I lived out my horse girl dreams at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida

Upscale amenities and plenty of horses made my weekend at The Equestrian Hotel the perfect way to reconnect with my childhood self.
Horse statue at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida (Photo: The Equestrian)
Horse statue at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida (Photo: The Equestrian)

As a child growing up in the 1990s, I (and most other girls I knew) wanted two things: to ride horses and to be a marine biologist. As it turns out, neither of those were in the cards for me… at least not until I spent a weekend at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida, the only AAA Four Diamond Resort in the city, where I finally got to live out my ’90s horse girl dreams.

This stunning hotel is set within the World Equestrian Center (WEC), a 378-acre facility that’s the largest of its kind in the United States. In fact, it can grow even bigger because the property has an additional 300 acres set aside for future development. As I approached the WEC for the first time, I immediately understood why people flock to the hotel, even if they don’t ride horses. Ocala is a calm, quiet city that isn’t built up like neighboring Jacksonville or Gainesville. Driving there with my mom for a mother-daughter getaway, we both rolled down the windows to take in the country air, excited to spot different types of horses. 

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The best word to describe the Equestrian Hotel's lobby? Opulent. (Photo: Megan duBois)
The best word to describe the Equestrian Hotel’s lobby? Opulent. (Photo: Megan duBois)

We were greeted with a mass of traffic when we arrived at the hotel gate. Little did we know there was a big horse show in one of the arenas that night and it seemed that everyone within 100 miles got to the WEC at the same time. Despite the backup, the flow of traffic was smooth, and there were plenty of people directing cars, youngsters on horses, golf carts, and families walking around, so no one got too anxious to go when it wasn’t their turn. Still, it was a good indication that you should always try to arrive as early as possible for any events you may want to attend at the WEC. 

The Equestrian Hotel is all about horses, but horses aren’t the only stars here

After parking at The Equestrian Hotel, we walked up to the stately front lobby to find a bustling space filled with all types of people: those who came to watch a horse show, those who were going to be in the horse show, and those who (like me and my mom) were just looking for a weekend away and wanted to try something new. 

The best way to describe the lobby is “opulent.” It’s chock full of comfortable chairs and couches, but they’re surrounded by gold leaf and marble tables and shadowed by crystal chandeliers. More impressive still are the dog portraits that cover the circumference of the room, adding a bit of charm and character to the otherwise luxurious space. 

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Grand Arena at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida (Photo: Ethan Tweedie)
Grand Arena at The Equestrian Hotel in Ocala, Florida (Photo: Ethan Tweedie)

Our arena-view double queen room was ready upon arrival, so my mom and I scurried to the elevator to drop our bags before exploring the hotel and WEC more. There are 248 guest rooms and suites at The Equestrian Hotel, and many, including ours, looked over the Grand Arena where equestrian events take place almost daily. The room was flooded with light upon entry, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. I loved how comfortable the beds were, and that there was ample storage so I could completely unpack and put my suitcase in the closet.

To me, the best part of any hotel room is the bathroom, which in this case was absolutely massive. The full bathroom had beautiful marble settings, with a glass shower and a claw foot tub. There was also a separate toilet closet. Even better was that at the entryway to the room, there was also a second half-bath with a toilet and sink, which made getting ready in the morning even easier since there wasn’t a need to share counter space. What really made the room extra special, though, was the surprising continuation of the dog portrait motif from the lobby into our room. 

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In the evening, my mom and I headed out the door to the Grand Arena to watch some equestrian competition. One of the biggest perks of WEC is that all of the competition and shows that are in the Grand Arena are completely free, whether you’re a guest at the hotel or not. The open seating plan allowed us to get front-row seats to watch the horses and their riders jump over decorated hurdles.

I found myself cheering for horses with names I thought were funny or cute, and grabbing the edge of my armrests when horses didn’t make the jumps quite right. We ended up coming back to the Grand Arena to watch competitions and practice events multiple times during our weekend. 

Emma’s Patisserie transported me straight to Paris (Photo: Megan duBois)
Emma’s Patisserie transported me straight to Paris (Photo: Megan duBois)

Dining at The Equestrian Hotel: Beer, brunch, and baked goods

Throughout the weekend, we were able to dine at almost all of the restaurants at the hotel. Yellow Pony Pub & Garden is a lively spot where you can choose to sit inside or outside and nosh on traditional pub fare. I opted for burnt and grits, while my mom got fish and chips. Both were good, but because of how busy and loud the pub was, it was hard to hold a conversation inside the space and I had to ask our waiter multiple times to repeat himself. Not a big deal for us, but once I left the restaurant I definitely realized how loud it was inside compared to the rest of the hotel. 

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From the hotel manager, I learned that Yellow Pony has its own beer that’s brewed specifically for the restaurant called the WEC Reckless Lager, which is a Mexican-style lager. I grabbed one of these from the to-go line at the bar one afternoon and took it out to the Grand Arena with me to watch the equestrian competition. This is one beer I wish was sold at Publix because it was so good. 

Another highlight of the culinary scene at The Equestrian Hotel is Stirrups Restaurant, where you can eat inside in a beautiful dining room or outside on the patio overlooking the Grand Arena. I ate here for brunch, and it was one of the best brunch offerings I’ve had in a while. The menu is filled with brunch classics like eggs benedict and avocado toast. I had the hot chicken and grits, which was a perfect combination of creamy cheese grits and golden brown spicy fried chicken. 

After my spa treatment, I was handed a glass of Champagne and a tray of macarons to enjoy (Photo: Megan duBois)
After my spa treatment, I was handed a glass of Champagne and a tray of macarons to enjoy (Photo: Megan duBois)

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No hotel is complete without a coffee shop and pastry place, and at The Equestrian Hotel that’s Emma’s Patisserie. From the moment I walked in, I felt transported to Paris with glass cases displaying stunning edible works of art. Everything I tried from the bakery was exceptional, but my favorite was the s’mores cookie, which had big chunks of gooey marshmallow throughout. 

Additional amenities at The Equestrian Hotel

During my stay, I had the chance to experience the Calluna Spa. Even though the space was smaller than I expected with no steam rooms or whirlpool, my massage was great. After the treatment, I was brought to a small relaxation lounge and handed a glass of champagne and a tray of macarons to enjoy. The pool at the hotel is quite expansive, but because of how much was going on at the resort each day, I never got the chance to jump in. 

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One amenity that my mom and I relied on throughout our stay was the complimentary cart rides to destinations across the property. All we had to do was tell the valet or doorman that we wanted a ride and someone would be at the front of the resort in a few minutes to pick us up and whisk us away. This was especially helpful when we needed to get to one of the arenas that were rented out by companies to show off horses for a show one evening. 

My bathroom had beautiful marble settings, with a glass shower and a claw foot tub (Photo: Megan duBois)
My bathroom had beautiful marble settings, with a glass shower and a claw foot tub (Photo: Megan duBois)

The Riding Academy Hotel

One new addition to the resort since my stay is The Riding Academy Hotel, which was still under construction when I visited. The new hotel has 390 rooms, and 250 of those are one-bedroom suites. The Riding Academy Hotel pays homage to the dog portraits inside The Equestrian Hotel with custom-made ceramic dogs in the lobby.

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The hotel features a large outdoor pool, a fitness center, and more. In 2025, an additional 80,000-square-foot complex called The Shoppes off 80th will add even more space for restaurants and shops across from The Riding Academy Hotel. 

Would I stay at The Equestrian Hotel again?

My immediate answer is yes, I would stay at The Equestrian Hotel again. I loved being able to see horses up close and watch the competitions throughout the weekend. The dining scene far exceeded my expectations, and the resort amenities were well thought out for guests. What I loved most about the resort was that everyone felt like a family working together to ensure that every guest, regardless of their status or knowledge of equestrian sport, was having a good time.

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Megan duBois
Megan duBois is a freelance writer who covers theme parks, cruising, food and drink, and family travel. Her work has appeared on Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Insider, Orbitz, FamilyVacationist, The Daily Meal, Family Vacation Critic, TravelPulse, and more. Megan has been quoted as an expert and thought leader on theme parks for Forbes and other outlets.