While much of the country gets blasted with winter storms, here in the Sunshine State, we enjoy some of the best riding weather of the year.
Here in Florida, we're blessed not only with great year-round riding, but also with a large number of public and privately owned lands that offer riding trails.
Last winter, my friend, Jayne, and I took our horses for a three-day mini-vacation at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, located pretty much right in the middle of the state.
Clermont, known for its natural beauty, is called ?the real Florida? by insiders. The area boasts rolling hills, numerous lakes, and fragrant orange groves.
Located off U.S. Route 27, Lake Louisa State Park is easy to get to from the Florida Turnpike. It encompasses nearly 4,500 acres and has six lakes; the largest is Lake Louisa.
Lake Louisa State Park?s equestrian campground is perfect! The camping fee is only $5 per person, and horses stay for free. This fee includes the use of all the trails. We had the place to ourselves.
My Arabian mare, Rain, and Jayne?s Tennessee Walking Horse mare, Sonata, had spacious, partially covered paddocks, each about 10 by 25 feet.
There are six paddock-duplexes situated around the large, pine-tree-lined, grassy campground. You may also bring your own portable corral, HiTies, and highlines.
There are fire rings, picnic tables, nonpotable water, a pavilion, and a self-composting toilet. For an additional fee, you can use the bathhouse, located at the main campground.
Even though our girls had their nice paddocks, we also set up a highline so they could enjoy grazing time while ate our breakfast and dinner.
It's so nice to camp right there with your horse and to have so much room for him to move about, something most equestrian campgrounds lack.
We enjoyed nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s and perfect daytime temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees under sunny, blue skies.
As terrific as our camp was, we came for the fun trails! There are 16 miles of riding trails in the park; nearly all have great footing.
Trails range from lovely pine-tree-lined lanes to scrub palmetto woods to hardwood forests. You can enjoy long trots for miles and miles. Hills made for cantering offer beautiful views of park?s lakes and orange groves.
Lake Louisa State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000- mile-long collection of more than 500 locations where avian habitats are protected.
We saw a lovely Great Egret flying in for landing on the shore of Lake Louisa, and glimpsed Wood Stork, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and songbirds.
There's also abundant wildlife. While crossing the bridge over Big Creek, we saw white-tailed deer and fox squirrels.
The first day, we arrived midday and enjoyed an eight-mile ride. On the second day, we logged 12 miles. On our final day, we did a quick six-mile ride, then left midday to head home.
Every day, we had a picnic lunch in an orange grove, letting our horses graze while we ate. Rain enjoyed a sampling of oranges, as well. The orange blossoms? sweet smell enhanced our picnics.
We had such a wonderful time, we?ve decided to make this a yearly vacation.
So come on down, and enjoy the real Florida on horseback!