Winter Garden residents Anne and Paul Bingler are fighting for their way of life.
After the Winter Garden City Commission approved the first reading of an ordinance pertaining to the annexation and development of a property next to their home and business, Crown Pointe Equestrian, the future appears bleak for the owners of the horse farm.
However, the Binglers are not giving up hope, and the community has come together to rally behind them in opposition to the development.
‘ALL WE KNOW’
Originally from Philadelphia, Anne Bingler’s love affair with horses began when she was just 4 years old.
“It was a learning experience … in just how to deal with humans,” she said. “It was something I did with my whole family. My mom rode, my sister rode. We showed and competed together. I went off to college, and I continued to do it down here. Then when my sister had my niece, my niece became a competitive rider. It’s in our family; It’s kind of all we know.”
Bingler attended the University of Central Florida before continuing on to Stetson University’s College of Law.
As soon as she completed law school, she bought the horse farm, a decision her parents called “crazy.”
“I was a new little associate at a law firm, and I said, ‘I want to buy this acreage and build a horse farm,’” she said. “And my dad’s like, ‘How about you save some money and not do that?’ And I said, ‘No, no, this is what I want to do.’ And so I did. I built this myself.”
‘ALL WE HAVE’
As one of the few remaining horse farms in West Orange County, Crown Pointe has owned the narrow plot of land along Tilden Road for almost 25 years and has been training Olympic-level horses there since 1998.
Anne Bingler said she knew she wanted to have her horse farm in Winter Garden because of the central location and its beauty.
“This was an unmowed field with brush,” she said of the property when she purchased it. “I divided it out and built my pastures and moved the horses in, and that was that. There used to be five cars a day that would go down (Tilden Road). It was so quiet. We used to literally ride our horses down the road to Tiny Road or to the back of our property and go through the fields and just ride. We used to just disappear and ride for a day. Now, I’m afraid to even cross the road.”
The property is 66 acres, although the Binglers only use the front 12 acres, because the back end is wetlands.
The property houses 25 horses with an additional two infants — and another on the way — at a valuation of more than $2 million.
Although the horse farm brings joy and pleasure, the property does not come without hard work.
The Binglers have only taken one vacation since they met, and they work seven days a week — from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days — to maintain the farm.
“I don’t know what keeps me doing it,” Anne Bingler said. “I guess it’s just the passion for it.”
With Anne Bingler showing horses at the top level in the world, there is nothing comparable in the area to what the horse farm offers.
“We’re a true horse business,” she said. “We’re a breeding, selling, training, performing business.”
The pair cannot afford to move the horse farm; all the farms are listed at development prices.
Anne Bingler said she has stayed to herself her whole life in Winter Garden, and it wasn’t until the project came to light that she has had to become public.
“I don’t tell people what I do and where I show and that I have these expensive horses because I’m not like that,” she said. “But I’ve had to lately as an act of survival for the farm. This is not a casual; this is our life. This is what we have. This is all I have.”
ALL FOR ONE
The Binglers have set up a petition to fight the development, which has garnered more than 2,000 signatures.
Many residents have consistently spoken against the development, noting concerns with traffic and other impacts, and how the horse farm needs to be preserved to keep the city as special as possible.
Although Anne Bingler does not really have students, she has a habit of taking on “misfits.”
A young girl who had the passion to ride but not the money is now riding at the top tier in the nation after the Binglers gifted her a $150,000 horse, and took her to shows to train and teach her. A young boy who was expelled from school now works hard labor on the farm fixing things in exchange for profit. A young girl failing school with social anxiety was transformed within a year when the Binglers invited her to see the joys of the farm. A homeless man who wanted to work on the farm was rented a local apartment with the rent paid and given a car until he could get back on his feet by working at the farm.
“We have so many kids from the community (who) have come here (who) just don’t fit into (the) community,” she said. “They come to this farm, and they’re treated just like everybody else. They’re not singled out. The horses don’t know. … This place is not a true commercial riding facility. But … it’s kind of a second chance for a lot of the kids (who) would never have an opportunity to do this.”
Nicole Barrett met Anne Bingler when she moved to Florida as a teenager back in 1998. The pair bonded over their mutual love of horses.
“When she told me her plans to build her farm on Tilden Road, I was elated — even more so once I saw the picturesque piece of land,” Barrett said. “It felt like paradise with the beautiful trees and rolling pastures. As soon as her barn was finished, I moved my horses there to what would become a refuge for me.
I was a typical teenager — lonely in a new place and tempted to make some bad choices,” she said. “Anne truly took me under her wing and helped shape me into who I am today. I had the honor of working at the farm throughout high school and college, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. None of that would have happened without Anne’s farm. I highly doubt that yet another zero lot line, cookie-cutter subdivision would have afforded me the same opportunity. I hate to think of how differently my life may have turned out without Anne and that beautiful horse farm on Tilden Road.”
Rylee Tessmer said the horse farm has impacted her life by helping her grow and improve in the sport of competitive riding.
“It has helped me realize what I want to do for the rest of my life as a career,” she said. “It also brings me so much joy and happiness. My trainer Anne Bingler has given me so many amazing opportunities with these animals and without her or the horse farm I wouldn’t be able to do what I love.”
One mother, who asked to remain anonymous, said her daughter — who she refers to as sweet and sensitive — struggled with finding an activity that made her happy from the young age of 3.
She said she took her daughter to the horse farm. Immediately after Anne Bingler welcomed them through the gate, her daughter’s eyes lit up.
“We knew at that moment she had found her happy place, and this is where she needed to be,” the mother said. “This child, when I tell you she had struggled in school with friendships … definitely gets bullied, definitely has really had some hardships as far as trying to struggle with her own internal anxiety in school and with all aspects of life. But when she goes to that farm, all of that goes out the window; it’s pure heaven for her.”
The young girl is now 11 years old, and Anne Bingler fondly refers to her as “my mini-me.”
“Anne has been a mentor to her since she was a little girl,” the mother said. “It’s a safe place that she’s always been able to go. Those animals have that unconditional love. …She talks and sings to them. … This has absolutely been a saving grace for us. We’ve raised our family around this farm. It has saved our child, and we owe so much of that to this farm. It’s going to be a big shame if they vote this in.”
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