Red Hills Salutes History of Florida's Horses

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Press Release: VISIT FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - On the second weekend in March 2013, Red Hills Horse Trials will draw top horses, riders and trainers from around the globe - along with thousands of spectators - to Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park for three days of top-shelf eventing competition in dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. This year's event will incorporate special elements to showcase the Sunshine State's equine history for a salute to Florida's quincentenary in conjunction with Viva Florida 500.

From the compact, hardy Spanish steeds brought to La Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon to the champion Thoroughbreds bred and trained in Ocala, horses have played an essential role in Florida's historical and cultural development. The Florida Cracker Horse, a gaited breed unique to the Sunshine State, is directly descended from those first Spanish horses. In 1998, the Florida Legislature designated it the official state horse.

To commemorate the history of the horse in Florida, plans are in the works for events and activities to augment the competition, including educational exhibits, an appearance by Ponce de Leon and a "Parade of Breeds Under the Five Flags" at the awards ceremony following the close of competition.

Also planned is a professional dressage exhibition to showcase the roots of eventing, which grew out of Spanish Riding School dressage training. Eventing is one of the fastest growing equestrian pursuits in the world. Modeled on cavalry competitions from the 1900s, it is the ultimate challenge for both horse and rider. Over three days, it tests their partnership and dual athletic prowess in three disciplines: the grace and harmony of dressage; the heart-pounding thrills and difficulty of cross-country jumping over natural obstacles; and, the power and pageantry of show jumping.

RHHT, which draws more than 20,000 spectators each year, expects the Viva Florida 500 festivities to bring even more people to view the 2013 competition. Last year, four out of five members of the U.S. Olympic Team competed at Red Hills prior to going to the 2012 Olympics.

Besides the colorful and exciting three days of competition, RHHT offers an Avenue of Shops with vendors from around the country, plus exhibits and tours, some of which reinforce the Red Hills mission to promote the concepts of resource protection, green space preservation and land management. Special Viva Florida 500 exhibits showcasing Florida's history and the role of the horse in Florida are being planned for 2013.

Since its inception in 1998, Red Hills International Horse Trials, a non-profit organization, has provided more than $325,000 to its beneficiaries - Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy and Klapp-Phipps Park, which is owned by the Northwest Florida Water Management District and managed by the Tallahassee Parks & Recreation Commission.

Florida horse history tidbits:
· The Florida Cracker Horse traces its ancestry to Spanish stock brought in the 1500s by Spanish explorers. Named for the sound made of the whips wielded by their riders while herding cattle, the Cracker Horse evolved two signature gaits, the running walk and amble, also known as the "coon rack."
· During the Civil War, Spanish horses bred in Florida were prized as mounts by both sides in the conflict, and were integral in herding the cattle that supplied beef to Union and Confederate troops.
· The Miami Jockey Club was established in 1924 and the Hialeah Racetrack opened Jan. 15, 1925. After being severely damaged by a hurricane in 1926, it reopened as Hialeah Park Race Track in 1932 and was hailed as one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world, renowned for its signature flock of flamingoes. The last race at Hialeah was run May 22,
2001, and was won by the filly Cheeky Miss.
· In 1957, Needles became the first Florida-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Affirmed, the last horse to win the Triple Crown, was bred and trained at Harbor View Farm in Ocala.

· The first Red Hills Horse Trials competition took place in 1998 and was organized by Sallie Ausley and Sylvia Ochs. The cross-country course was designed by Capt. Mark Phillips, former husband of England's Princess Anne and a technical advisor for the U.S. Equestrian Team. The cross-country course was built by Scotsman Hugh Lochore, who now makes his home in Tallahassee.

Find out more about the history of the Florida Cracker Horse and see an example of the breed's signature gait in this Florida Department of Agriculture video:

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