“If you stand still you are dead!”

“If you stand still you are dead. We are not going to stand still“. This was Michael Stone, President of Equestrian Sport Productions speaking at the opening press conference of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).

And guess what else? 250 million…yes MILLION people list “equestrian” as an interest on Facebook. That is in third place after soccer and basketball and tied with baseball. Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo told us that at the press conference. He added that attendance in all sports has seen a huge decline as people prefer to watch on the internet and streaming. WEF and AGDF are already streaming and will continue with that.

WEF is the biggest and longest running horse show in the world. Literally thousands of horses and riders compete here and hundreds more at the AGDF.

At the press conference there were representatives of the various equestrian disciplines present. From the left in this photo: Tinne Wilhelmsen Silfven Swedish dressage rider and Olympian, Michael Stone, President of Equestrian Sport Productions, Adrienne Sternlicht show jumper and member of the US gold medal winning team at WEG, Liza Boyd, Hunter rider and three time champion of Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby, Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions and Margie Engle US show jumping Olympian.

The riders spoke of the horses they will be competing, some seasoned pros and others newer to competition. Tinne Wilhelmsen Silven is competing at the AGDF for her ninth year! She said it now has top quality horses and riders competing. For her this is a good way to prepare for the summer show circuit in Europe. She is also hoping to qualify for the Dressage World Cup which will be held in Gothenburg Sweden at the beginning of April. This is Tinne’s home town so she is looking forward to that.

Margie Engle arrived a few minutes late in her breeches, boots and spurs. Margie is a show jumper that I have admired for many hears. This petite woman is now 60 years of age and is still competing successfully internationally. She said WEF has the best riders from all over the world. . She is excited to be here and competing in 5* competitions. “The level of competition is as good as anywhere in the world.” she said.

So if they are not standing still what are the ‘powers that be’ in Equestrian Sport Productions doing to keep the ball rolling ahead?

“This year we have more of the world’s top riders coming to compete” Michael Stone told us. “We know that last year the footing was as issue riders were concerned about and with a show that runs for 12 weeks this can be a problem. We have addressed that. We brought in the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) expert and have added felt and fiber to the footing and reworked the maintenance plan. You can see they are out there now working on that.”

Water truck and tractors with harrows were working on the international jumper ring.

“We will also be changing some of the formats and making competition more interesting. Next year we are looking to be very innovative.”

Why not this year? That brought up the thorny issue of the World Equestrian Games that was held at Tryon NC last September. Equestrian Sport Productions had stepped in to fill the breach after Bromont Quebec dropped out due to financial problems. The WEG took place but there were complaints about the show grounds not being completed and insufficient groom’s quarters . However, I would add, having been there, that the competition arenas were found to be excellent by the riders as was the stabling. Both Michael Stone and Mark Bellissimo said that WEG at Tryon had taken the major focus in the past year. But Bellissimo had something positive and worth considering about Tryon WEG.

“WEG elevated the exposure of equestrian sport in the US. There were 60 hours of live TV coverage with 4.3 million people watching. That number of people watching live broadcasts is something new in this sport. It makes an impact and that is what attracts new sponsors.”

I asked Thomas Baur, the director of sport at AGDF if they would be using the ‘short” Grand Prix . “NO!”   was his resounding reply. He told me that it was a ‘test’ in the London Olympia show and they were not allowed to do it and he would NOT have wanted to do it anyway. “It is 40 seconds shorter,” he said “How do they think that is going to make a difference?” I have to say I agree with him. If you would like to know more about the whole short Grand Prix test chasing TV viewers and how it may affect the sport of dressage please take a look at my blog post Cricket, Dressage and Watching Paint Dry.

Mark Bellissimo ended the conference on a positive note. ” Wellington has its’ best days ahead of it.” And so……curtain up….it’s Showtime!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. David says:

    It is in the corners of the show rings where footing issues arise the most in showjumping. My daughters were entered in a couple shows where this type of issue came up during the walkthrough before the first event. In both cases, all the riders withdrew from the shows saying they were not going to risk injury to their horses.

    I have to admire your attendance at the press conference, even asking a question or two. I’m glad you mentioned something about the WEG in Tryon. From what we heard, it was a mess with flooding from Florence happening at the same time. A friend who went out to watch some dressage and eventing thought the FEI would postpone more events. The friend had to evacuate a couple of times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thanks for commenting David. When I was at WEG , in the media center, it was fine. They looked after us very well and access to the main stadium for the dressage was easy. I set odd for home on the Saturday so avoid Florence. I made the right choice as the dressage freestyle was cancelled.

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  2. This is an interesting look behind the scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Oh yes! There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in managing horse shows as big as these. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Which is pretty easy to imagine that would be the case, but as someone on the outside, I would have no idea what the details would exactly be, so that’s part of what made this an interesting read.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Tina Schell says:

    Hi Anne. A friend of mine mentioned meeting a rider named Janne Rumbough in her travels. thought I’d check in to see if you know who she is. Happy New Year to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Janne Rumbough is a hero of mine. She is a splendid rider and is competing at the Grand Prix level in her mid seventies. I did an interview with her a couple of years ago. It should be in 2017 March or April and is titled “the first lady of Wellington Dressage.” If you can’t find it let me know and I’ll look it up and send you a link.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh the mixed bag that was WEG. My main sport is Endurance after years in the hunter/jumper world, and WEG showed the worst of FEI Endurance. The bad start, to pulling the plug when the flat track racers, mostly from Region VII, struggled hard. WEG has made two very distinct camps. Those who want the AERC to pull out of FEI Endurance until Region VII is brought to terms, and those who want to stay in the FEI to try to bring changes. I truly do not know which side will prevail as both make excellent points. I do know that there are two flavors of endurance now, the traditional American style with technical trails and the FEI Flat Track Racing that Region VII prefers.

    There have been way too many deaths and catastrophic injuries with Flat Track Racing, which really does need stronger oversight. I do not want to have Endurance removed from the FEI but maybe, Endurance is not a sport that lends itself to an event such as WEG.

    I will not understand why the Biltmore trails were not used, there have been tough endurance rides in NC with the heat and humidity, and nowhere near the number of pulls and issues we saw at WEG.

    I hope WEG can continue to grow and get through these issues. Our various sports needs these kinds of events to keep our sport in the public eye.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I felt really bad for the Endurance teams from Canada and the US and others. I’m not familiar enough to know which are the regions for the Middle East. I know there have been some serious situations there! The FEI has made a decision not to hold another WEG with 8 disciplines. They are saying there will be championships and that some disciplines may be able to hold champs at the same venue. Sad but that is what it is. Thank you so much for your comment Jane. I’m glad to hear from an Endurance rider.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was wonderful to have 8 disciplines all under one roof, hopefully, things will improve so that can happen again. Region VII is the Middle East with Dubai being the worst offender, the Sheikh Mo has had a death grip on FEI Endurance. The FEI was blinded by his money and now are stuck with the bargain they made. I am not certain which is the correct way of dealing with the FEI and Region VII problems, I love Endurance too much to see it regulated to the far corner. I find it the true test of horsemanship, everything is tested from conditioning to feet and feed. Maybe the sport is too technical for the FEI and world stage which would be a shame. At the end of the day, Region VII is the problem child and if they (along with their money) were more regulated than these conversations wouldn’t be necessary.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          Thank you for this clarification. I had heard of problems with this region when I was in the media center at WEG. I hope there can be a solution.

          Like

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