A horse-driven entrepreneur looks to connect with the niche equestrian community to boost home site sales.
As her 8-year-old daughter, Addie, rode her horse toward the cross country arena Oct. 22 at the TerraNova Equestrian Center in Myakka City, Winter Park's Courtney Borton followed behind, wearing a smile that would not go away.
Besides the joy of seeing her daughter compete, Courtney Borton was enjoying all the amenities offered by Florida's newest equestrian facility, including the VIP Pavilion, six arenas and two barns (270 stalls).
"Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful," Borton says. "And the service is incredible."
But how does it compare to established equestrian centers in Wellington and Ocala? The latter, in particular, with the World Equestrian Center in horse-heavy Ocala, is a multimillion-dollar facility with multiple bells and whistles spread across a 375-acre complex. That includes a 248-room hotel with rooms and suites that overlook the open-air grand stadium to watch events and competitions.
Borton, who has seen what Florida has to offer in the sport, is unabashed in her praise of TerraNova. "This kind of facility just doesn't exist," she says. "It is unmatched."
Beyond horses, there is a significant residential real estate component to the project. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports event in late October, which Borton attended, was the kickoff to sales in the TerraNova Equestrian Estates, a sprawling community of ranches that start at 5 acres and above.
The new community and the corresponding equestrian center is the brainchild of owners Natalee and Steve Herrig and their daughter Hannah Herrig Ketelboeter, who serves as the equestrian center's manager. Steve Herrig, 61, is a prominent Bradenton entrepreneur and commercial real estate investor, having started and sold multiple businesses, mostly in insurance and the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) industry.
Now CEO and chairman of Bradenton-based insurance firm Sunz Holdings, which does some $400 million a year in revenue, Herrig has spent at least $5 million acquiring property in downtown Bradenton in recent years. In previous interviews with the Business Observer, Herrig has said the cost of TerraNova, including land purchases, is over $30 million.
With show jumpers competing in the background at the center's VIP Pavilion Oct. 22, Herrig was asked when they planned to begin selling the estates. "Today," he says. "We still have work to do, but now we are ready. This is a community like none other."
Steve Herrig says he and Natalee bought some land off Fruitville Road about five years ago because Hannah was competing in equestrian events.
He liked what he had purchased, so he went a little farther east and bought another 100 acres, and then more. He now owns about 3,000 acres in Manatee County around the equestrian center, which is about 300 acres itself at 31625 Clay Gully Road. He says the ranch estates will take up another 1,500 to 2,000 acres and the rest of the property will mostly serve preserve type purposes with perhaps a conservation easement. Herrig paid around $12 million for the land for TerraNova, both the estate lots and horse facility, in a series of deals, Manatee property records show.
Natalee Herrig says the vision to build an equestrian center, which broke ground in 2019, and develop a community around it was cemented by knowing Southwest Florida had no other such facility. (Fox Lea Farms in Venice, founded in 1983 hosts about 40 horse and equestrian events a year.)
"It's midway between Ocala and Wellington," she says. "There wasn't anything in this part of the state. And then there was the land itself."
Steve Herrig says the strategy is to push for buyers to purchase at least 10 acres and he anticipates a community of about 120 estates when all the land is sold.
Those who decide to build will be required to use B&D Builders, a Paradise, Pennsylvania company that has a Florida office in Cape Coral. B&D, which built the state-of-the-art barn at TerraNova, specializes in horse barns and equestrian areas. Sales are being handled by Gailey Enterprises Real Estate.
TerraNova Equestrian Center hosted a major event a year ago, but the facility was only in the middle stages of construction. The Event at TerraNova Oct. 21-23 was a showcase for not just the sport in the area, but the facility. (TerraNova is named for a horse Herrig Ketelboeter, 27, had when she was a young girl Tara, and nova, Latin for new.)
Jaymie Klauber, who became the director of hospitality and logistics at TerraNova in May, is a former Polo Club resident in Lakewood Ranch with her husband Tommy and she agreed the concept is similar to the beginnings of that neighborhood. Build a first-class, sport-related facility, and the estates will fill in around it.
Aligned with the best
On the first-class facility front, Steve Herrig has previously said he consistently told his daughter to dream big and aim high with TerraNova. Mike Belisle of Toronto, who has 30 years of experience in the sport, was hired as a managing consultant and to help with that strategy. He went through the "tedious" process of gaining all the certifications necessary to have the event sanctioned by the top governing bodies.
"Obviously, the attraction is bringing people to the community," he says. "We can educate people about our sport."
He says the IFE sanction gave the event a "world draw" and notes TerraNova has become one of the few show grounds in the world for the sport. The IFE runs the Olympic jumping, dressage and eventing competitions along with the FEI World Equestrian Games and the World Cup.
In the future, TerraNova will feature athletes who will be competing in those events.
However, those in the novice and beginner categories can develop at TerraNova as well. And the families who support those efforts won't have to travel far to watch them."When you live here, you can ride your horse to the show," Belisle says.
The facility includes a gym, lounge with a kitchen, laundry room and full bathroom for boarding clients; six outdoor and covered riding arenas; rubber paver pathways throughout the barn; spacious stalls and tack/equipment rooms; and 1,300 acres available for riding.
The three-day event at TerraNova was a kind of equestrian triathlon with riders and horses being judged in dressage, cross country and show jumping. Dressage measures the horse and rider's ability to perform intricate movements. Cross country is a test of speed, endurance and jumping ability. Show jumping is a test over 12 to 15 jumps in an enclosed arena.
More than 300 riders and their horses competed in the event. Klauber notes she arranged 61 hotel rooms for just the officials who worked at the event.
The event also was about charity.
With approximately 75 volunteers working the three-day event (actually comprised of two separate events, The Event at TerraNova and TerraNova Dressage II), the TerraNova Equestrian Center was donating $20 per hour for each volunteer hour worked to the Florida Disaster Relief Fund.
The center's foundation also was donating money from each ride to Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy and Southeastern Guide Dogs. Southeastern Guide Dogs received $30,000, SMART received $23,000 and Meals on Wheels received $17,000.