By Nancy Jaffer
February 7, 2017
Wellington, Fla.’s designation as “The Winter Equestrian Capital of the World” is no exaggeration.
On Sunday, two $216,000 show jumping grands prix were held at different locations about a mile apart. That’s $432,000 in prize money being given for competitions that each featured multi-national starters and Olympic medal winners.
Remember the days when $25,000 was a big grand prix purse, and grands prix were special occasions because there were so few of them? It wasn’t that long ago. Who back then could have imagined how the sport would ramp up.
The CP Palm Beach Masters is a new show, only in its second year, but it drew 97 horses for the qualifier for the featured Longines FEI World Cup Jumping competition, which was limited to 40 starters. The Masters is held on the Jacobs’ family Deeridge Farms, a lush 300-acre enclave. It’s a boutique show with only two arenas and a vast VIP tent between them.
The Longines class was the next-to-the-last in the East for riders to get points to qualify for the Cup finals in Omaha next month, so it took on extra importance. The winner turned out to be the league leader in the West, Nayel Nassar, a California-based Egyptian.
As I left the Masters to head to the other grand prix, I passed a polo match in full swing. Only two or three minutes away, I turned onto the grounds of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, where the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Ariat Grand Prix was held.
It was staged on the emerald turf of the derby field, where three riders made the jump-off. Todd Minikus, who didn’t make the tiebreaker at the Masters with Valinski S, hustled to the Ariat to take his chances with Babalou and hit paydirt to win the class.
The day before, the $100,000 Land Rover Eventing Showcase at that venue drew such big names as Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and New Zealand’s two-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Todd. They couldn’t get ahead of Boyd Martin, who won the competition for the third year in a row. Since its inception he has taken the title on three different horses.
He was aboard Welcome Shadow for his hat trick, prepping for April’s Rolex Kentucky 4-star as he collected a $33,000 paycheck. And to be fair, I should mention that William and Mark were riding borrowed horses.
You’ll see things at competitions in Wellington you won’t see elsewhere. This time, it was a jump in the middle of the VIP tent, the climax of the cross-country course designed by former U.S. eventing coach Mark Phillips.
The action keeps going here. Tomorrow, 3-star dressage gets under way, a day before 5-star dressage takes the stage at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival location where the eventing was held. At AGDF, which is within brisk walking distance of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, this week you could see the members of the USA’s Olympic bronze medal dressage team, dressage development coach Debbie McDonald, Lars Petersen—who is retiring his longtime mount, Marriett on Friday; and plenty of others you’d recognize.
PBIEC, which offers 12 weeks of high-level shows in the winter and early spring, attracts many of the biggest names in the sport. Walk by the International Arena, and you’re likely to pass Olympic individual gold medalist Nick Skelton of Great Britain and his partner, U.S. team gold medal Olympian Laura Kraut (second in the Longines qualifier, by the way); Jessica Springsteen, Sergio Alvarez Moya of Spain, McLain Ward, Kent Farrington and a host of other boldface jumper names.
If you haven’t been to Wellington, it’s worth a trip, even if just to see the legions of fabulous farms, one more beautiful than the next. They have spread far beyond Palm Beach Polo, the gated community that was the original magnet for equestrians and those who enjoy being part of the horse scene.
Last week, taking advantage of the fact that no dressage show was scheduled, a benefit dressage “fun” exhibition with riders in costume was held at the heart of Palm Beach Polo.
There’s something going on every day of the week in Wellington, with the general exception of Mondays and Tuesdays, when everyone catches their breath before starting another intense week of showing,
On a trip to the supermarket, you’re sure to see plenty of shoppers in boots and breeches; I’ve spotted Georgina Bloomberg and Chris Kappler there, among others. They have to eat too. This is where many top riders have barns, and although they may go elsewhere the rest of the year, a good number of them call Wellington home from November through April.
You have to come at least once. No matter which week you select between January and the end of March, you’ll find plenty to fascinate and entertain you. And there’s nothing like the sunshine when it’s snowing at home.