If you’re a horse-show enthusiast or on the support team of a competitive equestrian, you may be used to long hours on hard bleachers or grass, lackluster food, and facilities that might not be best described as “glamorous.” The World Equestrian Center and its showpiece, The Equestrian Hotel, are here to change all that.
Located at the west end of Ocala amid horse farms and sprawling golf communities, the 380-acre complex rivals—and in many cases exceeds—Wellington International (where the Winter Equestrian Festival is held) as the epicenter of equestrian competition. With multiple indoor and outdoor arenas, the WEC is equipped for grand-scale competitions on the pro and collegiate levels. Almost every discipline, from dressage and hunter/jumper to Western pleasure and reining, has a home here, and an expansive polo facility is currently under construction. Beyond equestrian, there are facilities for sporting events like volleyball, cheerleading, and even a national-level dog show.
In the middle of it all—literally—is The Equestrian Hotel. It’s logical to assume that The Equestrian accommodates competitors and their entourages, but that’s only part of the picture. Nearly half of the guests of the 248-room hotel are either horse lovers who enjoy the energy and spectacle of the sport or travelers looking for a luxury vacation with an unusual spin.
Lounging in an elegant suite while watching a dressage competition beyond a picture window is definitely not your everyday hotel fare. The Equestrian puts you in the heart of the action without sacrificing the comforts and style of a high-end hotel. Marble bathrooms, haberdashery-inspired fabrics, and elevated classic design are all accommodation hallmarks, but it’s the bird’s-eye view of the sporting events—like your own private box!—that sets the rooms apart.
The public places are opulent but restrained. The lobby blends demure elements such as panel molding and mahogany millwork with glitzy touches like Swarovski crystal chandeliers and unapologetic strokes of gold. Naturally, equine references—from horse-head lamps to stirrup drawer pulls—are everywhere. The showstopper here is undoubtedly the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, but don’t miss the dog paintings that decorate practically every square inch of wall space on the ground level. It has to be one of the biggest collections of dog art anywhere.
On the dining front, the big story is Stirrups, as much for its fine-dining menu as its terrace overlooking the Grand Arena. Dine on prime steaks or Southern fare like summer corn hushpuppies and black-eyed pea salad while watching equestrian events just steps from your table. If you can snag a seat at the Yellow Pony, jump at the chance. This buzzing gastropub is all about its bourbons and whiskeys, but its Tatanka Blue bison burger is the stuff of legends. Order it with a side of garlic Parmesan fries and atone later.
It’s easy to make a weekend of exploring the hotel and showgrounds, but the surrounding area is compelling in its own right. Ocala is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, with such attractions as Ocala National Forest and some of the state’s most beautiful springs. Closest to the WEC, Rainbow Springs is a popular spot for tubing and swimming (that water!). A bit farther but worth the drive, Juniper Springs offers family-friendly, prolific snorkeling in crystal-clear water. For adrenaline seekers, The Canyons is a scenic and challenging spot for zip-lining (including a full moon adventure). Opt for the Big Cliff Canyon tour and fly over lakes, treetops, and canyons—one of many bucket-list experiences that can be checked off during a stay-and-play at The Equestrian.