The 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival started in fine form today, kicking off the 12-week circuit of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL. WEF continues through April 1, 2018, and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward won the opening class of the day, the Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m Jumpers, in the International Arena over a speed course designed by Eric Hasbrouck (USA). He and Hija van Strokapelleken, an 11-year-old BWP mare by Calido I x Azur Depaulstra owned by Evergate Stable LLC, were fast and clear in a time of 69.938 seconds for victory.
Second place went to Kevin Babington (IRL), last year’s winner of this class, riding Double O Seven 7, owned by Babington and Katznelson Jumpers LLC. They finished in 71.070s. Gustavo Prato (ARG) and Equus Forte LLC’s Carnaz placed 3rd in 74.278s.
Hija van Strokapelleken was purchased by Jennifer Gates’s Evergate Stable LLC a year and a half ago from Ward, and was ridden by Nayel Nassar last summer on the Global Champions Tour in Europe. The mare returned to Ward to be sold.
“She’s a wonderful horse,” said Ward, the 2017 FEI World Cup Jumping Finals winner. “She’s really capable of doing any grand prix. It was a little bit of an easy start for her, but she really performed beautifully. I’d never shown her before.”
“It’s like riding an equitation horse around,” described Ward. “She has a big, scopey stride. She’s clever. She’s really willing, and she’s really dead simple.”
Ward plans to compete with Hija van Strokapellken in Thursday’s $35,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 1 and Sunday’s $75,000 Rosenbaum PLLC Grand Prix.
“We’re kind of using this week to get to know a little bit of where we are with her and to get to know her a little bit better, and so far so good. I’m really enjoying the ride on her.”
The 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival continues with its second day of competition on Thursday featuring the $35,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup in the International Arena.
Full results can be viewed here.