When it comes to horses, Kentucky usually is top of mind. But a tiny town in central Florida, midway between Orlando and Gainesville, is home to a higher concentration of horses than anywhere else in the U.S. Ocala proudly proclaims itself the Horse Capital of the World. Here, streets are lined with majestic oak trees draped in Spanish moss. And verdant rolling farmlands are edged with gleaming white ranch rail fencing. But what’s really drawing the world’s attention is the World Equestrian Center. Unveiled in December 2020, the WEC is the country’s largest equestrian center at 378 acres. Comparatively, that’s almost the size of Disneyland. As such, it attracts upward of 100,000 competitive riders, trainers, owners and guests each year. And many of them choose to stay in the center’s on-property lodging, the luxurious Equestrian Hotel.
Located at the center of the WEC property, the Equestrian Hotel opened in May 2021. While its guests are more apt to wear cowboy boots and jeans instead of Louboutin heels and Chanel suits, the $800 million property spared no expense in creating an atmosphere that caters to celebrities, Olympians, and the equestrian world’s elite.
Overlooking the Grand Outdoor Arena and dozens of barns, the white neoclassical French-inspired building gleams in the Florida sun. It is truly a sight to behold. But the visual “wow” factor goes into overdrive when you step into the jaw-droppingly opulent lobby. It’s like Ralph Lauren meets Versailles.
Polished black marble floors anchor the white walls and 20-foot ceilings, while black velvet drapes frame tall windows. Multiple seating areas comprise groupings of wing chairs in black leather and zebra print; tufted black leather chesterfield sofas; and plush white slip-covered sofas. A Yamaha grand piano sits in one corner. And massive Swarovski crystal chandeliers cast a shimmering glow on gold-gilded tables and polished silver horse head lamps.
And because the owners love all animals, not just horses, the room is lined in hundreds of gold-framed dog paintings.
No detail is overlooked. Every corner offers a comfortable spot to relax or enjoy a cocktail and quiet conversation. Area rugs feature timeless Scalamandre prints, and hallways carpets showcase a design that echoes Hermès’ classic equestrian scarf patterns.
The hotel was 2021 Gold Key Awards finalist for Best Luxury Hotel, has received a AAA Four-Diamond rating, and has been named the Best Hotel in 2022 and 2023 by North Central Florida Media’s Best of the 352.
Rooms Offer Sumptuous Sophistication
The Equestrian Hotel has 248 rooms and suites, including standard King and Double Queen, One-Bedroom Suites, and the extravagant 1,160-square-foot Vice Presidential Suite. Many of the rooms overlook the Grand Arena. And all feature pillowtop mattresses, European linens — the Bellino bedspread was simply divine! — Sub-Zero beverage centers and 65-inch TVs.
The marble-clad bathrooms are spacious, with top-of-the-line fixtures. And the decor throughout is elegant, with a refined Ralph Lauren/horse country vibe. Neutral hues of brown and beige dominate. The furnishings are dark woods and leather hobnail, with silver hardware that’s reminiscent of Gucci’s horsebit mark. Even the polished silver lamps recall a winner’s cup. A white leather lumbar pillow with a brown leather saddle accent and buckle tops the crisp white bed linens.
I stayed in an Arena View King. Even though there were no equestrian activities going on in the arena during my stay, waking up to views of the large sand-covered ring was pretty amazing. As such, I can only imagine how exciting it must be to watch the horses and riders practicing their jumps.
In addition to the hotel rooms, the WEC also offers hundreds of RV campsites.
Dining at the Equestrian Hotel
There are seven restaurants at the Equestrian Hotel, with something for every guest at every price point.
Fine-dining Stirrups is located just beyond the lobby and wood-paneled elevator antechamber. It offers prime steaks and chops, seafood and seasonal specialties. Also just past the lobby is the Yellow Pony Pub, with its green-and-gold facade. Saddle up at the horseshoe-shaped bar — literally. You can sit on bar stools made out of an actual saddles.
The menu here ranges from traditional bar foods such as burgers, soft pretzels, and fish ’n chips, to steaks, lobster rolls, and tuna poke. Skip the beer menu, which features mainly your standard domestic brands, and try one of the specialty cocktails. I had the Sudden Impulse, made with Four Roses bourbon, lemon, and black cherry. The Yellow Pony Julep and Mustang Margarita also are popular choices.
Also inside the hotel is Emma’s Patisserie, which offers fresh-based pastries, macarons and coffee. And outside, more dining options are available in standalone buildings. Located just a few minutes’ walk from the rear of the hotel are Filo’s Mexican Cantina, Ralph’s Burger & Sandwich Shop, and Viola & Dot’s Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria. I ate at Viola & Dots, and the food was similar to that found in a food court or cafeteria. But overall, it was quick, inexpensive, and great for young ones.
If poolside dining is more your speed, there’s the Horse to Water bar, which offers cocktails, frozen drinks, beer and wine, and a selection of light bites. The bar is open from April through October.
After dinner, don’t forget to stop by Miss Tilly’s Lollipops, also located in a separate building near the hotel, for a sweet treat. Choose from candies, homemade fudge, ice creams, and even some bourbon-filled chocolates to take home.
More Than Accommodations
In addition to its many dining options, the Equestrian Hotel offers plenty of shopping opportunities. Kids of all ages will enjoy Mr. Pickles & Sailor Bear Toy Shoppe. Shelves are stocked with everything from Steiff teddy bears to Breyer collectible horses. There’s even the original 15-foot-tall Toys “R” Us Geoffrey from Times Square and a life-size mechanical lion.
For the adults, hotel is home to Lugano Diamonds; the Debonair Collection, which includes brands like Cartier, Gucci, Chloe and more; menswear store John Craig Clothier; and A Sudden Impulse, which offers WEC-branded merchandise, artwork, and fine jewelry.
Around the WEC property and inside many of the arenas are more than 30 retailers. You can find everything from equestrian wear, saddles and tack, and horse care products to luxury goods. And in 2024, the center will begin construction on an 80,000-square-foot shopping venue that will feature 31 storefronts. The Shoppes Off 80th is scheduled to open in 2025.
If You Stay at the Equestrian Hotel
While the hotel can’t be beat, make sure to explore the WEC’s grounds. You can reserve a golf cart to get you around, or you can spend an afternoon exploring the many paths and walkways that traverse the bucolic property. There’s so much to see, including the picturesque Ocala Chapel, a general store, a veterinary hospital, multiple arenas, turn-out paddocks, stables, and more.
Of course, the stars of the WEC are the horses. The facility offers everything from dressage, Western, barrel racing, hunter/jumper, and breed shows. I was lucky enough to witness the Paso Fino Horse Association’s Grand National Show. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Rooms at the Equestrian Hotel start at about $300 per night, with the Vice Presidential Suite running upward of $3,000/night. And while pets are allowed inside the hotel and on the outdoor terraces and patios, they are not permitted in guest rooms. You can also compare rates and make reservations through Booking.com.
If you love horses but prefer good ol’ fashioned cowboy adventures, check out our review of Arizona’s White Stallion Ranch.
Exterior photos courtesy of The Equestrian Hotel. Interior photos by Rebecca L. Rhoades.