The 37th annual Winter Equestrian Festival will be held once again, opening this month at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. The 12 weeks of competition run Jan. 13 through April 3 featuring the country’s best show jumping with unmatched opportunities to compete for more than $7.4 million in total jumper payouts, with more than $5 million in elite jumper divisions alone. Prize money at WEF increases every year, and 2016 is no different, now with more than $9 million on offer for the entire circuit.
The 52 FEI World Ranking classes are the best way for riders to gain valuable world ranking points, and the caliber of riders and horses improves annually at WEF. Riders from around the world come to Wellington to compete weekly and in the popular Saturday Night Lights grand prix competitions.
Riders such as the U.S. Pan American team of McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, Lauren Hough and Georgina Bloomberg will be at WEF this year, along with other expected top 50 ranked riders in the world, such as Beezie Madden, Harrie Smolders, Laura Kraut, Sergio Alvarez Moya, Ben Maher, Conor Swail, Todd Minikus, Eric Lamaze, Andres Rodriguez and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum — to name just a few of the riders that make the competition at WEF some of the best in the world.
“We look forward to another year of amazing show jumping,” Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo said. “The level gets higher each year and the sport continues to provide exciting moments at WEF. We can’t wait to see who rises to the top in 2016.”
Highlights of the 2016 WEF include four weeks of CSI 5* competition and three weeks of CSI 4* competition. Week 12 concludes the circuit with the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*, but before that, riders will contest three other top grand prix events, including the $380,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 5* on Saturday, Feb. 13; a $380,000 Grand Prix CSI 5* on Saturday, Feb. 27; and the $380,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix CSI 5* on Saturday, March 12.
The popular FEI Nations Cup returns Friday, March 4, during week eight’s CSIO 4* competition. This patriotic team competition brings horses and riders from around the globe to compete on Wellington’s international stage in an impressive night of top sport. The Nations Cup prize money has increased to $150,000. “The FEI Nations Cup is an important fixture on our calendar,” Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone said. “We raised the prize money again in 2016 to show our commitment to hosting this team event.”
Featured classes will be held on the beautiful grass jumping field at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Stadium. Some of the exciting events scheduled for this year include the $216,000 Ariat Grand Prix CSI 4* on Sunday, Feb. 7; the $25,000 Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series Speed Class presented by EnTrust Capital, $35,000 Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Series class and the $50,000 Jumper Derby on Sunday, Feb. 21; and the $50,000 Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series Final and $86,000 Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic on Sunday, March 27.
The Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series, which features $170,000 in prize money in seven different classes throughout WEF, will be run under FEI rules in 2016 (except the team event), giving young riders even more experience at competing and managing their horses at an international level.
“We feel that the Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series is one of the most important events that we have at WEF,” Stone said. “It offers an unparalleled experience for the up-and-coming riders in the sport, and with the new FEI status, the classes will provide even more value.”
The Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Series and WEF Challenge Cup Series each provide increased prize money and more opportunities for international riders to earn valuable world ranking points every week throughout the winter as well.
WEF is a valuable training ground for both riders and horses. Many of the top performers at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and 2015 Pan American Games competed at WEF in preparation for these championship events. This year will be no different, as riders strive to prove themselves for team selection for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Visit www.pbiec.com for more information.
ABOVE: McLain Ward and HH Carlos Z won last year’s $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5* at the 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival.