Tiffany Foster pulled into her driveway, parked her car, and turned in for the night following an evening of competition in the CSI4* $216,000 Holiday & Horses Grand Prix in Wellington, Florida on December 5. When she woke up the next morning, her driveway was empty.
“When I went outside at about 7:30am, my car wasn’t there,” Foster said. “At first, I wasn’t sure where I had left it. But [the car] was just gone.”
Foster’s black Range Rover Sport was stolen right out of her driveway. It was one of multiple vehicles taken from the Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club that evening, and one of several incidents of theft in Wellington that have taken place as seasonal traffic in the area has increased with the approach of the winter show circuit.
“[The police] said there’s a group of guys that have been going through the neighborhoods and taking pretty much anything they can get their hands on,” Foster said. “My car was left unlocked, because we’re in the Polo Club, and normally it’s fine.
“One of the policemen actually stopped by my house last night and said there were a few cars taken that night, and they recovered all of them but two—mine and someone else’s,” Foster continued. “All he said to me is that if I get it back, I’ll probably not want it. Apparently they kind of trash them.”
Missy Clark reported several other thefts in a social media post on Facebook that sparked a lengthy commentary among Wellington residents. Clark reported the Cunniffe family (of young rider Ailish Cunniffe) had about six cars fleeced, with wallets and more stolen from parked cars, in the front of their barn in Grand Prix Village. This occurred in broad daylight.
Another daytime incident occurred at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Sunday, December 6, when a woman returned to her vehicle, only to find it in the midst of a break-in, as the thief was smashing in the window of her pickup truck before speeding dangerously away down the back roads of the horse show.
“Now, I have all-night security,” Clark said. “I’m lucky enough that I have enough clients that when you divide [the cost] up, it’s incredibly reasonable. I’m in the midst of putting a camera system in, and I hired night watch.
“Wherever you’re stabled, I think everybody should get together and figure out a solution where everyone is keeping their eyes open,” she added. “[That could be] having drive-around security all night. I know not everyone can afford to do that, [but] whatever your community is, everyone needs to have some discussion amongst each other [to organize] a crime watch or neighborhood watch.”
At Mavis Spencer’s barn near Grand Prix Village, all the thieves could manage were scare tactics, but it was enough to move the rider and manager of the United States branch of Neil Jones Equestrian to action. After a break-in on her property, she had employees move into the apartments above the barns so that there are eyes on the horses at all times.
“My grooms were doing night check one night, and they called me, because when they walked into the barn and started turning the lights on, they heard someone in the bushes,” Spencer detailed. “We have three gates [at our facility], and there was a car parked in front of our second gate. Someone jumped out of the bushes and into the car, and it sped off really fast.
“We called the cops, and they were here by the time I arrived, and I basically spent the night in the barn, sitting outside of my stalls,” she continued. “[The police] said they would send a patrol car by to check up on things, and part of me didn’t really trust them to do that, but I have to say, like clockwork, the Wellington Police Department had a patrol car drive by every hour. That, at least, made me feel a lot more comfortable.”
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department is urging Wellington residents to be aware of their surroundings. They stress that locals lock their cars and secure their valuables out of sight to prevent vehicle burglaries. Spencer agreed.
“Everyone thinks that because Wellington is such an affluent community, [they’re safe], but doing things like putting your keys away and locking them up, making sure your golf cart and dirt bikes are parked away out of sight and not right in front of the barn are little things you can do that you sort of take for granted but that everyone should be a little more conscious of,” she said. “Everyone needs a gentle reminder of the realities of what’s happening.”
“Everybody, we need to wake up and get our act together,” Clark said. “The horse show needs to amp it up, too.”
Written by Catie Staszak
Catie Staszak can typically be found doing one of three things: talking about horses, writing about horses, or riding horses. A broadcast analyst and journalist at FEI competitions, she spends her time traveling to shows and getting behind the microphone to break down courses and get people excited about equestrian sport. Normally spotted with her dog Omaha nearby, she's grateful to be able to combine her greatest passions into a career she loves.