Hit the trail at Happy Acres

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Down a dirt road in Dunnellon, lies a 40-acre farm once intended to be a private retreat – a retirement home. But now after numerous requests, Happy Acres Ranch has opened to the public.

James Moore and his wife, Eileen, bought Happy Acres in 2005. After the construction industry began to slow in Port St. Lucie, the couple decided to move to Marion County. The father of seven is the president of Moore and Coates Construction and has been building houses since 1966.

After purchasing the farm, the Moores remodeled it by tearing down the old buildings and putting a new one in their place. The following year they decided to buy an additional 10 acres next to the property, which is where the three-bedroom “Lonesome Dove” guest cottage is located. And they also built two new barns. “We get a lot of people that are traveling through town and stop here to board the horses just for the night”– and they stay in one of the guest homes, he said. The farm also has another guest house called “Happy Hooves.”

Shortly following purchasing the additional acreage and constructing the barns, they started to get interest from the public to go out on the trails near the ranch. “We didn’t ever intend on opening it up to the public; that was strictly because people kept coming in here asking if they could go out on our trail rides,” he said.

After investigating the cost of insurance, Happy Acres Ranch started offering trail rides. At that time, Moore said they were doing the guided trail rides for free, because they unsure of what to charge. “They just kind of paid whatever they felt like paying. It was fine with us. But, then it got to be overwhelming,” he said of the amount of people showing up for the trail rides. That is when they decided to start charging the riders.

Guests can ride horses along the 50 miles of trails outside the property. Those who wish to ride along the Florida Greenway, the guide will take guests to a nearby trailhead and drop them off.

For example, a party of five visited the farm and wanted to campout at a trailhead. The ranch picked their horses up and boarded them at the facility overnight. The next morning, the campers were brought breakfast and the horses were returned to them, he said. 

The trail rides cost $35 per person for 30 minutes, $50 per person for 60 minutes and $80 per person for two hours. It costs $50 to haul the horses to the greenway three miles away from the ranch. Smaller children have the option of a 15-minute hand led trail ride for $15. Guests can use their own horse or can ride one at the ranch.

In addition, this summer the ranch will hold its first horse camp program for children. “We’ve had a very good response” to the program,” he said. During the weeklong camp, which was designed by instructor Katie Busey, the children will do jumps, trail riding, tacking, bathing, riding lessons, art and crafts and barn activities, among others. The camp costs $250.

Happy Acres also offers horseback riding lessons. During the classes, the students are taught skills like horse care 101 and barn management. The lessons can be taken privately, semi-privately or with a group, according to a Happy Acres brochure. A private lesson cost $45 for an hour and a semi-private lesson will run $30 for an hour.

The summer horse camp has a programs running weekly throughout June, July and August. The camp is 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday. Space is limited. To participate in the camp, riders must be 7 and older.

For more information about the services offered at Happy Acres Ranch call 427-8870 or visit www.happyacressales.com. The ranch is located at 10051 SW 125th Terrace.