By Nancy Jaffer
Down a road edged by scrubby pine trees and live oaks hung with Spanish moss, the half-hour drive east from Sarasota ends with the sighting of spectacular showgrounds. It’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
True, the countryside on the fringes of Myakka River State Park offers a stark contrast to the Gulf beaches and massive mansions of the glitzy city on Florida’s west coast. But in only its second year, TerraNova Equestrian Center already has become a destination for some top show jumpers—with many more to come. Even Kent Farrington has expressed interest in coming next month. It also is a multi-discipline facility, having held dressage and eventing competitions, with combined driving on the horizon.
The Sunshine State is booming with horse shows, so one might wonder why yet another venue is wanted, or even needed. After all, it was just in 2021 that the awe-inspiring World Equestrian Center opened in Ocala, where it boasts a bevy of restaurants, a 5-star hotel, and state-of-the-art stabling. It is a few miles down the road from HITS, a venerable facility undergoing refurbishment, and approximately 245 road miles from the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, which at the moment gets the lion’s share of big-name show jumpers from both the U.S. and Europe.
TerraNova generally is a three-hour drive across the state from Wellington, unless you’re Samuel Parot, the Chilean Olympian who won the Split Rock Show’s 2-star $100,000 Lugano Diamonds 1.45-meter FEI Grand Prix over the weekend. He claims to complete the trip in 2 and ½ hours and says he has no problem commuting in a single day on Florida’s version of coast-to-coast. The schedule offered its grand prix at 11 a.m. on Saturday, enabling riders who wanted to go back to Wellington to catch the WEF grand prix Saturday night to do so.
Perhaps Parot does it utilizing the same speed quotient that enabled him to top a five-horse jump-off with Buga Z in 41.560 seconds. He also finished second with the fastest four-fault round, in 36.920 seconds, aboard Captain Z. Caroline Mawhinney was in his rearview mirror with a knockdown and a time of 44.380 on Dance Du to finish third.
“The place is fantastic. The show is good, everything’s good, the atmosphere is good,” enthused Parot, who is qualified for this fall’s Pan American Games in his homeland, saying, “I try to win a medal this year.”
The class was over a route designed by Peter Holmes and had a very respectable 47 starters, part of a show that drew riders from 17 countries. Parot’s only mishap occurred during the traditional champagne duel on the winners’ stand. While trying to escape the onslaught of froth and bubbles from Mawhinney’s bottle, he fell off the podium.
In Florida, it seems, there are plenty of horses and riders to go around. Other venues in the state include Fox Lea in Venice, about a half-hour south of Sarasota, where the footing has gotten a recent upgrade, and Live Oak in Ocala, which holds just one big show that boasts a World Cup qualifier.
Aaron Vale has ridden at all of the above, but last week’s show was his introduction to TerraNova. Its expansive campus that one day will be surrounded by homes as part of a development project. But there’s plenty of room for both to coexist on the site of a former cattle farm. The property is owned by Natalee and Steve Herrig, whose daughter, Hannah Herrig Ketelboeter and her husband, Zach, have an equestrian background that led to a focus on across-the-board quality. They emphasize putting the needs of the horse first.
“It’s quite amazing,” Vale said of the facility. “We’ve got, I don’t know, how many arenas with the new, beautiful surface. You could probably show a fair amount on it without having to worry about your horse. The barns are great, there’s room to ride and just let your horses relax. It’s amazing here.”
Discussing the state of the sport that keeps all these showgrounds going, he observed, “It’s hard to find good horses, but if there are good horses out there, there’s people to buy them. People want to go show, and there’s places to show them.” Vale called TerraNova, “a great place to put miles and experience on your young horse, to try and get them ready for international.”
Israeli Olympian Daniel Bluman observed, “It’s good to have other venues and other options, especially when it’s a beautiful venue like this one. For us riders, it’s better; less concentration in a single place and more options to jump the horses in different places.”
Of course, TerraNova has plenty of FEI classes, too. All of its shows this winter will be run by Split Rock, which is headed by Derek Braun, the entrepreneur who put in a successful bid to hold the 2026 FEI World Cup Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
Nothing gets by Braun. While we were talking, he noticed a garbage can in the VIP area was in danger of overflowing, excused himself, and set off to make sure that was taken care of before resuming our conversation.
He is impressed by what has happened since Split Rock’s first show at the facility a year ago, mentioning “their commitment to improving the facility.” Like him, “They don’t let any detail slide.” He cited the new permanent VIP pavilion with a view of the rings on either side, the horse bathing facilities, and the barns as improvements added after TerraNova’s 2022 debut.
“I’d never seen in my life the quality of the stabling they are building here. It’s literally unbelievable. People don’t even build private barns that nice. They’ve built 270 stalls so far and they have plans to continue to grow it,” he observed. Construction is ongoing, with projects including permanent bathrooms and a new show office.
There’s a lot to work with, said Braun, explaining, “It’s our job to come in here and show people the best of the facility and how amazing it can be and bring the exhibitors here.”
“Florida is incredible during the winter because it has the quantity of exhibitors to warrant there being multiple events in the same region at the same time,” he pointed out.
“It’s really an anomaly. I think it’s the only place and time that can withstand that. I think USEF has done a really good job in managing Florida; the type of events that happen when and where and in what location. They need to stay consistent with that. As long as that is paid attention to, it will continue to thrive.”
Nine Olympics, ten world championships, and 21 FEI World Cup Finals are among the scores of major competitions that Nancy has covered during her career of working for newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Europe. The award-winning writer from New Jersey, who has ridden all her life, also is an author whose books include Riding for the Team, Riding for America, and Riding Through with Debbie McDonald.
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