The Horse Capital of the World Just Got Its Second Luxury Hotel — Here’s What It’s Like to Stay

Central Florida has a long history of being overlooked by travelers bound for the Gulf Coast to the west, the Panhandle, and the state’s Atlantic-facing beaches (read: any place with beautiful Florida beaches lapped by salt water). But intrepid travelers looking to divert from the state’s storied coasts know that to see some of Florida’s most gorgeous, rolling landscapes and ethereally beautiful freshwater springs (rivaling Mexico’s cenotes), detouring inland in the Sunshine State is where it’s at.

And that’s where The Riding Academy Hotel, sister property to The Equestrian Hotel, enters the picture as an idyllic destination for a different Sunshine State vacation.

Situated in the heart of the state’s horse country in Ocala (about 90 miles northwest of Orlando), the property had its soft opening in mid-March of 2024 and officially opened April 1, just in time for the World Equestrian Center — the largest equestrian complex in the U.S., sprawling across 400 acres, and the hotels’ home — to host the U.S. qualifier for the Longines League of Nations, a major equestrian showjumping event.

With 390 rooms compared to The Equestrian Hotel’s 248 rooms, The Riding Academy is larger than its sibling and caters squarely to the dog-friendly and family-friendly crowd. (It’s also just a 10-minute stroll away through the pedestrian-friendly grounds.)

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

All rooms are pet-friendly, and 250 are outfitted with two queen beds and a sofa, making it all the easier to welcome families beyond two or three people.

While The Equestrian Hotel nods to formal, European-inspired flair, The Riding Academy, which has a slightly lower price point, was designed to feel more casual, says Rick Owens, the senior designer at Roberts Design Group, which is behind the hotel’s very becoming looks.

“We took traditional equestrian motifs but added more intense hues similar to jockey silks — bright greens, purples, navy blues, and bright butternut colors reflective of saddle leathers,” Owens told Travel + Leisure. “The use of those brighter, strong plaids gives a pop to the darker leather sofas and gives a fresher, more current feel.”

During an antiquing trip to a furniture market in High Point, North Carolina, Owens said his team saw an antique carved wooden horse sign in the back of a shop with “Riding Academy” on it.

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

“We knew it was a sign about the hotel’s name since we were initially struggling to think of something,” he said. “What do you name another property following The Equestrian Hotel? This incredible antique just really solidified that.”

There are clear links between the two properties, of course — perhaps most apparent in the many nods to dogs, the most beloved pets of the hotels’ owner. But while oil paintings of canine portraits dominate The Equestrian Hotel, The Riding Academy’s abundant artwork skews more casual and whimsical, with dogs dressed up as jockeys, riders, and professors in the paintings, prints, and sculptures displayed in the public spaces and guest rooms.

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

“It has this sort of collegiate yearbook vibe to it that plays into the academy aspect really well,” Owens added.

Ground has already been broken on the street-facing side of The Riding Academy for an 80,000-square-foot outdoor shopping venue to come that will feature roughly 30 new shops, two rooftops, an event space, and four new restaurants, which will start opening in mid-2025.

For now, come to enjoy The Riding Academy’s generous and luxurious rooms, gorgeous pool, and all the amenities, restaurants, and spa area on offer at The Equestrian Hotel, too — just a scenic stroll (or golf cart tour) away through the oak-lined grounds of The World Equestrian Center. 

Read on for T+L’s full review of Ocala’s newest luxury hotel.

The Riding Academy Hotel

  •  Guests can rent golf carts during their stay, perfect for zipping around with the kids and dogs. 
  • The huge pool has a zero-entry area on the far end for families to play like on a beach, and there’s a dedicated kids’ water play area nearby. 
  • The majority of the rooms are one-bedroom suites with two queen beds and an additional sofa sleeper in a separate living space, great for privacy. 
  • The onsite marketplace off the lobby sells Starbucks coffee, gourmet salads, craft beers, and seltzers, available by the can to enjoy poolside or in your room. 
  • The big outdoor fireplace on the sundeck patio is a beautiful place to gather come evening.

The Rooms

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

All 390 rooms have wood-like ceramic tile flooring, marble bathrooms with rainwater showers, oversized closets designed to accommodate all the apparel horse people often need to travel with, and luxury Bellino Italian linens on the beds. We’re talking serious room to spread out in these accommodations, too, with the smallest among them (a king studio) sprawling across 439 square feet. A two-bedroom suite is more than 1,100 square feet.

Also, a perk for the canine-loving equestrian set: Unlike its older sibling, all rooms at the Riding Academy Hotel are dog-friendly for a one-time fee of $100 per dog up to 75 pounds.

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

Of the rooms, 250 are one-bedroom suites with two queen beds and a separate pull-out sofa in another room that can be closed off with a door, accommodating six people — hello, large families! Playful artwork incorporates animals: dogs dressed as jockeys, chinchillas parading atop zebras, you name it. There are subtle equestrian touches, too, such as Ralph Lauren stirrup sconces, custom trophy lamps, and custom leatherwork on throw pillows reminiscent of a bridle and reins. In-room coffee makers and Sub-Zero mini-fridges round out the residential touches.

Food and Drink

For now, there’s only one onsite food option at The Riding Academy, a gourmet market, which is a good option for a light breakfast or lunch to go. Hit The Tack Room, right off the lobby, for Starbucks coffee drinks, grab-and-go charcuterie platters, gourmet salads, and a soft serve machine the kids will beg to hit every time you walk in. You can order breakfast items at the counter, including smoked salmon, bagels, avocado toast, cinnamon rolls, croissants, quiche, and English muffin sandwiches. From 11 a.m. onward, nachos, chorizo flatbreads, baked chicken wings, Bavarian pretzels, and smoked brisket grilled cheese sandwiches are also available.

Guests at The Riding Academy can walk or request a complimentary shuttle to reach The Equestrian Hotel and the dining options scattered around The World Equestrian Center that include Mexican and Italian counter-service restaurants, Filo’s Mexican Cantina and Viola & Dot’s; an adorable candy and ice cream shop called Miss Tillly’s Lollipops; Ralph’s Burger & Sandwich Shop; and more upscale options like the pub-style Yellow Pony and steakhouse and seafood restaurant, Stirrups. Don’t miss bringing the family to Emma’s Patisserie for a sweet treat in the form of freshly baked macarons and other gorgeous European-inspired pastries and sandwiches. 

Activities and Amenities

DAVE MILLER/Courtesy of Maven Photo & Film

Plenty of lounge chairs surround The Riding Academy’s freeform swimming pool, which is at the heart of the hotel in an oversized courtyard complete with a separate water splash area for kids and an outdoor fireplace that’s a lovely place to gather in the evenings. Two fitness centers on-site at The Riding Academy have all the modern equipment and free weights you need.

Guests also have access to the pool at The Equestrian Hotel, surrounded by beautiful oak trees and home to an onsite cafe and bar called Horse to Water, where the Palomino punches, Mai Tais, and frozen cocktails flow.

Renting a golf cart from the hotel’s fleet is a fun way to set out exploring the entire property, shaded with old-growth live oak trees, and where there’s usually some horse event or another happening at one of the many arenas. Of the gorgeous nearby freshwater springs to explore within a half-hour drive of the hotel, bookmark Rainbow Springs State Park, which is excellent for swimming, and Silver Springs State Park, perfect for a boat cruise down the river. Both have waters teeming with fish and turtles that seem to glow turquoise from within.

The Spa

While there’s no spa onsite at The Riding Academy, guests can book hot stone massages, collagen-boosting facials, decadent wraps, pedicures, hair styling, and more at The Equestrian Hotel’s 7,000-square-foot Calluna Spa, decorated in shades of purple as an ode to lavender. The spa’s five treatment rooms include one designed for couples, and there’s a full-service hair salon onsite. 

Family-friendly Offerings 

The World Equestrian Center’s walkability and frequent schedule of events — they go all out for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Christmas, Easter, and more — make staying at The Riding Academy family-friendly by nature.  Kids love the soft-serve ice cream machines and a vast array of ice cream sandwiches and popsicles for sale in the Tack Room, which they can grab and bring outside to enjoy at The Riding Academy’s colossal pool. And the kids’ splash pad area, decorated with colorful oversized critters, is its only little watery wonderland to explore together, too. 

Accessibility and Sustainability

The property features ADA-accessible hotel rooms with roll-in showers and accommodations for hearing- and visually-impaired guests. More than 700 live oak trees have been planted since construction began on the 400-acre property, and if any have to come down, two more are replanted to replace them. To conserve water, the World Equestrian Center does not irrigate turf areas beyond the Saint Augustine turf grass. All flowers on the property are from the owner’s farm, which grows more than 650,000 annual flowers yearly — an average of 90,000 annuals are planted onsite at the WEC each year.


Onsite at The World Equestrian Center, at the east end of the property that’s being newly developed, The Riding Academy is just a 10-minute stroll or three-minute golf cart ride across the complex from The Equestrian Hotel. Ocala can be reached in about 90 minutes (roughly 90 miles) from Orlando International Airport to the southeast. You’re best off renting a car if you don’t arrive here in your own vehicle to make the most of exploring the surrounding region’s freshwater springs and the pretty downtown district of Ocala, about 10 miles (20 minutes) away, brimming with restaurants, breweries, and shops of its own.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

Rooms at The Riding Academy hover at a lower price point than those at The Equestrian Hotel. But you’ll want to be sure to plan your stay around any major horse show series’ if you’re not coming for those events (check the events calendar). In general, off-peak months when room rates fall are May, early June, late August, and September.

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