Equestrian aerial parks offer the best of both worlds

On the surface, there aren’t many similarities between aircraft and horses. Seemingly unrelated, the former has borrowed a multitude of equine terms over the years. For example, we’re all familiar with the P-51 Mustang, in addition to the horsepower that powers our air efforts, and the Cessna Citation jets—just to name a few horse-powered terms. But the average aviation enthusiast is probably less familiar with the communities that allow horses and aircraft to coexist.

Two prominent equestrian-focused airparks in the US are Jumbolair Aviation and Equestrian Estates (17FL) in central Florida and Big South Fork Airpark (KSCX) in northeast Tennessee.

Jumbolair Aviation and Equestrian Estates

Jumbolair is located in beautiful Ocala, Florida, which is nicknamed the “Horse Capital of the World.” Consequently, it is no surprise that this flying community has long-standing equine roots dating back to the late 1960s. The grounds were originally owned by Muriel Vanderbilt (great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous railroad magnate) as a private farm. Here, she raised racehorses for many years, including a member of the United States Riding Hall of Fame, Desert Vixen.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that aircraft were introduced to this heritage property. This introduction was led by Arthur Jones, who was the founder of the strength training company, Nautilus. This newly added landing pad was able to accommodate Jones’ jumbo jet, which would have transported a number of exotic animals to the property. The animals that once called the many hundreds of acres home include: three white rhinos, several hundred crocodiles and snakes, a gorilla and dozens of larger safari animals.

Liz Wakefield, Jumbolair Operations Manager, details this unique aspect of the community’s history and how it got its name.

“In the early 1980s, the couple turned the property into a destination for celebrities and others. They eventually flew to Africa to rescue 63 baby elephants and brought them back to their new home in Ocala, Florida. Because of this adventure, the property earned its name. Jumbolair: “jumbo” as in sea, as a nod to elephants; and ‘burrow’ as in a place where one seeks refuge,’ said Wakefield.

A P-51Mustang that is based at Jumbolair Aviation & Equestrian Estates. [Courtesy: Jumbolair Aviation & Equestrian Estates]

Jumbolair is primarily a community for aviators, Wakefield explained. “The airpark is well known for having the longest private paved runway in the country at 7,550 feet long and 200 feet wide. It is equipped with a GPS approach as well as a VASI approach lighting system. The community has the convenience of separate streets and driveways. There are currently 38 multi-acre home lots in the exclusive community, each with buildable acreage for a home and shed.”

The new owner began managing Jumbolair last year and has worked quickly to revitalize the community with renovations to current facilities as well as expansion plans. Because the airpark is located in the Horse Capital of the World — and just 15 miles from the new World Equestrian Center in Ocala — a key part of the new owners’ strategic vision includes a strong focus on equestrian facilities. They just recently added to the equestrian facilities by building a multi-million dollar horse barn and a 100 foot by 200 foot indoor riding arena. Residents of the flight community now have access to state-of-the-art facilities to board and train their horses on-site.

In the horse barn at Jumbolair & Equestrian Estates. [Courtesy: Jumbolair Aviation & Equestrian Estates]

Wakefield continued his explanation of the community, noting, “We believe there is a growing class of people whose interests combine a love of aviation and the equestrian lifestyle, and we wanted to provide the opportunity to experience both lifestyles in one place. Jumbolair Aviation and Equestrian Estates provides the perfect setting to do just that.”

Big South Fork Airpark

Big South Fork Airpark in Oneida, Tennessee is another residential airpark that has recognized the importance of catering to both aircraft owners and equestrian enthusiasts. The community’s name and its acclaimed equestrian facilities are a result of its location, advised Bill Armstrong, the community’s developer.

“This is the easiest question anyone has ever asked me [what makes the airpark’s location perfect for it to have an equestrian focus]. The answer is that our property – specifically our equestrian center – borders the Big South Fork River and recreation area. It is a 125,000 acre national park with a river, hiking trails and 180 miles of horse trails. People come here from all over the eastern United States and beyond to ride the park, where you can camp with your horse and experience the scenery. Big South Fork is a paradise for horses. Every weekend, horse trailers arrive in our town from all over because the area is well known for equestrian activities.”

Armstrong added further details: “If you look at our site map, you will see that the track is on the south side of our property and the equestrian center is on the northeast side. The difference in altitude between the two areas is significant. The aeropark houses are at [a] 1,550 feet elevation and the riding facilities sit along the creek bed that leads to the river at [a] an elevation of about 1,320 feet. Although they are separated from each other, this makes it easier for residents to enjoy both the planes and the horses – which are actually two separate aspects of the development here.”

The community is located adjacent to Scott Municipal Airport (KSCX) with gated access to its 5,505-foot-long by 75-foot-wide asphalt runway. Armstrong says airpark residents benefit when there are on-site recreational trails in addition to aviation facilities.

“We are not just an aviation community as we have a full service equestrian center, riding trails in our development, a competition size riding arena, a round corral for training work, staff to handle your horses if it is necessary, also as horses that you can rent by the hour. The nice thing about being an airpark resident is that if you want to enjoy the equestrian side of it, you don’t have to go out and buy a horse. We can arrange for you to hire one here, provide the tack and teach your grandkids how to ride. We have all the facilities and you don’t even have to own a horse.”

Horseback riding through the Big South Fork River. [Courtesy: Big South Fork Airpark]

“There is no mistaking that our equestrian community is much smaller in number compared to our aviation community. There are many more people who are here who are interested in aviation, so there is a marked difference between these two needs. But I will tell you that we have several people who are both passionate about riding and aviators. Having equestrian facilities helps to complement the appeal of the airpark,” explained Armstrong.

“For example, you are an aviator, you build a hangar and you live in an aeropark. I fly in and then once there, now what? What are you doing? There is another dynamic in our development that allows you to enjoy the national park on horseback, mountain bike or four-wheel drive. You can also put a canoe in the river and float. So there’s a whole different dynamic here at Big South Fork Airpark, and riding is just one part of that dynamic.”

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