The 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival kicks off this week, in Wellington, Florida, USA with 12 straight weeks of hunter/jumper and international show jumping competition taking place at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. WEF runs from January 11 – April 2, 2017 and offers CSI2*, CSI3*, CSI4* and CSI5* world ranking classes for 11 of its 12 weeks.
Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo was on hand at the PBIEC to discuss new improvements to the showgrounds and highlight his intention to bring together the three major disciplines in Wellington: show jumping, dressage and polo. With the Global Dressage Festival now in its fifth year, and ESP’s 2016 purchase of the International Polo Club, Bellissimo now oversees major sporting operations in all three disciplines. Also in attendance was show jumper Kent Farrington, hunter rider Liza Boyd, dressage Olympic medalist Kasey Perry Glass, Global Dressage Festival season sponsor Alan Mann of Adequan, and GDF Director of Sport Thomas Baur.
“For me, this is a combination of spring training for my younger horses and an opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best for five-star level, big money competition. That is why WEF is unique,” Farrington said. “That is why we make it our home, and that is why you see a big part of the world spending the winter here. You can do a little bit of everything and come out way ahead of the game.”
Equestrian Sport Productions has made improvements to the showgrounds for the 2017 season. Ever since a March, 2016 meeting in which Bellissimo called for rider suggestions and feedback on improvements to the PBIEC showgrounds, he and his team have been busy preparing for the winter circuit.
New footing was installed in the International Arena and its warmup ring, and every arena underwent renovation and drainage work to better handle Florida’s intense rainstorms. Bridle paths around the grounds were also renovated and elevated for improved drainage, with the International Arena warmup arena benefitting from a safer, fenced pathway on the left side for horses and grooms to enter by.
With thousands of horses flocking to the showgrounds for season, overcrowding and space to hack have been an issue during previous seasons, so show management found solutions to open up dedicated riding space on the showgrounds. The former Ring 8 is now open as a schooling arena, and a new arena was built by the former $20 ring for hacking as well. To the East of the showgrounds and accessible via bridle path from Rings 11 and 12 is a new, 12-acre fenced grass field that is open for hacking. A former polo field, the space is ideal for riding and is a short ride from the main showgrounds.
During the four, five star CSI rated weeks of competition on the schedule, a separate CSI2* division will run concurrently to give riders more options and cut down on high class entries into the top divisions. This year’s $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* will be held during WEF 11 on March 25, an adjustment made to accommodate riders competing at the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha, Nebraska the following week.
See the complete 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival competition schedule at this link.
Bellissimo touched on a variety of events that will take place in Wellington throughout the season, including “Gladiator Polo” on January 26, the Wellington Eventing Showcase on February 5 and 6, and the Great Charity Challenge on February 4. Now in its seventh annual year, the Great Charity Challenge has donated over $10 million dollars to local Palm Beach County charities, and plans to increase that total this year.
Week 1 of the Winter Equestrian Festival begins with the annual Battle of the Sexes exhibition class on Saturday, January 14, and the $75,000 Rosenbaum Mollengarden P LLC Grand Prix on the afternoon of Sunday, January 15, 2017.
The weekly show schedule and results can be found at this link.