Known by many as the "Horse Capital of the World," Ocala's reputation only stands to grow with the opening of what it is calling the largest equestrian complex in the U.S., featuring the 378-acre World Equestrian Center. The complex is made of up of three-acre farm estates as well as indoor and outdoor event grounds, retail, a hotel and more. The complex is expected to have a soft opening in October, with the first equestrian event to be held after the official grand opening on New Year's Day.
The center's interiors and exteriors were imagined by Miami Beach designer Ric Owens, whose previous experience lies in commercial retail, hotels and high-end custom homes. The World Equestrian Center complex will feature an as-yet-unnamed five-star, pet-friendly luxury hotel on completion, with 254 balcony suites, 18,000 square feet of retail space and an equestrian boutique outfitted with jewelry, fine art and apparel. The hotel will also feature several food and beverage options, including a fine dining restaurant with seating for 500 guests.
The World Equestrian Center is meant to be a haven for both horse and rider and is said to have approximately 1.5 million square feet of riding space, including on-site riding trails through Ocala's scrub oak forests and the center's parklike manicured gardens, a three-acre outdoor stadium, four indoor arenas and 17 outdoor arenas, training/education areas and 2,040 climate-controlled stalls and barns. If guests come to the Equestrian Center via RV, the full-service luxury RV Park can house 160 vehicles (with power, water and wifi) as well as golf club parking.
The complex will also offer adjacent access to the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, surrounded by a championship 18-hole golf course and practice areas. The clubhouse also features three on-site restaurants, a spa, salon, fitness and tennis center and resort-style pool.
Outside the complex, the recreational options are vast in Ocala, a Central Florida city of 60,000 located about 90 miles northwest of Orlando. The Ocala National Forest features hiking, canoeing and biking trails where wildlife sightings are common, including black bears, alligators, white-tailed deer, red fox, river otters and bobcats. The longest, fastest and highest ziplines in the state are at Canyons Zipline & Canopy Tours, which includes nine ziplines, two rope bridges and a rappel to lower you back to Earth. Silver Springs State Park, where the glass-bottom boat tours are the draw, is about 30 minutes away from the World Equestrian Center. Silver Springs has been in operation for over a century.
The World Equestrian Complex will employ an estimated 300 to 500 people, so the tourism impact in Marion County is expected to be strong, driving the development of additional hotels, attractions and infrastructure projects to the area.