It's old. Really old (as in median age of the population). I grew up in that area, btw (Anna Maria Island). there is SOME dressage (Venice, Fox Lea Farms) and some hunter scene, and SOME job prospects, but I really don't like the area as compared to the rest of Florida. Hotter, more crowded, although some of the beaches (Siesta Key!) are lovely. I probably am jaded because I grew up on the island when it was NOT crowded.
Water IS good - fishing, boating, etc. I like the Atlantic better (because I surf -the Gulf only kicks up surf when there is a hurricane out there (eek) but it is beautiful and WARM (well, hotter than Hades in the summer - we get a really nice seabreeze over on the West coast, but when I visit my friends over there I feel like I'm suffocating).
I LOVE Sarasota. I lived there for 6 months and my best friend has lived there for 10 years now. It is an older crowd, but is a lively crowd. There is some culture down there and the Ringling College so there is a younger scene. Traffic is a B*&CH.
I prefer Sarasota to Tampa. But I cannot afford to live there.
I hate the beach, prefer to vacation in the mountains, but that said, when we do go to the beach, it is to Long Boat Key, which is next to Sarasota. I do enjoy Sarasota. There is culture, a wonderful farmers market, good shopping and you are close to a lot of areas. Personally, I prefer the west coast, from Tampa on down, to living in central Florida.
I'm in Fort Myers, a bit south of Sarasota. Just about any town south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida is "God's waiting room". There are many, many, many older folks here.
There are some horse related things and you're actually not too far from Marion county and Ocala. Lots of horsey stuff going on there.
You should enjoy the water and water related activities. Pick up golfing too. There's not too much else to do.
The west coast of Florida is pretty low key. Not a whole lot going on. Its funny, I work in restaurants and have come to the realization that during a "long weekend", many people from the east coast head this way to relax, while those of us on the west coast head over east to party it up. The grass is always greener...
If you go north of Sarasota there is Bradenton - a more rural, less expensive area to live in. State park with riding trails on State Rd 64, and more amenities sprouting up there by the day. South of Sarasota is Venice - and I liked Venice. North of Bradenton is St Petersburg - job opportunities exist there depending on the occupation.