Wellington is in the running to play host to the 2018 World Equestrian Games. The village was named last week with four other communities around the world as a contender to host the event.
Held every four years, the World Equestrian Games are considered the world championships of international equestrian disciplines.
Since being founded in 1990, the World Equestrian Games were held every four years in a European city, until the games made their U.S. debut in 2010 when they were staged in Lexington, Ky.
The 2014 games will be held in Normandy, France. Wellington joins Rabat, Morocco; Bromont, Canada; Budapest, Hungary; and Vienna, Austria on the short list for the 2018 games.
“We’re very excited to be selected as a candidate,” Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone said. “In the horse world, this event is considered bigger than the Olympics.”
Equestrian Sport Productions initially announced its intent to bid in 2010. Stone said that the selection would be made next spring.
“It’s a very long process,” Stone explained. “The first stage is to be accepted as a bidder, make your bid and then be accepted as a candidate. That’s where we are now, where we are preparing the nitty-gritty details.”
Though Wellington is uniquely qualified to host the games, Stone stressed that it would take the support of the entire community and local officials to rally behind it.
“There’s no way the international governing body will allocate the games to us if we don’t have full support from the local government,” he said.
Some officials, however, have expressed concern about hosting the event.
“I think to have the Olympics of the equestrian world in Wellington would be a great thing if we could handle it,” Wellington Mayor Bob Margolis said. “One concern I’ve heard from the equestrian community is that the games are held during hurricane season. I don’t know how comfortable the FEI will be with the possibility of bad weather.”
Margolis said that he and Village Manager Paul Schofield met with Stone on Monday to discuss the issue.
“Mr. Schofield believed that there were several obstacles to overcome, like finding parking for 25,000 cars and where to put the events since only three of the venues are built,” he said.
But Stone said that for such large events, the majority of spectators stay throughout the area and are bused in to limit traffic.
“That’s what all major events do,” he said. “They have satellite parking. They bring in spectators from hotels. They organize shuttles and bring people in.”
Stone said that Wellington’s experience in hosting international shows would set it apart from the competition.
“We have a very experienced team to organize the event, which is a weakness in all of the other bids,” he said. “No one has run anything of this scale. We have experience running major events.”
Additionally, Wellington’s existing world-class equestrian facilities mean that little will need to be built in preparation.
“All the equestrian facilities are already here,” he said. “We would just have to construct a cross-country course. A big problem the other venues have had is they have to spend a lot of money to make it happen. We don’t. We have the footing. We have the arenas. We have three-quarters of the facilities we need.”
Building a cross-country course, he said, would cost about $500,000, but Stone stressed that Equestrian Sport Productions is not asking for any government money for the event.
“We’re not asking for any financial commitment,” he said. “We just want the understanding that [Wellington] will support it.”
Councilman John Greene expressed concern about the community’s infrastructure.
“My concern is about the current infrastructure we have in place in Wellington, and the impact the event will have on that infrastructure,” he said.
Greene said he is generally in favor of the idea but wanted to be sure it was the best decision for Wellington. “I think it would be great for Wellington, but I’m concerned about the volume of people and the overall impact on the community,” he said.
Stone noted that Wellington plays host to thousands of horses during the winter and is equipped to handle those that would come to the community during the event.
“We have an average of 2,500 horses showing each week during the Winter Equestrian Festival,” he said. “The number of horses for the games is 730 total over two weeks.”
Though the event would draw more spectators than Wellington normally sees, he said it is spread out throughout the different days and events.
“The spectators vary,” he said. “The biggest days could have 40,000 and the smallest could have between 10,000 and 20,000.”
George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, said that he is very excited about the prospect of Wellington hosting the event.
“I think it is outstanding,” he said. “It would be an incredible, world-class event for Palm Beach County.”
Linley said that the equestrian industry is one of the county’s greatest assets. “The equestrian season is one of the premier events,” he said. “It’s one of the largest events of any kind that take place in the county.”
He said that the sports commission worked with Wellington to study the industry’s economic impact and found that all of the venues together generate approximately $120 million in economic impact for Palm Beach County, with the Winter Equestrian Festival garnering about $100 million alone.
But the county would see a bigger economic impact from just the World Equestrian Games, Stone said.
According to an economic impact study for the Kentucky Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet released last June, visitors to the 2010 event generated more than $201.5 million for the Kentucky economy.
And Wellington doesn’t face some of the challenges Kentucky did, Stone said.
“Kentucky did a great job hosting the games,” Stone said. “But Kentucky had to do a lot. They don’t typically run international shows. They spent about $80 million to prepare for the games.”
Not only does Wellington have the venues already, but the village won’t need to kick in any financing, Stone said. Wellington also benefits from being closer to Miami, where international horses and riders come in.
“We already have relationships with the [U.S.] Department of Agriculture,” Stone said. “We have relationships with facilities for quarantine. We had 40 foreign horses come compete last year.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said that bringing the games to Wellington is something the whole community needs to rally around.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for us,” she said. “It would require a lot of planning on our part and a lot of cooperation from the equestrian community. This might be the thing that brings them together. I’m hoping it might. We don’t get this opportunity very often.”
Though she expressed similar concerns about Wellington’s capacity to hold such an event, she said she didn’t want to see the opportunity squandered.
Margolis said that he has asked for a presentation about the event at the next council meeting to bring council members up to speed on the issue.
“At the end of the day, we told Mr. Stone that we think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We want to review the data and make a decision. I don’t think the village will be an obstacle to the games. There are a lot of challenges that have to be taken care of, but I think it’s a great opportunity for us. I hope it can work out.”
Above: The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.