Riders around the world flock southward to spend winters basking in the mild temperatures and blissfully sunny days of Wellington, Fla. Though many people may imagine the Florida circuit like a three-ring circus as riders, trainers, and grooms dash from one ring to another (across multiple venues even), carting ponies and excited jumpers about, there’s one horse show that keeps it simple – the Palm Beach Masters Series.
Hosted on the stunning grounds of Deeridge Farm, the annual event highlights three weekends of top level horse sport. Paired with unforgettable hospitality and a unique viewing experience from the two-tiered Berkshire Bank VIP Club tent, the Palm Beach Masters Series knows how to put on an intimate, yet elite, sporting event. With only two competition rings – a main grass arena plus a second sand arena – Deeridge owners Jerry and Peggy Jacobs make it their mission to focus on the natural beauty of the show’s gorgeous surroundings, as well as the raw competition of show jumping.
As host to one of the seven North American, East Coast qualifiers for the Longines Jumping FEI World Cup™, the Palm Beach Masters Series is ever-growing in popularity and attendance. For up-and-coming professional Kelli Cruciotti, this was her first time competing during the World Cup weekend (she previously competed in the Deeridge Derby), and she recommends making the Palm Beach Masters Series a yearly destination for horse lovers and fans alike.
Based in Wellington in the winter and Elizabeth, Colo. in the summer, the 21-year-old compares the Palm Beach Masters Series to a European indoor show – small, close-knit, but incredibly well-run.
“It’s a gorgeous boutique horse show. You drive in and everything is very tailored and very focused...which is really nice – you’re not running to five or six different rings, so you get to focus on yourself and your rounds,” Kelli says. “It feels very special through the atmosphere – it feels very indoors. I think because the tent is built up so high and how everyone is strategically placed around the outside [of the rings gives it] a very close feel.”
Wearing two different hats as trainer and professional rider can be difficult, especially when you’re competing and coaching clients at three different horse shows on one weekend (there is so much going on in Wellington!). But Kelli has mastered the art of organization and planned accordingly with her team when preparing for the Palm Beach Masters Series.
“When we finished on Friday, I said, ‘I don’t even know how we got that all done.’ It was very stressful but everyone was on their game and we got it done. It was crazy organization the nights before,” Kelli says. “It was kind of one of those days where you can plan as much as you want, but you just have to go with it. If you stress about it, it’s going to make it even more painful.”
Building Her String
Kelli brought Hadja van Orshof and Grandy de Laubry to the Palm Beach Masters Series. She competed “Hadja” in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Wellington, where they jumped clear with just a time fault to finish in the top ten. Brilliant! This is a solid partnership that’s been slowly building since Kelli acquired the grey mare in 2016 as a nine-year-old. With three years of experience under their belts, the duo is steadily climbing the rankings.
“We really had to take our time because she’s such a sensitive horse. She internalizes everything and really takes it to heart,” Kelli explains. “So when we moved her up, we were really careful about moving her up, then putting her back down to make sure she feels confident, then moving her back up, making it kind of like a stepping stone.”
Putting the Pressure On
This was the biggest track Hadja has jumped and Kelli was proud of the mare’s performance throughout the weekend. But how does she deal with the pressure of producing a clear round before entering the ring?
“For me, I always put more pressure on myself for the qualifier. You’re there for the World Cup and you really want to qualify. So for me, [Friday’s Suncast Palm Beach Masters Qualifier] actually had more pressure than on Sunday because whatever happens on Sunday, great, but if you don’t get to qualify and go, it’s a bummer since you prepped for that one class,” Kelli says.
“I was just really trying to think about executing the lines as best I could. I went over the plan a lot in my mind – how I wanted to feel, how I wanted to ride – and then tried to execute it.”
One Big Happy
Kelli is constantly surrounded by the most important people in her life – her family. Although it helps that her mother, Cindy Cruciotti, is “trainer number one” and her brother, Michael Cruciotti, is her manager, Kelli values the importance of trust in building her career as a young professional. With the help of Peter Wylde – “trainer number two”, Kelli laughs – she’s assembled a team that’s in it together.
“[My mom is] the best person to have – I couldn’t do it without her because she knows me, obviously, so well, knows the horses inside and out, so she’s definitely the one I turn to if I have a question or there’s something I’m not sure about. She gives me a lot of reassurance that way,” Kelli says.
“It definitely has a big family feel with my brother and my mom and dad. Even Peter feels very family-esque. I always say it doesn’t get much better that you get to do your dream job with your family next to you.”
Good Food, Good Times
Kelli unfortunately didn’t have time to visit the Boardwalk Boutiques in between rides, but you can't miss seeing the incredible shopping experience available there. Adjacent to the sand area, the Boardwalk Boutiques has brought more shopping than ever to the Palm Beach Masters Series – and put them right in the center of the competition.
Kelli did, however, treat herself to a good lunch every day. Instead of typical, greasy, fried fare, the Palm Beach Masters Series offers top-quality grub to fuel its riders and spectators. The Taylor Harris Beach Bar, new for the 2019 season, serves casual fare and specialty cocktails all day and into the evening after the show concludes and offers comfortable lounge seating with a fantastic view of the sand competition arena.
“The food court was amazing. I [knew that] if the food court looked like this, then the shopping was on another level,” Kelli says. “I ate the same thing every single day – a chicken sandwich. The chicken was better quality than I’ve ever had at a horse show. It really does make a difference when you’re there and getting ready to show, you want something decent to eat.”
A Positive Experience
Giving credit where credit is due, Kelli is quick to acknowledge the incredible staff that allows the Palm Beach Masters Series to run so seamlessly.
“I want to compliment them. The stewards and everyone were so friendly – they went out of their way to be nice and helpful, which makes a big difference,” Kelli explains. “There’s a lot of effort that goes into it and we really appreciate it.”
If you missed the first week of the Palm Beach Masters Series, have no fear! There are still two more opportunities to see what it’s all about with the upcoming Deeridge Derby and CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA (the only qualifier in the country for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final). If you're in town, don't forget that general admission and parking are FREE!
Visit palmbeachmasters.com for more information.
We'll be watching, will you?
Photos by Shannon Brinkman.