Wellington’s public school children got the opportunity to flex their creative muscles for a chance to win prize money for their school as part of Equestrian Sports Productions’ inaugural horse statue competition.
Each of the Wellington area’s 12 public schools was given a fiberglass horse to decorate in any manner students saw fit over five weeks.
“My wife and I came up with the idea to engage those kids who are in the arts,” Equestrian Sports Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo said. “We wanted it to be a blank canvas with no constraints so that the students could express themselves through the horses.”
Bellissimo said he was amazed by the quality of the designs. A panel of five judges awarded the prizes. The judges included riders, show officials and art gallery owners.
Originally, three prizes were to be awarded. But Bellissimo said the judges were so thrilled with the entries, they decided to award more. Every school that participated was given at least $500.
Okeeheelee Middle School came away the big winner, taking the awards for Most Inspirational and Best Overall and $1,500.
Three awards of $750 were awarded to the following schools: New Horizons Elementary, Most Creative; Wellington Elementary School, Most Artistic; and Polo Park Middle School, Most Original.
Okeeheelee Middle School Principal David Samore said he was thrilled about the competition.
“The arts at Okeeheelee Middle School are very strong,” he said. “When we got our horse, we said, ‘Why don’t we paint images that represent our school?’”
The statue was painted with a variety of images, from a saxophone representing the school’s music program, a flamenco dancer representing its relationship with Spain, and a depiction of a horse’s skeletal leg — a nod to the school’s science program.
“Our horse truly represented us,” he said. “And when we saw the other horses, we could see that each one was very special in its own way.”
The horse even has the school’s coat of arms, mascot and logo. “The project took on a life of its own,” he said, “to the point where we decided to name the horse ‘Espresso.’ It’s very personal to our school.”
Samore said that half of the prize would be used for the art department with the rest of the cash going into the student fund, helping low-income students offset costs.
The horses will be on display at the Global Dressage Festival.
“The community can see what an amazing job the students did,” Bellissimo said. “We have such talent in Wellington, and we wanted to highlight that.”
Bellissimo said that he has received offers to buy the horses, and would like to see the competition become an annual event. “Then we could auction the horses off with the net proceeds going back to the schools,” he said.
He thanked program coordinator Anne Caroline Valtin for her work in coordinating the schools.
“She did a wonderful job organizing it,” he said. “She worked hard to organize the schools and coordinate this. She was very excited about it and did a great job.”
Bellissimo said that this is one of the ways the equestrian community continues to try to support local schools.
“We want to reach out to every dimension of the schools in the community,” he said. “We are able to feature the musical and theatrical programs each week, with the students performing the national anthem and giving some sort of performance before the show. This was a way for us to reach out to the artists in the schools.”
Samore said he was grateful for their efforts.
“On behalf of all the schools involved,” he said, “I just want to say that what Mark and Katherine Bellissimo are doing and have done to try to involve the schools in the equestrian world is very refreshing and very much appreciated. They are doing something that no one has ever done before, and something that was needed.”