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Horses go west to undeveloped frontier

The sale of a horse farm to shopping center developers leads a Land O'Lakes business to seek quieter pastures.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- Surrounded by a Burger King, a Winn-Dixie supermarket and a Discount Auto Parts, Barbara Woods' horse farm at State Road 54 and Collier Parkway bucked the suburbanization trend longer than most.

A day came in October when the trend could no longer be bucked. Into the trailers went the horses. Down went the wooden barn and picket fences. Up rose the concrete shell of a Publix supermarket.

Yet the sale of Woods' 75-acre horse farm to shopping center developers for $8.2-million wasn't the end of the story.

The stables and barns have reappeared, in slick sheet metal rather than weathered wood, on 35 acres at Drexel and Lake Patience roads, a few miles farther west in Land O'Lakes.

Woods owns the site but leases the space to Don Judd, who for 18 years has trained show horses in partnership with Woods. Judd is glad to be on Land O'Lakes' final undeveloped frontier, even though he spent part of his first two months there in a temporary tent.

Last week you could actually hear the wind whistling through the oak and cypress. Quite a change from the hum of six lanes of traffic at Collier and SR 54.

"I like it over here," Judd said from the half-built barns and office building on Drexel Road. "It's a lot quieter."

Judd and Woods specialize in American Saddlebreds, a graceful, athletic breed used for horse shows involving trotting around a ring.

About 40 of the horses live and train at Judd Stables, their temporary stalls decked with red Christmas ribbons. Owners live as far away as Texas and Louisiana.

Judd said show horses can be an expensive hobby, prohibitive for all but the well-heeled. But he also serves a local clientele without extraordinary means.

"It's like a boat. You can get a little boat or get a yacht," Judd said as stable hands mucked out the sawdust-floored stalls with rakes.

Judd Stables started leasing from the Woodses in the mid 1980s, after freezes destroyed the family's orange groves at Collier and SR 54.

As the intersection developed in typical suburban fashion -- gas station here, supermarket there -- the stables remained an anomaly as the last pristine piece of ground.

Todd Woods, Barbara's late husband, started the horse business knowing development would eventually swallow the land. At one point the family was getting an average of two offers a week from developers.

In 1999, the family cut a deal with Primerica Inc., based in Carrollwood. Primerica completed the purchase last summer and started building a Publix and Walgreens drugstore, to open by the spring.

The back of the property is approved for 250 apartments. A couple of restaurants, including a Checkers, will be part of the mix.

As for the new stables, Judd predicts they will be finished by April, trimmed in acres of lush pasture grass.

So far, other development in the area is scant. A nearby apartment complex and train tracks are the biggest disturbances.

"We get a couple of trains a day out here," Judd said on a bright morning last week, the grounds damp from a morning shower. "But they don't bother me. And they don't bother the horses."

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