The 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival and Adequan Global Dressage Festival got underway this week at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Event organizers and a handful of top riders were on hand Tuesday, Jan. 9 to discuss the 2018 season, which will culminate next fall with the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina.
Tuesday’s panel discussion included Under 25 show jumper Chloe Reid, three-time USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship winner Liza Boyd, top show jumper Kent Farrington, Under 25 dressage rider Juan Matute Jr., Michael Stone of Equestrian Sport Productions and Allyn Mann of sponsor Adequan.
Starting Wednesday, Jan. 10, and running through April 1, the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival will host the world’s best horses and riders competing in a wide array of hunter-jumper classes. The popular Saturday Night Lights show jumping spectaculars take place on Saturday evenings starting at 7 p.m. at PBIEC. The spectator entrance is located at 3400 Equestrian Club Drive in Wellington.
Dressage competitions will take place from Thursday, Jan. 11 through March 31 at the Equestrian Village site, located at 13500 South Shore Blvd. That is also the location of the popular Friday Night Stars musical freestyle events starting at 7 p.m. most Friday evenings during the season.
“We are delighted that Rolex is once again our major sponsor here at WEF,” Stone said. “They are a major partner of everything that we do, and we’re very thankful to have them.”
He also thanked the longtime title sponsor of the dressage festival.
“I can’t talk about dressage without mentioning Adequan and Allyn Mann,” Stone said. “We’re really happy that Adequan stepped up once again as our title sponsor of dressage, and we are looking at a very strong dressage season. Our numbers of entries are already higher than average.”
The season will be chock-full of special events. Starting out the Saturday Night Lights series on Saturday, Jan. 13 will be the always popular $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, a three-phase team event providing great entertainment and fun as the community comes out to cheer on teams of male and female riders.
Now in its ninth year, the Great Charity Challenge, set for Saturday, Feb. 3, is another great community event that will add to the more than $10 million already distributed to Palm Beach County charities. More than 30 charities will be beneficiaries of the pro-am show jumping event this year.
With the World Equestrian Games on the horizon, the competition for each rider to qualify for the coveted places to represent their country on the world stage will start here in Wellington.
U.S. Olympian Kent Farrington will compete throughout the 12 weeks of competition.
“For me, Wellington is home,” he said. “It’s a great time for me to do two things at once, which is produce my horses for the future and be able to stay in one spot where I’m not at a different venue every week. At the same time, we have high-level competition, so I can take my experienced horses and gear them and their schedule around what I want to do for the rest of the year.”
At the start of the season, Farrington plans to put the focus on his up-and-coming mounts.
“Early on here, I’m going to try to have my younger horses do most of the jumping, and I’ll save my seasoned veterans for bigger competition toward the end,” he said.
He has been impressed by the growth of equestrian sports in Wellington.
“Over the course of the last 10 years, we’ve seen great improvements in infrastructure, and bringing on big brands like Rolex has helped elevate the level of the show, not only from an exposure point of view, but also from the level of competition,” Farrington said. “If you look at the number of top equestrians in Wellington today versus 20 years ago, I think those numbers would be staggering. A lot of people are using this now as a home base to produce horses and also to compete at a high level.”
This year’s circuit includes a new “hunt and go” format to the USHJA International Hunter Derby on Friday, Feb. 2.
“The ‘hunt and go’ is a little bit similar to a power and speed [jumper class],” Boyd explained. “You do your first hunter classic round, and then you go directly into your handy. So, it’ll be a little bit quicker and fun for the crowd. We’re really excited that WEF is offering that, as well as Green Hunter Incentive classes for the 3’6”, 3’9” for two-thirds of the season. There are a lot of really exciting things for hunter riders this year.”
WEF also features events geared toward younger riders, such as the Under 25 division.
“Being able to jump the U25 Nations’ Cup gave me a lot of experience to then jump the senior Nations’ Cup here for the U.S. team,” Reid said. “It gives riders all of this experience to then, hopefully, go to Europe and represent your country. It is another stepping-stone that I think has done a great job of producing our young riders. It’s amazing to have Hermés as the title sponsor, and the riders definitely feel important and honored to be so well represented.”
Tuesday’s panel discussion included the announcement that Adequan has renewed its title sponsorship for three more years. The company is now in its sixth year of sponsoring the dressage festival.
“We’re honored to still be the title sponsor. We are definitely committed for the long haul. I think the dressage facilities here really have changed the whole image of dressage in the U.S.,” Mann said. “There’s a wonderful management team; Thomas Baur and his crew have done an amazing job to really elevate dressage in this country. Mark and Katherine Bellissimo and Michael Stone have been very supportive of the whole process. I think we’ve already seen some of the evidence of that in the success that the U.S. dressage team had in Rio two years ago, and I know that they’re really excited about their expectations for the World Equestrian Games this year, especially on our home turf.”
Under 25 dressage rider Matute will be competing four horses at the FEI level in his sixth consecutive season at the dressage festival.
“You get to experience lots of mileage because of the constant competition we have week after week,” Matute said. “It’s the perfect strategy. We get warmed up; we get ready. Then when we go to Europe, we’re in perfect shape. I really think it’s a privilege, and I’m fortunate to be able to be a part of the AGDF year after year. Overall, I’ll continue learning and continue enjoying, because we have the perfect structure here, the perfect competition, and it’s just lovely.”