OCALA, FL. – “The Horse Capital of the World,” solidified that position with the January grand opening of the World Equestrian Center (WEC), the largest indoor/outdoor equestrian facility in the world.
The WEC Ocala is located on a 378-acre site with an additional, adjacent 300-acres available for future expansion. In all, the Roberts have purchased nearly 7,000 acres as part of the WEC project.
Developed, owned, and operated by the Roberts family, the WEC Ocala includes exposition centers, 22 outdoor arenas with all-weather footing, dedicated schooling, warm-up and lunging rings, 250 large turnout paddocks, climate-controlled Indoor Arenas connected to stabling areas by weather-protected hallways, miles of hacking trails, a five-story, 248-room luxury hotel that overlooks the Grand Outdoor Arena, multiple restaurants and dining operations throughout the property.
The main floor of the hotel also offers nearly 18,000-square-feet of luxury retail. Every element of the WEC was designed and built as part of an overall plan to elevate the equine experience in line with the main entrance sign that says “Welcome Home Equestrians”.
In addition to the Roberts family, the WEC Ocala design team included Ric Owens with Ocala-based Roberts Design and a handful of experts who helped with ring design, stabling design, landscape design, and layout of the property.
Twenty-three barns have a total of 2,100 stalls currently with additional 800-stalls under construction. Stalls are cushioned 12 x 12 and 12 x 14.
The WEC traces its beginnings back some 25 years when the Roberts family began coming to Ocala. “My mom and dad just loved Ocala and ended up moving their farm here,” said Roby Roberts. “The limestone in the soils builds great bone so that drew Thoroughbred racehorse breeders to base their operations here. The grass, the mild climate, and just the size – there is so much space in Ocala.”
Originally Roberts Arena, the WEC flagship facility in Wilmington, Ohio underwent a substantial renovation that was completed in 2016. The Roberts family owns that facility as well as Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club with amenities “that people love including golf, tennis, spa, restaurants and more,” noted Roby. “After the World Equestrian Center in Ohio was so well received, it made sense for us to purchase the land adjacent to the club (Golden Ocala) and build a horse show facility in Ocala, enabling us to offer a great horse show experience combined with country club living,” said Roby,
“The World Equestrian Center has a great feel to it. It is safe – we have invested in the best quality materials for our stabling, footing and we take security very seriously,” he said noting at present there is a full-time security staff and nearly 800 security cameras monitoring on-site activities and that number will increase as additions and expansions take place. “Our facility is friendly and we mean that. People say to me ‘You have a nice facility’ and my response is ‘it is not mine – it is ours – it belongs to you, too.’ I think when people realize that I mean that, it affects them in a positive way.
“We’re driven by a set of values, and that comes across in the experience at World Equestrian Center,” said Roby. “If you are kind and welcoming to people, it makes them feel like they are part of the family.”
The National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) sanctions WEC hunter/jumper and A Sudden Impulse and The Championship Show events. The NSBA has nearly 40 years of experience and sanctions hundreds of events annually, creating a level playing field via strict rules and drug testing, which is undertaken by the same lab utilized by the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF). The NSBA also offers an excellent mix of youth and amateur programs, offering an affordable alternative to exhibitors. The USEF sanctions WEC dressage events.
The mission of the NSBA is to grow the show horse community through various equine programs and events where every activity benefits horses, breeders, owners and exhibitors alike. The association’s purpose is to define, promote and improve the quality of the show horse, to promote exhibits, events, and contests in expositions and shows; to promote the training of pleasure and show horses, to promote interest in show horses among younger horsemen, and to use and encourage the use of the standard rules for holding and judging contests of the pleasure and show horse.
The NSBA experienced a very successful beginning in 1983. Based on the interest and response throughout the entire county, the association is projecting unprecedented growth in the number of participants, events available, and award purses.
In addition to its equestrian emphasis, the WEC site includes multiple indoor facilities to accommodate a variety of sports and performance competition events which include soccer, basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, and those related to canines. Those centers comprise 132,300-square-feet of contiguous space enabling multiple configurations to accommodate the required size and setup for a variety of functions.
Multiple loading docks with 20-foot freight doors provide seamless event logistics. The centers are also equipped with oversized LED screens for advertising, media, scorekeeping, streaming, and participant identification. Audiovisual services include lighting, sound, and video to meet the needs of the event. Each also has a built-in concession stand, adjacent on-site parking, a concierge team to assist and attend to details throughout the event, and full-time, on-site security personnel.
“One unexpected thing that has taken place due to the size and scope of the facility, WEC Ocala was able to host many, many local high school proms and graduations that otherwise would have been cancelled in 2021,” said WEC Press Officer Candace FitzGerald. “It was nice to be able to give back to the community that way so soon after opening.”
WEC Ocala also has a veterinary clinic on-site that is managed by the University of Florida (JF) College of Veterinary Medicine. This 41,000-square-foot facility provides dog/cat boarding and daycare as well as small animal and equine hospital capabilities and services. The clinic also offers animals up for adoption.
Among WEC’s diverse aspects and a significant draw for many families who attend horse shows is the World Equestrian Center Chapel. Faith is very important to the Roberts family, and to stay true to their mission of making the venue feel like an extension of home for all visitors, it made sense to include a chapel as an amenity at WEC – Ocala, as they had done at the WEC –Ohio location.
Visitors to the WEC Ocala may reserve a Home Away from Home unit or an RV space at the on-site park that includes a General Store with Starbucks, golf cart rental, fuel services and laundry nearby. The WEC Ocala is located at 1390 NW 80th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34482. Telephone: 352/414-7900, Website: https://worldequestriancenter.com.
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