while offering stakeholders exceptional industry experience and results.

de Meric Thoroughbred Stables

For nearly 40 years the de Merics have revolutionized the thoroughbred industry in Ocala/Marion County. 
For the de Merics, de Meric Thoroughbred Sales is a family affair. Their son Tristan and his wife Valerie are successful consigners and live here in Ocala with their children. Ali, their daughter, and her husband Brandon Rice, who also live locally, operate a successful training and breaking business.
Nick and Jaqui de Meric are very present in and committed to the equine community here in Ocala/Marion County and know the importance of preserving the character and culture that horses, horse farms, and the horse industry make unique to our area.

Golden Ocala & World Equestrian Center

Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club offers its own unique equestrian amenities and is adjacent to the future World Equestrian Center Ocala. The facility, modeled after the World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Wilmington, Ohio, features:

  • Four climate-controlled indoor arenas
  • Multiple Outdoor Riding Rings
  • Stable Facility for over 2,000 Horses

The World Equestrian Center calendar is your best resource for equestrian events. Experience the quality, class, and distinction of the World Equestrian Center!

The Service Companies

As a leading service provider to the hospitality, gaming, commercial, education, and entertainment industries, we have proven success in creating a healthier and safer environment, streamlining recruiting processes, providing staffing solutions, and eliminating the hassle of managing hard-to-staff shifts for our clients.


Ensuring Marion County’s Tomorrow

Ensuring Marion County’s Tomorrow

A Conversation about Conservation with Todd Rudnianyn of Neighborhood Storage

The Rudnianyns are landowners, philanthropists, and real estate developers here in Marion County. Todd Rudnianyn recently aligned his business, Neighborhood Storage, with Horse Farms Forever as a Charter Member and Gold Sponsor of our Conservation Summit, coming right up on November 23.

Rudnianyn is a Marion county native. He is fluent in English, Korean, and Spanish. We thank Neighborhood Storage for their support of our mission, and Todd Rudnianyn for being so kind to engage with us in a conversation about conservation:

Why is it important for Marion County to have conversations about conservation?

“Conservation is key to ensuring that there is a tomorrow for our community,” says Rudnianyn. “Marion County is growing – and that’s a good thing! – but having thoughtful, strategic, honest conversations about conservation will help us grow smarter, and without losing sight of one of the things that makes folks want to live here in the first place – our beautiful outdoors!”

What do we stand to gain through farmland preservation?

“Farmland preservation means more than just supporting local agriculture, maintaining our county’s rural beauty, and limiting urban sprawl; it also means protecting the very thing that makes us who we are! Our local farmland – fed by our famous aquifer, and among the most scenic in the country – has helped put Ocala and Marion County on the map, and future generations deserve to enjoy this incredible natural resource too,” he concludes.

What do we stand to lose if we don’t raise the subject now?

“If we don’t find the time to address the topic of conservation now, then a time will come – sooner than we think – when there will be no more time left,” warns Rudnianyn. “Marion County is growing now, people are moving here now, and so the time to start talking solutions is now. Too late is a terrible time to try to get it right.”

How would you describe Marion County’s unique identity?

“From natural springs and pristine forests, from sprawling farmland to vibrant downtown squares, from the largest equestrian complex in the United States to boutique restaurants, wineries, and arts venues, Marion County offers all of the amenities of a big city against a backdrop of natural splendor,” he accurately describes. “We have a lot to be proud of here, and a lot to protect.”

Meet Some of our Gold Sponsors


Neighborhood Storage

If you are looking for a storage unit in Ocala, Belleview, or anywhere else in Marion County, you’ve come to the right place!

We promise to provide each of our customers with quality storage space & friendly, caring storage consultants. Our goal is to provide you with helpful tips, maps, directions and contact information to each of our 25 storage facilities in the Ocala, Florida area. We strive to make your stay at Neighborhood Storage Center the most comfortable and convenient experience possible!

Cone Distributing

Cone Distributing is a beverage distributor presently operating in 22 counties in north central Florida, with offices in Ocala and Tallahassee.

Douglas P. Cone, Jr. founded the company in 1985 when he was only 31 years old. Mr. Cone and his team built the company on healthy and mutually profitable relationships by providing the right product, at the right time, in the right place.

Initially, the company’s territory was limited to only four rural counties and carried brands from just a few suppliers. Since the inception of the company, ownership and management have been very strategic and innovative in their approach to better serving the state of Florida.

Team Cone is committed to seeking the highest standards at every level, and our leadership team continuously looks for strategic growth opportunities in geographic territory and suppliers.

Great American Insurance Group

For nearly 150 years, Americans have trusted Great American to protect them. Their innovative insurance solutions and specialization serves niche marketplaces that they know well. This expertise gives them a successful foundation that spans generations.

Whether your client owns one pleasure horse or has a barn full of Kentucky Derby contenders, horses are an ongoing investment that deserve expert insurance coverage. With the wide variety of horse breeds and uses, it’s important to choose a carrier that understands the unique risks of every equine situation.


For over 40 years Pyranha, Inc has been innovating and providing pest control solutions for the residential and livestock industry. Pyranha not only offers ready-to-use and concentrated insecticide products as well as their misting systems, but they also offer a line of odor-management products ideal for homes, kennels, livestock areas and more.

The Equine Chronicle

The Equine Chronicle is sent out free of charge to every AQHA, APHA, ApHC, NSBA and NRHA judge. The Equine chronicle is also distributed FREE of charge at most AQHA, APHA and ApHC horse shows nationwide by over 150 distributors. And with a circulation of over 60,000 copies reaching that count, it’s no wonder The Equine Chronicle is…THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK!


Ocala Breeder’s Sales Hosts Conservation Summit In Its Newly-Renovated Facility

Ocala Breeder’s Sales Hosts Conservation Summit In Its Newly-Renovated Facility

Ocala Breeder’s Sales President, Tom Ventura, describes the extensive renovations to their facility that took place over the past couple of years. Imagine our excitement when they so kindly offered us this amazing facility for this year’s Conservation Summit! We are so grateful for OBS’ support as a Founding Corporate Member and Gold Sponsor. 

The venue for this year’s Conservation Summit on November 23 is a Marion County icon. Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company (OBS) was started in 1974 by a group of local race horse owners and breeders who wanted to have a local outlet for the excellent horses they were raising on the area’s limestone-enriched pastures. Now, OBS has 28 barns with 1200 stalls and 2 race tracks. It had a whopping $1 billion in sales volume in this past decade – over $110 million per year. Their 2-Year-Olds In Training Sales represent over 70% of the sales in that category nationwide and 50% of the sales internationally.

We had a conversation about conservation with OBS President, Tom Ventura, and he was quick to make the connection between farmland conservation and quality of life for future generations.

“When I first came to Ocala, it was very horse-oriented,” says Ventura. “We didn’t even have the Paddock Mall. While I grew up in the suburbs of New York, my sons have had the privilege to grow up on an 800-acre horse farm. Just that in itself is tremendous. Our shareholders are deeply-rooted, multi-generational families in the horse business. Their past, present and futures are centered around the horses and horse farms.”

Although Ventura recognizes the distinct culture present here in Marion County, he also acknowledges that it is not guaranteed to endure. What is valuable is worth protecting.

“Horse Farms Forever’s purpose is to protect the culture that we have here. It’s just logical for OBS to be a part of it,” notes Ventura. “For many who come here to the Sales, this is their first exposure to Florida.”

And like most prominent members of the equine business community in Ocala/Marion County, Ventura is supportive of  growth that acknowledges and preserves our global brand as the Horse Capital of the World®.

“It’s nice to have industry here in Ocala,” he says. “and it’s important that we grow, and have some retirement communities. All those things are good, but really what put Ocala/Marion County on the map is the horses, and I think it needs to stay that way.”

Join us at the Summit on November 23, and the gracious hospitality of our member and supporter, Ocala Breeder’s Sales. Their site features a spacious, modern hall with comfortable seating and a live stream broadcast provided by Dillon Media Group. We will all enjoy an excellent lunch provided by their on-site caterer, the Fresh Green Tomato Catering Company. You can register at the link below.

Marion County’s Farmland Is It’s “Factory Floor”

Marion County’s Farmland Is It’s “Factory Floor”

The American Farmland Trust (AFT) has been an inspiration and source of knowledge for us here at Horse Farms Forever (HFF) since our inception 3 years ago. At last year’s Summit, AFT’s Billy Van Pelt was treated to a helicopter ride over the top of Marion County by HFF President, Bernie Little. This is what he had to say about the significance of Ocala/Marion County’s Farmland after seeing it from the air.

Precious and Productive Farmland

Last year, Billy Van Pelt of the American Farmland Trust presented a comprehensive report on the state of agriculture in Florida, highlighting what is precious about Marion County’s soil, water, and rural landscape. This year, the American Farmland Trust has joined us as a Gold Sponsor of Conversations About Conservation. -Summit 2021. Van Pelt will once again be with us at the Summit on November 23. We are grateful for the perspective and knowledge he brings to our conservation efforts.

As a native of Kentucky’s bluegrass region, he has overseen a successful, ongoing effort to conserve horse farms and has a good idea of what it will take to get it done here in Marion County. We had a brief conversation about conservation with Van Pelt in anticipation of the Summit, and this is what he had to say:

Why is it important for Marion County to have conversations about conservation?

“Conservation of these iconic and productive agricultural areas are equal to the conservation of the long-term economic development strategy of Ocala/Marion County, says Van Pelt. “It is a quality-of-life issue. Corporations, the best and brightest talent, residents, retirees, and tourists choose Ocala/Marion County because of the rural landscape.”

Balance is critical, notes Van Pelt, who has a background as a landscape architect. “The rural landscape gives the urban area context and a sense of place. In an age where people can work from anywhere, providing a balance between the urban and the rural is critical for people to thrive in their jobs and in their lives. Beyond economic development, conservation is vitally important for the long-term environmental resiliency of Ocala/Marion County,” he adds. The rare limestone-rich soils and springs in this area make it uniquely suitable for raising horses.

And there is a cost factor as well. “Agriculture uses less in services than it pays in taxes, notes Van Pelt. “Sprawl uses more in services than it pays in taxes. Sprawl is unsustainable both fiscally and environmentally.” In the long run, unplanned growth costs us, while concentrated urban growth and agricultural property both use less in services than they pay in taxes.

What do we stand to gain through farmland preservation?

In a word: “Everything,” says Van Pelt.  “All the economic impacts of the cluster of the equine and the agricultural sectors. Increased business recruitment, talent recruitment, agri-tourism, and agri-businesses.” The horse industry represents twenty-percent of Marion County’s GDP. There is one horse for every four people here. People come here to visit, retire, work, and play – and a lot them come either because of the horses or simply to enjoy the quality of life created by the landscape.

How would you describe Marion County’s unique identity?

Van Pelt is quick to point out that our farmland is not just window dressing – it is a working landscape and our global calling card. He describes our global brand as “A rural landscape that defines the ‘factory floor’ of Ocala/Marion County’s multi-billion dollar equine industries, complimented by a vibrant, thriving urban core,” and adds that “both of these are economic development drivers that define its holistic quality of life.”

In summation, Van Pelt emphasizes balance – an approach to growth that is vigilant to protect farmland and precious natural resources while still encouraging urban growth “from the inside-out,” by concentrating density where municipal services are located.

The American Farmland Trust has so much to offer to citizens and landowners. Come to the Summit and meet Van Pelt during the lunch hour. His display will feature many of the resources that can also be found at their website, farmland.org.

Charlotte Weber Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

Charlotte Weber Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

Owner Charlotte Weber, left, with trainer Mark Casse, center,
and jockey John Velazquez, right, after champion World Approval won a stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs.
(Eclipse Sportswire)

Horse Farms Forever is honored to announce that the inaugural Acorn Conservation Award will be presented to Charlotte Weber, Owner of Live Oak Stud, at the upcoming Conservation Summit on November 23rd at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company.

The Acorn Conservation Award is given to an individual that has made a significant contribution to the preservation of horse farms in Marion County. Presenting the award to Mrs. Weber will be Mr. Mark Casse, a two-time Hall of Fame trainer, who trained Weber’s horse World Approval. It is fitting that Casse present Weber with the Acorn Award for her efforts to preserve horse farms in Marion County, as they have won many of the top horse racing awards together.

World Approval was named Florida Bred Horse of the Year by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) in 2017. That same year he was also named the Florida-bred Champion Older Male, Florida-bred Champion Turf Horse and Florida-bred Champion Male Sprinter. Weber’s Live Oak Plantation (racing name) was also named the Florida Owner of the Year and her Live Oak Stud was named the Florida Breeder of the Year.

Casse is one of the most respected and decorated horse racing trainers in North America. Over his 50-year career, he has captured many prestigious awards and won several of the top races.

Please join Horse Farms Forever in honoring Mrs. Weber. The Acorn Award Presentation will be a highlight of the Conservation Summit Program on November 23.

About Charlotte Weber

For over 50 years, Weber has owned and managed the expansive 5,000-acre Live Oak Stud. The picturesque farm with the majestic live oak trees and rolling hills is one of the most scenic along SR 40 just west of Ocala. The farm is home to an award-winning Thoroughbred breeding, training, and racing operation. Her homebred Thoroughbreds have won several Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Eclipse Awards, FTBOA awards, and multiple Grade One wins on the dirt and the turf. Weber also raises a large herd of Brahman and Charolais cattle, and a variety of crossbreds.

In addition, the Weber family hosts the Live Oak International Combined Driving and Show Jumping Tournament, one of the largest international-level events in the U.S.

Weber chose Marion County to raise horses and cattle because of the mineral rich soil and Florida’s mild climate.

“The quality of Live Oak’s environment and the excellent climate of Florida contribute greatly to the production of world-class Thoroughbreds. Beneath the canopy of live oak trees, horses benefit from the lush green, nutrient-rich grass covering the gently rolling hills of Live Oak Stud. Romping in the golden Florida sunshine from the day they are born, Live Oak horses grow the strong bones and muscles needed to be champion Thoroughbred racehorses,” states her Live Oak Stud website.

About Mark Casse

Mr. Casse’s numerous accolades include winning two legs of the Triple Crown with two horses in 2019, winning eight Canadian Triple Crown races, induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2020, induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, and becoming the first U.S. winner of the Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne race in England with Tepin.

Casse’s horse racing roots run deep. Mark and his two brothers followed in the footsteps of their father, Norman Casse, who was one of the founders of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company. The third generation has also taken up the reins, as Mark’s son, Norman, is now a successful trainer.

While Casse has found international success, he calls Ocala his home. He and his wife, Tina, own a 135-acre training center in the Ocala Horse Complex. He’s been in Ocala for over 50 years and is proud to pass that legacy on to his family.

Casse strongly supports the mission of Horse Farms Forever to protect the character and culture that horses, horse farms and the horse industry bring to Marion County.

“It was important for me to be involved with Horse Farms Forever because it’s been my entire life. I’ve been in Ocala for over 50 years and that’s why my dad moved to Ocala,” says Casse. “Can you think of a better industry than horses? I don’t want to see them go. You can build around them. This is Ocala and it’s my life!”