What is The Equestrian hotel in Ocala, Fla. like?
At The Equestrian, a luxury hotel in Ocala, Fla., guests are fully immersed in the
I took horseback riding lessons in elementary school for about two weeks. I stopped going because the horses made me more than a little nervous. Years later, my husband attempted to take me on a romantic horseback ride through the West Virginia mountains. It did not end well. So when I learned that a few hours from my home, in Ocala, Fla., there was a fully horse-themed hotel located on the grounds of a giant equestrian sporting venue, I wondered: Could spending a weekend immersed in the horse girl life at The Equestrian make me less nervous about horses?
I packed my suitcase, sans jodhpurs and riding boots, and hopped into the car. My teens and husband came along for the ride, excited to spend a weekend doing something entirely new for us. I knew there’d be a lot of horses, but I even commented that maybe I’d get to pet one. I was feeling optimistic.
What (and where) is The Equestrian hotel?
Move over Kentucky. As I researched the hotel and the 378-acre World Equestrian Center — a venue where riders compete, board their horses and more — I learned that Ocala, Fla. is known as the Horse Capital of the World, despite the common misconception that it’s Lexington. In the sprawling town of Ocala, horse farms abound. It’s home to a higher concentration of horses and ponies than anywhere else in the U.S. and has produced 50 national champions, six Kentucky Derby winners, 26 Breeders’ Cup champions and six Horses of the Year.
The World Equestrian Center welcomes visitors, spectators, exhibitors, retailers, vendors and more, but the real stars are the horses and their riders. The venue hosts jumping and dressage competitions, horse sales, horse shows and more, and offers beautiful boarding facilities for horses.
But when humans visit the facility, be it to spectate or compete, they need a place to sleep, too. The Equestrian offers 248 rooms, many of which overlook the Grand Arena, allowing guests to see all the equestrian action without leaving their room. Inside the sprawling white building, which has a stunning white pillared entrance and 20-foot ceilings in the lobby, there are fine dining restaurants, shops, a spa and more.
There’s also a beautiful outdoor pool as well as plenty of shady places to walk. And as you walk, you’ll more-than-likely see riders out and about on horseback.
Rooms at The Equestrian average between $400-$700 a night, depending on room type.
What is there to do around The Equestrian?
Horses aside, there’s lots to do in Ocala during your stay. National landmark and 350-acre nature park Silver Springs is a short drive from the hotel. And, there are museums, adventure parks, restaurants and distilleries in the area. My family spent a morning exploring the Ocala Downtown Market, a farmer’s market filled with local vendors selling everything from homemade jam to jewelry. Another morning, we took a glass-bottom kayak tour through Silver Springs before spending the afternoon at The Equestrian’s pool.
We found plenty to keep us busy in Ocala, but the star of the show was The Equestrian.
What’s it like to stay at The Equestrian hotel?
When we checked in, I found the lobby to be absolutely breathtaking. Filled with opulent furniture, incredible art (most of it equestrian or animal-themed) and lots of people in their riding clothes, the scene was set from the time we entered. After checking in, we had dinner at one of many horse-themed restaurants on the property, Yellow Pony Pub and Garden. The pub-style restaurant served a mean mint julep, and the ambiance transported us to a small darkened bar where we could imagine chatting with jockeys while we dined. A server told us John Travolta, who lives in Ocala, often stops into the bar of the Yellow Pony, but we never ran into him.
We also enjoyed breakfast the following morning at Stirrups, an elegant dining room that serves Southern-inspired brunch, in addition to dinners of steaks and chops. Our hotel room, which overlooked the Grand Arena, was decorated with horse-themed art and other equestrian touches, further making us feel immersed in a world we knew nothing about.
As we toured the stables and arenas where the actual horses hang out, I found myself thinking they were beautiful creatures who maybe didn’t make me so nervous after all. I also learned that due to the risk of spreading illness to the horse, petting is frowned upon.
Our favorite part of our stay at The Equestrian was an evening dining experience, presented during the Saturday night horse show, where equestrians compete in things like jumping and dressage. The shows can be watched from bleachers by hotel guests and day visitors, but for an added fee, guests are served dinner from a patio that overlooks the arena while watching the competition.
The three-course meal, priced at a little over $1,000 for a table of four and just over $1,600 for a table of six, includes complimentary beer and wine. Our menu included a delicious salad, a choice of beef tenderloin or grouper and dessert.
My family and I dressed up and headed down to the show, where we found ourselves surprisingly invested in the outcome and how each horse and rider performed. My daughter, 12 and rarely impressed, predicted the overall winner of the competition and was thrilled to earn bragging rights for the evening. Best of all, even though we’re not horse aficionados, we were able to follow along, enjoy the experience and get into the excitement of things.
Our biggest takeaway from our stay at The Equestrian, however, was the beauty of the property. Throughout the weekend, we slowed down and appreciated the green grounds, tree-lined walkways and adorable riders in their riding gear.
And yes, I even developed an appreciation for horses. It took a weekend at The Equestrian to realize I may not enjoy riding horses, but getting dressed up and watching horse shows is absolutely in my wheelhouse.
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