Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 7, 2020 – A day prior to the 2020 season kickoff of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF), some of the equestrian industry’s top talent and management came together to address what to expect this year in terms of advancements, changes and the future. The panel consisted of the following individuals:
Mark Bellissimo – Equestrian Sport Productions CEO and Wellington Equestrian Partners Managing Partner
Alex Granato – 2019 Pan American Games Show Jumping team bronze medalist
Sarah Lockman – 2019 Pan American Games Dressage individual gold and team silver medalist
Beezie Madden – Two-time Olympic Show Jumping team gold medalist and 2019 Pan American Games Show Jumping individual and team bronze medalist
Christopher Payne – Top hunter rider and trainer
Michael Stone – Equestrian Sport Productions President
Here’s what they had to say:
On the Winter Equestrian Festival:
“As you can see, this is the first really engineered footing that has ever been created in the states. If you remember 10-12 years ago, we created the first footing with geotextiles, which didn’t exist in the states then, but things have evolved and using proper engineering – this has been designed from the bottom up. I think it’s going to be one of the best footings in the world. The most important thing about it is that it handles high performance, but at the same time is kind to the horses, and that’s a very difficult thing to manage. Using iEquiTek and Bill Hawe, who is here in the room, and using expertise from Europe with Bart Poles and our footing suppliers, JTWG and Premier, we’ve been able to work together to produce this, which I think is going to make a game-changer during the sport.”
On the increase in prize money:
“One thing is that it seems like it’s been an enormous increase [in prize money], but actually I think we’ve been very slow in telling people how we’ve been including it over the years. It’s up to 13 million this year, and I think it was nine million six or seven years ago. We never updated that, we just kept giving more money away. Now that we actually added it up a couple of weeks ago, we realized ‘oh my god! We’re giving away 13 million dollars in prize money now!’ We’re very pleased about that and we thank our sponsors, especially Rolex and Adequan, who contribute hugely to that. We’re looking forward to a great season.”
On the Adequan Global Dressage Festival:
“At the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, we have two new competitions going on this year. We have the Young Pre St. George for horses seven to nine-years-old, the Summit Farms Future Challenge, which we believe is going to be very exciting to bring the young horses along. Then we have the Young Grand Prix Horse eight to ten-years-old, which I know in show jumping terms doesn’t sound very young, but in dressage terms it is young. We also have the Lövesta Future Challenge, which we are very excited about as well. We also have the U.S. riders for Tokyo, who we are running a Grand Prix Special under lights for them during Week Seven. Finally, the Japanese Olympic team are here for the circuit training and preparing for Tokyo. We will be using eDressage, like we did that last year for scoring in the international ring, but now we have it in all the national rings as well so that will speed things up for everyone. It is advancing the sport the best we can.”
On the eventing showcase:
“We also have an eventing showcase this year during Week Five on Saturday and Sunday. To the point of being able to watch different disciplines, it will be the same week as the 5* for WEF riders, so there will be a lot going on at the same location. We are looking forward to that!”
On his year with Carlchen W:
“I’ve gotten to develop [Carlchen W] since he was a five-year-old here at WEF. I think it’s been a really key part of my year with not only him but a lot of my young horses – it’s a very consistent showground. You’re here for three months and you get to focus week after week in a lot of the same rings but with new courses, new course designers, and get a lot of experience in a short amount of time. That’s been a really helpful part in my development with that horse.”
On his season ahead:
“First and foremost, I want to have a safe and successful season for myself and my horses. I have Carlchen W, I have three or four pivotal classes on my radar for him that I’m going to gear towards throughout the circuit. I have two really exciting eight-year-olds that I’m planning to bring along and hopefully, by mid-end of circuit, be jumping in the 2* with them.”
On her upcoming season:
“I come here from California. This is our first season here, and it’s quite exciting. I brought with me my Pan America Games ride, First Apple, and we are really excited to be debuting him in the grand prix this season. One of the great things about being here in Wellington compared to being in California is, as a dressage rider, there are so many options. There are multiple CDIs and there are multiple national shows, so it really gives us a chance to pick what is best for the horse and not necessarily what is our only option as a weekend to show. I also brought a string of young horses and developing horses and so I’m really excited to qualify them for our national championships from young horses to the developing horse championships in the summer. Hopefully, First Apple continues to have a great season and we’re hoping to get into those selection trials for 2020 if everything goes as planned.”
On competing this season:
“I’m lucky enough to already be on the shortlist – four of us made the shortlist – so I can really pick and choose what I want to do here to hopefully peak my horses. I’d like to have them starting to peak by the end of the circuit here because our observation trials come up quickly after that. I also have particularly one horse, Breitling LS, that I’ll be aiming for the World Cup Final so he’s going to do some shows leading up to that, and again, I hope he’s peaking by the end of the circuit so he’s ready for the World Cup Finals. I think the nice thing about being here is that we can pick and choose the weeks we want to compete, and obviously there’s some good prize money to aim for. At the same time, we’re basically on home ground and we have all our other horses. It’s not like we’re away from one set of horses while we’re showing the others. We can work with all of them at the same time. It’s really a great start to the year for us here.”
On her string of horses:
“I have Darry Lou. He was the one I had probably the most success with last year. I also have a young horse – he’s nine this year so I probably have to stop calling him a young horse! His name is Garant and as an eight-year-old, he has already won two grand prixs, one being a World Cup qualifier. I have a horse that debuted in his first 5* grand prix down here last year named Chic Hin D Hyrencourt, so I have a really good string of grand prix horses that I can space out, and I have quite a good speed horse named Jiva.
“It’s a great place to develop young hunters. You get the nice rings and the great atmosphere with everything going on in the same ring all the time and you get really relaxed. You spend the first few weeks gearing towards the WCHR week and making sure they are to scale because they haven’t performed in the International ring, but then you also get to do the derbies on the grass, which is really nice for the hunters because we don’t have a lot of places to actually get to do that. So, you really get a big base of mileage in a small time frame.”
On bringing clients to WEF:
“WEF offers everything for them. I have some great pony kids who do the ponies and it is very consistent for them to be able to be in the same rings and show and get that mileage. Then you have the Junior Hunters that get to go in the same rings also, but it relaxes the kids and gives them a better feel of their horse and they get used to it a lot faster.”
Questions from the Audience
The new arena here, there was a lot of time, money and effort put into it; how about a new arena for Global?
Michael Stone: “It is our intention to improve all of the arenas. You can’t have a standstill and you can’t go backward, so we are looking at ways we can improve all of the rings. There are different metrics for jumping rings compared to a dressage ring and they need different things. We are working on that and it is our intention to do all of the rings over time as it is very expensive.”
Can you speak a little bit about the engagement of the local community here and what you have done to draw in the people of Wellington and beyond to come and experience horse work?
Michael Stone: “I think that just the fact we opened up Saturday Night Lights [has brought a lot of the community here]. Some of you will remember when we started off with Saturday Night Lights, people were posting pictures of empty seats on Sundays while we were running the Grand Prix on Saturday Nights – of course, there were empty seats on Sundays! They were saying that we were crazy and it would never take off and it would never happen, but I think a combination of bringing in entertainment for families and making it more accessible to families has worked. This is no disrespect to Beezie [Madden], but when we took over, the public didn’t know who Beezie was. Now, everybody knows when she walks in the ring – same for Kent [Farrington], Mclain [Ward] and Laura [Kraut]. The public here know who these top riders are and I think that is something we have achieved by making it accessible and open. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case with a lot of other shows in the United States. We are probably unique in that way because we have twelve weeks and we can build on it whereas most other shows are one or two weeks, so it is much more difficult for them.”
What is the atmosphere like riding at WEF?
Beezie Madden: “Like Michael said, this show has grown tremendously over the years and it has become quite a great atmosphere. In the past, one of the criticisms has been that we compete [in the United States] with such a different atmosphere than we do in Europe, so it is great that we can have that replicated here and let our horses and riders experience that atmosphere.”
In addition to the footing, what are some of the other property improvements that have been made?
Michael Stone: “Our big focus was on the footing and all of our resources were really poured into that. What we have done though, which a lot of people might not notice, is we have put a lot of rubber down all over the places so that whenever a horse is crossing over the asphalt, they are now on rubber. There are rubber routes all around the stables and we also added them around the rings so that the public have a more comfortable pathway. The pathways around the arenas were put down ten to eleven years ago, so we have now improved that. The railings are being replaced and improved along with painting and doing small improvements. We are going to try and continue to improve and invest. Everyone talks about Golden Ocala coming, so we can’t keep sitting back pretending that everything is perfect – we have to keep improving and that is what we are committed to doing.”
How does the East coast compare to the West?
Sarah Lockman: “I can’t speak too much on this because this is my first month here, but I have to say that the atmosphere is incredible. Not only are the facilities top-notch, but the footing is incredible, as far as dressage riders go, our judges are incredible and there is a wide range of judges. It is great for us to be able to expose our horses to these situations. Coming from California, we sometimes have a few people in the crowd, so being able to ride under the lights on Friday nights for the Freestyles is incredibly important when we are developing international horses that need to go and compete in Europe and be comfortable in that atmosphere. Other than that, I am enjoying going into Starbucks or Publix and not being the only person in breeches and boots! This season I just have my horses and sale horses with me, but I imagine that this is a great place to bring clientele as well because you can be fully immersed and there are plenty of social activities to do. For my sponsors and owners, it is a great opportunity to be in the industry in general, not just sport-specific. What I have noticed coming from the West coast is that we don’t have much of a connection with different disciplines. What is really amazing here is that I can ride a Freestyle one night and then watch Beezie [Madden] and Alex [Granato] jump the next night. It is a great opportunity. I love the West coast and I am very proud to be representing it but I am really excited to have the opportunity to have my barn and horses here this season.”