If you haven’t heard of Ocala, Florida, you’re not alone. But here’s why you should have Central Florida on your radar. It is rich with unspoiled natural beauty (imagine crystal clear springs, oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and lush, rolling hills). The city’s historic downtown is wonderfully pedestrian-friendly and full of charming little businesses ranging from antique shops to craft breweries. Finally, Marion County, where Ocala is located, is considered the horse capital of the world. Due to its year-round mild climate and limestone-rich soil – which promotes strong bones – the region boasts over 1,200 horse farms and a legacy of producing some of the most iconic champions in this sport.
That’s why Ralph “Larry” and Mary Roberts built the World Equestrian Center, a 380-acre equestrian site that was unveiled in December 2020, and more recently, The equestrian hotel. Opened last May, the 248-room hotel was created for equestrian pursuits — the horse theme is everywhere, from the bridle-print carpeting to the Yellow Pony Pub’s custom saddle stools — but really, anyone can book a stay here. And that’s because the property feels more like a full-service luxury resort than a typical hotel, with something for every type of traveler.
Interiors by Ric Owens of Roberts Design are unabashedly opulent, as evidenced by the Grand Lobby adorned with soaring 20-foot ceilings, twinkling Swarovski crystal chandeliers, an oversized stone fireplace, and a grand piano. But it is also accessible. Looking closer at the hanging art, you’ll find that all of the pieces are portraits of dogs, which nods to Mary’s love for animals. Look around and you’ll notice the cool, low-key vibe of the guests, many of whom wear riding boots for their events. (Although the popular Saturday night competitions at the Grand Arena, which draw up to 7,500 spectators, are a classier affair.)
This elegant and comfortable design approach extends to the bedrooms with their light and airy atmosphere, beautiful furnishings and spacious marble bathrooms. If you can: book a room with a view of the arena, because there’s nothing like looking out the window and having a virtual front row seat to watch a horse show.
Eating and Drinking Well is Easy with Seven Foods and Drinks electrical outlets with distinct personalities and a top-notch team including Executive Chef Ryker Brown, Pastry Chef Yohann Le Bescond and Roland Micu, who became the world’s youngest Master Sommelier at 28. So whether you’re craving Yellow Pony Pub’s Buffalo Smoked Chicken Dip, Emma’s Patisserie’s delicate macaroons or Stirrup’s juicy rib eye, there’s something for everyone. Another thing that makes The Equestrian’s culinary program exceptional is its dedication to doing as much as possible from scratch. While it’s more than acceptable for a property of this stature to outsource and use off-the-shelf products, it’s not. (Example: even the chicken in the aforementioned dip is smoked on the spot.)
Other ways to make your visit to The Equestrian even more memorable are to shop at its special boutiques, such as Lugano Diamonds and Mr. Pickles & Sailor Bear, a whimsical boutique that stocks high-end toys like Breyer Horses. There’s an immaculate fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment if you want to work out, and a sparkling outdoor pool if you prefer to relax outdoors. If you need to relax even more, head to Calluna Spa. The 7,000 square foot oasis features four treatment rooms and specializes in unique, results-driven treatments such as rider recovery massages and cutting-edge hydrafacial treatments.