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East County Thursday, May 19, 2022 1 month ago

Myakka City equestrian facility aims to a jump above the rest

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Behind a $30 million investment, a young entrepreneur is taking big strides to turn the TerraNova Equestrian Center into a leading destination.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

 The images of an elite equestrian sports enterprise — champion horses, celebrity riders and posh soirees — don’t immediately fit the laidback, rural ambiance of Myakka City.

In Florida, the sport is more commonly connected to places like Wellington, a Palm Beach County village dubbed an “equine epicenter” by the Robb Report in 2019. The article further stated that Wellington is “the horse riding capital of the world,” where “the who’s who of the international equestrian set” comes to town every winter, including celebs like Jennifer Gates (daughter of Bill) and Jessica Springsteen (daughter of Bruce).

And yet, in Myakka City, some 30 miles from downtown Bradenton and 150 miles from Wellington, the TerraNova Equestrian Center is quickly gaining notice. With Hannah Herrig Ketelboeter, a dynamic 26-year-old entrepreneur and equestrian competitor at the helm, TerraNova is taking big strides toward becoming a leading national competitive destination for events in this niche sport.

Hannah Herrig Ketelboeter and Zach Ketelboeter at TerraNova (Photo by Giana Terranova)

While overtaking Wellington as an equine epicenter might not be in the foreseeable future, several equestrian industry insiders insist TerraNova is a place to watch. “There really isn’t a big equestrian facility like us on the West Coast of Florida,” says Herrig Ketelboeter, TerraNova’s co-founder and owner-operator.

“They have everything they need for a first-run facility, and it’s only going to get better and better,” adds Derek Braun, founder and president of the Lexington, Kentucky-based Split Rock Jumping Tour, which hosted the first of what’s projected to be an annual event at TerraNova in January. “The facility is incredible. The investment the owners have put into it is amazing.”

One other notable equestrian facility in the Sarasota-Manatee region is Fox Lea Farms in Venice, which was founded in 1983 and hosts about 40 events a year. Another newer equestrian facility in Florida is in Ocala. That one, the World Equestrian Center, is a multimillion-dollar facility Herrig Ketelboeter likens to Disney World in that it features lots of bells and whistles but also a lot of, well, everything, on its mammoth 375-acre complex. The enterprise includes a 248-room hotel with rooms and suites that overlook the open-air grand stadium to watch events and competitions.

Ocala has more than 1,200 horse farms, so it’s a logical spot for something as large as the WEC. While plenty big, TerraNova (named for a horse Herrig Ketelboeter had while growing up: Tara, combined with the Latin word “nova,” for new) is designed with the trifecta of competitors, horses and spectators in mind.

“We are more laid-back and relaxed here,” than some of the higher-end spots in Wellington and the WEC, Herrig Ketelboeter says. “We want everybody to have a really great experience here. We try to draw people from all over, but we also want to boost the local equestrian scene.”

 

Attention to detail

TerraNova, which has 20 employees (a figure that jumps to about 50 leading up to and during an event), is one part equestrian and event center and one part estate home community.

TerraNova Estates, where lots for custom-built homes are at least 5 acres, covers 1,064 acres of the total property. Planned amenities in the gated community include a resort-style pool, streetlights for winding roads and riding trails. Sales information for the community states that homes will have “the feel of old Florida with giant Spanish-moss-covered oak tree hammocks, lush green grass lanes teeming with deer” and more.

The Florida-based Swedish rider Jennie Jarnstrom-Dennis and her Hanoverian mare, Flower Girl, after a cross-country run. (Photo by Al Green )

The 225-acre event site, meanwhile, is designed to be a go-to spot for all levels and segments of equestrian completion. Olympic gold medalist Mark Phillips designed the cross-country course, and other prominent equestrian professionals worked on the project as well.

TerraNova has six competition and practice arenas. It also has facilities that house a gym, a lounge with a kitchen, a laundry room and a full bathroom for boarding clients. Then there’s the spare-no-expenses barn. An Amish builder based in Pennsylvania, B&D Builders, which only constructs barns, handled the high-end home for horses for TerraNova. With rubber paver pathways and wide stalls, including one with air-conditioning, the picturesque TerraNova barn can easily be a stand-in for just about any barn in Wellington. B&D broke ground on the barn in January 2020 and finished in October 2020.

All that attention to detail leads Herrig Ketelboeter on a path to her passion: equestrian competition. TerraNova hosts a variety of competitions, including hunters and jumpers, the latter of which is an Olympic sport, and eventing, which is kind of an equine triathlon. TerraNova also offers lessons and training and sells horses.

Sales and horse training were what Herrig Ketelboeter initially had in mind when she and her husband, Zach, started planning TerraNova in 2017. Both accomplished equestrian competitors, the couple met in 2015 while training for an event in Wisconsin.

All told, TerraNova, financed for the most part by Herrig Ketelboeter’s father, Bradenton insurance executive Steve Herrig, is at least a $30 million project. That includes $10.5 million for the land where the estates will be built — the site of a previous community that didn’t work out. The equestrian site was acquired for $2 million in a series of transactions in March 2018, Manatee County property records show.

Steve Herrig, who along with his wife, Natalee, bought Herrig Ketelboeter her first horse, named Skip, when she was 10 years old, is the CEO of Sunz Insurance. The company, focusing on workers compensation insurance, does more than $400 million a year in revenue.

 

Top flight

Steve Herrig’s role at TerraNova is somewhere between silent partner and involved parent. Day-to-day oversight of the equestrian center and the vision to grow it into a national destination for world-class events falls to Herrig Ketelboeter.

Braun, whose Split Rock Jumping Tour has hosted events everywhere from Oregon to Texas to California, lauds Herrig Ketelboeter for prioritizing details at TerraNova. “I won’t host a show at a facility that’s subpar or not great for an exhibitor,” Braun says. “There are millions of facilities out there but only a few that are willing to put the work in like TerraNova and Hannah.”

Up next for Herrig Ketelboeter? Land more events, both from private shows like Split Rock and the sport’s governing body, the United States Equestrian Federation. Its first major event, The Event at TerraNova, was held in October and drew more than 150 competitors. Upcoming events are scheduled for both October and January 2023.

“We are steadily building out our facilities and planning a lot of events for the next year,” Herrig Ketelboeter says, adding the build-out includes a VIP hospitality pavilion and two new barns to hold 276 more horses.

Since Herrig Ketelboeter still competes, entering one or two events a month, overseeing the business side of the sport, where the focus significantly widens, has been one of the best aspects of TerraNova. “Being part of it from both sides has been really interesting,” she says.

Jumping the Ringling Bridge obstacle at TerraNova (Photo by Al Green)

Good footing

Scott Keach, a New Zealand-born equestrian competitor who participated in the 1988 and 2016 Olympics, was, like Braun, impressed with TerraNova. Now based in Ocala, Keach won the TerraNova Grand Prix during the first week of the TerraNova Spring Series, held March 16-27. “Coming from Ocala, where we have the World Equestrian Center, which is also amazing, this is an absolutely beautiful place,” Keach says. “It’s very beautiful for the horses because there is a lot of grass, but it’s also well done for the people. The architecture is stunning, and the footing is good. This is a fantastic addition to show jumping in Florida.”  

Kudos for TerraNova run from the inner circles of the sport — from equine competition experts like Keach and Braun — to local businesses and organizations hoping to attract well-heeled visitors to Manatee County from around the nation. Elliott Falcione, director of the Manatee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, says that like many visitors who tour TerraNova, he was “blown away” with all the elements already put in place. “I can’t wait to see what they have one year from now,” he says, “much less three to five years from now.”

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