From the Paddock
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
A Heartfelt Calling
Foundation Thoroughbred Family Continues to Give Back
In the mid-1950s, two oilmen from Oklahoma, Bonnie Heath and Jack Dudley, bought adjoining cattle ranches on State Road 200, just west of I-75, and turned them into Thoroughbred farms.
Bonnie Heath Farm became one of Ocala’s foundation Thoroughbred operations and was the home of Needles, who, in 1956, became the first Florida-bred horse to win the famed Kentucky Derby. Tributes to the farm’s history can be seen in Ocala, including Bonnie Heath Boulevard and the various Heathbrook developments established around the farm’s original location.
The Heath family continues to call Ocala home, but after decades of breeding and raising racehorses, their focus now is the creation of a non-profit facility to provide a Thoroughbred retirement sanctuary, along with community programs.
Named for his father, Bonnie Heath III grew up on the farm during the thrilling Needles era. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a business degree in 1971 and returned to Ocala in 1974. Bonnie bought into his first racehorse in the early 1980s with Scott Dudley, the son of his father’s business partner. In 1988, he married Kim.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Kim was the horse-obsessed girl who skipped lunch at school so she could save up her lunch and allowance money to go ride at the beach rental stables for an hour on Saturdays. Since buying her first horse at age 20, Kim has focused her career on the animals she loves, operating her own Thoroughbred boarding and breeding farm in Ocala for seven years.
After Kim and Bonnie were married, they offered to run the farm for the elder Heaths, but Bonnie’s dad didn’t take them up on the offer until January 1991. “Three days after we took over, Holy Bull was born, and he turned out to be the best horse off the farm in all our years there,” recalls Bonnie of the gray colt who became a Grade One stakes winner of $2,481,760 and 1994 Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and 1994 Horse of the Year.
Development finally caught up with Bonnie Heath Farm’s original location on State Road 200. “We moved the horses off that location in 1999 and boarded them until buying a farm in Reddick in 2004,” says Bonnie. “Since we moved off that location this year, we’ve boarded our horses, some in Kentucky and the others in Ocala.”
Bonnie credits his father with instilling a passion for giving back and helping others. “My father was the first president of United Way in Marion County in 1961,” says Bonnie, who was 11 at the time. “I’ve found that people remember you for how much good you’ve done.”
For decades, that principle has been a heartfelt calling for Kim and Bonnie. While continuing to operate Bonnie Heath Farm, they also got deeply involved in equine hurricane disaster relief efforts, rescuing and re-homing Thoroughbreds, as well as humanitarian and community services.
In 2017, Kim and Bonnie Heath received the Carry Back Award for Community Service from the Florida Thoroughbred Farm Managers, Inc. The award recognized their efforts to coordinate and send shipments of feed, hay, medication, and supplies to assist the horses and livestock of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, during the hurricane disasters of 2017.
While doing relief work for natural disasters, the Heaths met Michael Blowen of Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, dedicated to pensioned ex-racehorses. “We got friendly with the organization; Michael was, and is, a huge inspiration and support,” says Kim, adding that he continues to advise them on their own nonprofit.
Providing a permanent home to older Thoroughbreds is nothing new to the Heaths. “We’ve always taken care of our pensioners and had pastures for our retired horses,” says Bonnie. “Every horse we breed can come home to us, and each has a sticker on their registration certificate to that effect.”
The Heaths named Pangea Equine in honor of one of their foundation broodmares. Miss Pangea was a graded stakes-winning producer who overcame debilitating laminitis to live a long, healthy life before passing in October 2021 at age 26. “We want to add a laminitis care division, and that will be her legacy,” says Kim.
As their 501(c)(3) application is being finalized, the Heaths are in the process of procuring the right property for Pangea Equine. “We wanted to find a location that was closer to WEC [World Equine Center],” says Kim, noting that this will be more convenient for the public to interact with their nonprofit.
The Heaths plans with Pangea Equine are as much for the community as for providing a safe retirement for Thoroughbreds. “We will offer equine-assisted therapies for children, veterans, seniors, the emotionally and physically disabled, and victims of human trafficking,” says Kim.
The Heaths will assist the Ocala Horse Alliance with their Black Stallion Reading Project by hosting fourth graders to read to the horses. “We hope to have anyone with reading disabilities come read to the horses,” adds Kim.
Community outreach and education will make Pangea Equine a rewarding destination for anyone hoping to learn more about horsemanship. “We will provide a retirement home for ‘un-adoptable’ Thoroughbreds,” says Kim, “and while this will be our main purpose, we will offer public and private tours, storytelling, and horsemanship classes, as well as job training in the equine industry.”