Which is better year round: Aiken vs Ocala

Hey Everyone! :slight_smile:

tl;dr: exactly what the title says!

More details!: With the pandemic this past year I’ve been working 100% remote for almost a year now, and I’m considering asking my job if I can make that permanent (they keep saying we’ll come back at least part-time once COVID is in the past…). With this in mind, I started thinking - if I could live anywhere, where would I live? I don’t currently have a horse, but my goal for the last couple of years since I sold my last horse has been to buy one this year… and I’d love to be able to live, ride, etc. easily for fewer $$ than I would around here (just outside ATL where board is typically $850ish avg)

So my question is - if you could live anywhere year-round, where would you go? Aiken, Ocala, or somewhere else? I’d love to know where you would go, and why you would choose that location! Thanks for your insight and enabling my plot/daydream!

I’ve done both. I prefer Ocala.

The weather is better in Ocala year round. It gets just as hot in Aiken in the summer, but it doesn’t rain as much there so the ground ends up quite hard sometimes. In winter, Ocala has significantly fewer cold days.

The standard of care and quality of horses is much better in Ocala year round. When I last lived in Aiken (5? years ago) you couldn’t even have a colic cut in the state I think there is at least a surgeon in the upstate now, a bit over an hour away. In Ocala, I could have a surgical colic on the table within an hour. Even if I had to call Brookledge for a van ride.

There are schooling shows and things to do pretty much year round in Ocala and more and more professionals are staying year round. In Aiken, the bigger names tend to come down in January and leave in April.

If you have any specific questions about either place, lmk. I’ve spent several years in both places.

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I have no idea about the quality of service but I’m pretty sure Performance Equine Vets has a surgical center on site in Aiken and have for a few years now.

There’s a fair number of smaller BNTs there year round–there are more big names year round in Ocala.

Aiken’s COL is also better than Ocala, but there is way less non-horsey stuff to do, options for employment, school options, etc. if you have a family or end up with one.

I have in-laws in Florida though so I would choose Aiken any day–I admit my bias! :sweat_smile:

There are 2 hospitals in town with surgical suites. And no boarded surgeons.

One was visiting Performance Equine occasionally. Which left him unavailable for emergency surgery. I’m pretty sure he’s stopped going to Aiken at all anymore.

Thank you both! I really appreciate the responses. Any favorite parts of Ocala or Aiken specifically? I have looked up event locations and some boarding barns on a map, but I don’t know much else about where it would be good to live, etc. The other super important thing is I would 100% need good internet for my job!! I think I live in Zoom nowadays.

Depends on what is important to you.

Aiken is great. Weather is great, it does get colder than Ocala in the winter. There are a ton of stuff to do whether horsey related or not, almost to the point to where you can’t do it all. Columbia / Augusta is not far. I think hay is less expensive in aiken. There are trainers here year round, but yes, many big name trainers are only here January through April. But we do have event trainers, dressage trainers, sj trainers and lots of clinics. Lots of events, show jumping, dressage, trails, fox hunting, etc.beach isn’t far and either are the mountains.

Southern Equine Is building a huge surgery center in aiken with many diagnostics and machines too. They will be able to do colic surgery. Otherwise, yes performance equine does have a surgery center, but most people head to UGA for colic surgery until Southern Equine is up and running.

Aiken is sandy soil, so doesn’t really get hard ground here. The sand drains well after tons of rain. . lots of schooling and show venues here.

I’ve never lived in Ocala- so just an aiken perspective. When it’s freezing here ( the few days) I do wonder about becoming a SJ in Wellington.

There are many areas to live and multiple boarding options. If you live in town, internet shouldn’t be a problem. If you live outside of aiken city limits, it depends on where to get good internet.

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Just make sure you contact the cable company yourself. I lived way out of town (in Alabama) in a new subdivision. I only had cable/internet through satellite dishes at the beginning. Then about four years later, I could get the city cable/internet.
Some of the people on streets behind where I lived never had real internet, just satellite. The local real estate agents told people that we were going to have a Walmart neighborhood store, or a regular Walmart with in two years. That was never going to happen. They also were happy to tell prospective buyers that the regular cable would be installed very soon (I was there seven years, that never happened for the neighboring streets either).

We never had decent cell reception, so test that at the actual house site yourself. Also, check zoning yourself, for the number of animals you want to have, and if you’re going to have any kind of business, see if it’s allowed too.

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That will be awesome if Southern Equine builds a bigger OR and puts in a better MRI. Aiken really does need that.

Hopefully, they will hire a boarded surgeon, too. The non-boarded, ‘regular’ vets currently perform their arthroscopies and tie backs.

Aiken over Ocala to live year-round. I LOVE Ocala. But the rain/storm every damn day at 2 -3 PM in the summer - it’s miserable for me and my guy in the summer. But I much prefer it overall.

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Ocala is lovely. I ride every day, year round.
Make sure you look carefully at internet availability. We have Century Link in our neighborhood, and it is slow. The next neighborhood over has terrific, high speed, internet.
Make sure you pick an area with good soil and good pasture. Our pastures are terrific. Some areas have very fine sugar sand soil that doesn’t make good pastures. Some areas are swampy. Others are rocky.
Ocala is close to Gainesville where you can go to the huge performing arts center, get top quality health and vet care and eat any kind of food that you want.

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We just made this move exactly one year ago today! We had visited both and picked Aiken.

Our reasons:
Aiken is a wonderful town. Lovely downtown. Big enough but still a small town vibe. People are very nice. There’s a lot to do. Summer is hot be we did fine and so did the horses. Spring and Fall are to die for. Winter has some cool days but nothing terrible and horses can go out every day. Pours sometimes but the ground takes it. Close to lots of cool towns.

I didn’t like all the skin funks and other stuff the horses had to deal with in florida. Ocala less of a nice town. Florida’s weird factor wasn’t my fave. I like 4 seasons and Florida doesn’t.

If you do want to move to Aiken, I highly recommend our side (Montmorenci/302). It’s been nearly all the competition venues, except stable view, footing is great, and so many places to school. Good luck!

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I live in Aiken. This is right. I believe Performance Equine is trying to hire a boarded surgeon at present, but folks were wringing their hands about UGA being the closest option at 2-3 hours out, IIRC.

It’s odd that a practice would build a surgical suite and then not be able to keep a surgeon on staff, if for no other reason than to make their (presumably researched) investment pay off. So I wonder if things are better here now such that they can keep a surgeon busy and paid.

It feels like more and more people are moving to Aiken year 'round, but I can’t compare to years past.

It really depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking to do the upper levels, then I would want access to the trainers and competitions in Ocala. There are so many new venues and the trainers are some of the best in the US. If you are looking for Quality of Life- Aiken is by far a much cooler place to live. Aiken was named “small town of the year” by Southern Living. Aiken has a vibrant arts scene- Ocala does not, but Gainesville is right up the road and has a great arts scene. Both places are very conservative with lots of rednecks, great wealth and great poverty existing side by side. Weather-wise, the Florida heat is pretty intense- if you are working, you simply must ride before it gets too hot- think ride at 7AM-8AM. Summer lasts from May to December. They both have great things to offer, it depends on what you are looking for. Both are great places for eventers, or any horse discipline, really.

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I was so happy to see someone else ask the same question I’m from California and just came back from Ocala and was blown away at what my money can get for a farm. But terrified of the humidity, but its a trade off. I started looking at Akins five years ago and now I’m starting to think because of coming from such a small community that maybe Aikens would work better for me my question to you all is what is the best resource to find a facility for boarding and not full time training not $2,000 a month I’ve been on my own for so long I would only want partial training.?I found that in Ocala so many farms are not even online for training and boarding.Hence any advise is welcomed.Im a 3 Day Eventer.Competing at Prelim.Im also looking for my next horse.If you have any suggestions for that as well in Aikens.

There’s a great facebook page:

“Aiken SC Area Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping”

You can post about boarding and any other horse things you’re looking for. We made the move to Aiken (and debated Ocala) a little over a year ago and are glad we made the move. Aiken is a great town.

Not exactly horse related but Florida has no state income tax. SC has 7% state income tax.

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Also, if you ever want to travel or have visitors that fly in, Ocala is much easier to visit/travel from. It’s 2 hours by car from Orlando that has inexpensive airfare from almost everywhere. I found it easy to visit horses in Ocala, but daunting to get to Aiken to the point that I didn’t go.

FWIW when a friend’s horse colicked the estimate was 4 hours with trailer to get to UGA.

OTOH I know several people who have relocated from the north to Aiken and are happy there.

Aiken has a few airports that are within reasonable driving distance. I usually flew in to Augusta, and it was 28 minutes from my house I rented in Aiken. Flights were cheap too.

I loved Aiken when I lived there. It did get hot in the summer, but not Ocala hot - I could still ride most days after work at 5:30 PM and not feel like I was being cruel to my horse. In the winter I could ride year round without an indoor, and it was a nice change of pace from trying to keep my horse fit in the winter in MA!

The people are largely good, with lots of southern hospitality among most. There is a big poverty divide and it can be tough, but Aiken is also a growing college town and I think there is a subtle shift towards the more affluent happening. Aiken is collectively very conservative - even some of the snowbirds… So if you are from “up north” and used to more liberal ideals, prepare for culture shock.

Everything is so much cheaper there… but so is minimum wage. I would think if you are not a person of means, your money will go much further in Aiken than Ocala.

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I’ve been keeping a causal eye of farms in Aiken. Yikes the real estate market there is crazy. I thought it was bad here in PA but places in Aiken with a bit of land are selling 50-75% over 2019/early 2020 prices.

There’s a big reason I would pick Aiken over Ocala, I live where we have to worry about hurricanes sometimes (90 miles to the Panhandle), and I would hate to have to worry about horses, and other animals, and having to leave. I don’t know how often it gets bad in Ocala, but I wouldn’t want to chance it.

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