Only in Wellington Florida can you see this. This, Dear Readers, is the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center(PBIEC). WEF is the longest running horse show in the world and spans 12 weeks through January , February and March. Riders come from all over the world to compete. And why not? The climate is good whereas for riders in Europe and most of the rest of North America it is cold, and wintry. And then there is the prize money at WEF. For 2017 it is……..
NINE MILLION DOLLARS ! yes…. $9,000,000
Any given day at WEF there may be as many as 2,000 horses competing at the PBIEC show grounds . If you are a professional rider in either jumper or hunter disciplines this is the place to be. If you are an amateur and can take the time off during the winter to join your coach here, it is the place to be. Junior riders can attend special schools that accommodate the show schedule. Some riders fly in just to compete on the weekends. Saturday nights there is always a jumper competition with the best riders in the world competing for big prize money. This coming Saturday it is the “Battle of the Sexes”.
What other sport can have men and women compete against each other on an equal footing? None other than equestrian. The horse is the equalizer. In the Battle of the Sexes the Women’s team has won for the last 7, yes seven, years in a row. The men had better get it together this Saturday and make a comeback.
Today the opening press conference was held in the Galleria at PBIEC for the opening of WEF and also the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. The AGDF is held at a nearby show ground that is run by the same group , Equestrian Sport Productions, (ESP)that run WEF. The person behind the development of both show grounds is CEO Mark Bellissimo. He was present at the press conference along with Thomas Baur, the AGDF Director of Sport.
Bellissimo was the first to speak and outlined the many improvements that have been made to the show grounds during the off season; improved footing in the competition arenas, bridle paths between the arenas improved and elevated to be clear of water if the heavy Florida rains hit again as they did last year, improved drainage throughout the show grounds, new rings added for competition and for schooling, a polo field made accessible for those who want to ride out and take a break from the showing, and more prize money. More prize money. Last year it was $8 million and this year $9 million.
Baur spoke next and outlined what he described as the “new and exciting things” for the Dressage Festival. They will be incorporating the new FEI (International Equestrian Federation) Freestyle system. In this new system the judges will be given a program of the choreography of each rider’s freestyle. Previously the judges did not know what order the horse and rider would be going through the required movements. This new system brings dressage into line with figure skating where the judges are already familiar with what to expect and also to know when the program has been deviated from. This system has been used in the Western European League dressage competitions but this will be its’ first appearance in North America.
Also new is the spectator app for audiences to score the freestyles. This gives the audience members the chance to be judges themselves. It has been used in Aachen and also at Olympia in London with great success. Most of the spectators just gave a final score although it is possible to score each movement. The final scores can then be compared to the ones given by the judges. Personally I can’t wait to try this and I am certain it will really add to the fun of the freestyle competitions. These usually take place on Friday nights at the AGDF and it is a great party atmosphere to be sitting outside on a warm Florida evening and watching the best horses and riders dance through their freestyles.
Also new for 2017 is the introduction of CDI (Concours Dressage International) level competition for children and an Under 25 Nations Cup competition. For both of these it is a first time ever in the Western Hemisphere.
Two Olympic Team USA riders were present at the press conference as well: Kent Farrington who was on the silver medal jumper team in Rio and Kasey Perry-Glass who was on the bronze medal dressage team. They both spoke about their plans for the coming show season and how nice it was to be able to ride and compete against the best riders in the world without having to leave home.
This winter season both of these riders will be competing to qualify to go to the World Cup which will be held March 29-April 2 in Omaha, Nebraska. But this is not a year when riders will be trying to qualify to get on a team for the World Equestrian Games(2018) or the Olympics.(Tokyo 2020) I felt that this might take a bit of pressure off the riders so I asked them how they plan for their show season this year.
Kent Farringdon replied that he has two horses, who he will show in four Grand Prix competitions to qualify for a spot at the World Cup competition. I had a sense that he felt confident about this and relaxed and was looking forward to the winter season with young horses to compete and bring along as well as his advanced horses.
Tomas Baur interjected that for dressage the qualification period for the World Equestrian Games has already started. Kasey Perry-Glass said she is looking ahead to WEG as well as competing her horse for scores to go to the World Cup. Then she said she is also looking ahead to Tokyo for the Olympics. These athletes do not cling to the past they look to the future. Planning! It may be four years away but the planning starts now for Olympic athletes.
Over the course of the winter season I will be posting about events at WEF and the AGDF. I am currently planning one competition at AGDF myself! No doubt my horse Biasini will be “speaking” about that. If you are in Wellington this weekend the Battle of the Sexes should be entertaining. Every Saturday is entertaining with top show jumping . live bands and fire eaters. Yes, I’ve been there in previous years and they DO have fire eaters.