Swing of the Pendulum: The Palm Beach Masters in Review

Before perfect balance is achieved in a market, adjustment can be said to follow the swing of a pendulum. The top of the swing represents excess, and the swing down, too little. As the scale on the left becomes heavy, the one on the right, lighter. Eventually, balance is restored, and the market smoothes out.

I came to think of the Palm Beach Masters in terms of a pendulum swing during its busy, jam packed, and ultimately successful weekend of competition from February 1 through 4, 2017 in Wellington, Florida, USA. The show jumping market in this part of the world is unlike anything, anywhere else on the globe—for these 12 weeks of the year, it can feel like the whole sport is in Wellington.

The Palm Beach Masters has quickly become a high point of the winter season in Wellington. This year, with perfect weather and full use of Deeridge Farm’s sweeping grass grand prix field, a massive two story VIP tent and a schedule of national level classes in the adjacent sand ring, the show sparkled. Warmup and riding space was expanded. Organizers went the extra mile and made sure that grooms, media and other support staff had access to meals. Entries and tables sold out—a sure sign that this show had the full support of the market.

When the Palm Beach Masters (known then as the Wellington Masters) entered the market in 2015 , it set the pendulum swinging by offering up a choice in venue. For the first time ever, a Presidential Modification to the USEF mileage rule allowed two, FEI-approved CSI competitions to take place within two miles of each other. With a second show in the area, perhaps it would alleviate some pressure on the habitually high entry numbers at the Winter Equestrian Festival.

In year one, the effect was moderate, with 40 international riders entering the Palm Beach Masters. Out of the gate in 2016, the team behind the Masters rallied admirably to respond to weather-related challenges and pulled off a successful event.

Ian Millar and Beezie Madden both won 1st place in the World Cup Qualifier that featured over 100 entries.

Cue year two of the Palm Beach Masters, and the pendulum has made a big swing. Over 100 riders packed the CSI3*-W entry list. With a cap on just three, CSI3* competitions, classes one and two burst at the seams. Where else have we seen a feature grand prix qualifier run in a California split format, with two winners, and twice the prize money? Oh yes, down the road at WEF.

At its top level, show jumping doesn’t benefit by winning this kind of popularity contest—with a four to five hour competition, not only were the opening classes spectator unfriendly, it became exponentially more difficult to qualify for the week’s grand prix, the $216,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Wellington CSI3*-W . For many, a moderately paced four fault round in Friday’s qualifier wasn’t enough to make the cut. Some riders withdrew from competition after the first day. Full marks to course designer Alan Wade for handling the high level of entries with expert tracks that struck the perfect balance between difficulty and rideability, every time.

But before a round of “WEF 2.0” quips begin, it’s important to look at the flip side of the coin. Once again, the market proved that it can support two CSI level events—on the same week, the Winter Equestrian Festival’s international classes featured healthy, rather than overcrowded numbers.

The support of Longines brought television coverage to the Palm Beach Masters, and along with commentary and livestreaming, the grand prix was packaged for broadcasting throughout North America and overseas in several countries. The organizers of the Palm Beach Masters are seeking a CSI4* rating in the future that would allow them to add more classes, and help balance out the entries.

“From my perspective it was a terrific weekend, and we have a thousand little things that we want to improve upon for next year,” commented organizer Lou Jacobs. “Honestly, despite some of the issues that we’re hoping to improve upon, we’re really delighted with where we are today.”

“Today” is year two in what will hopefully be many more years to come. The commitment that Lou Jacobs and his family have shown to this successful event is admirable. It is clear there is no one who wants the pendulum to swing into balance more than the organizing team behind the Palm Beach Masters.

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