“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.”
“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!