You’ve vaguely heard that top riders go to Wellington, Florida, at this time of year, right? With snow on the ground in Britain, just the weather (in the 20s most days, with wall to wall sun) sounds appealing. But there are many more reasons why this might be the most amazing show in the world…
1. The show is 12 weeks long. Yes, you heard right. We expect most shows to go on for a day or two, the big ones for four or five days. But this one goes on for 12 weeks. Technically it’s a series of different shows, running from Wednesday to Sunday each week.
2. The venue, Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre (PBIEC), is an eye-opener. It has 18 competition rings, with associated warm-up areas. There are two main venues — one hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), with jumping classes from young horses right up to international five-star classes, plus hunters and equitation, types of showing which are big business in the USA. About half a mile away is the second venue, which holds the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF). Occasionally, just to confuse things, jumping takes place here too. Again the dressage classes run from national level right up to a CDI5*.
3. More than 6000 horses compete here over the 12 weeks and there are 256 permanent stables on site to keep them happily housed.
4. The VIP areas at the two venues are seriously plush. Tables in some areas are sold for the 12-week block — you can’t buy one just for one show — and they don’t come cheap. Think five figures. Cheaper hospitality packages are also available.
5. But this is also about making sport accessible — sitting in public grandstands for the show is free. Each week the Friday night at AGDF is billed as “Friday night stars” and Saturday at WEF as “Saturday night lights”, with live music and activities upping the razzmatazz. Over 250,000 spectators visit PBIEC during the tour.
6. The food. The options in the VIP areas are amazing and include a pasta bar, where you pick out the ingredients and a chef makes your lunch in front of you, and a free (alcohol) bar (well, if you’re paying five figures what would you expect?).
7. The calibre of riders, who come from more than 40 countries to compete here. The USA’s number one dressage rider, Laura Graves, has been dominating this season with her Rio Olympic bronze medallist Verdades. Top showjumpers, including Britain’s London Olympic team gold medallist Ben Maher and Ireland’s Europeans hero Cian O’Connor, make a beeline to PBIEC at this time of year. Event riders Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton have even been spotted getting in some pre-season practice.
8. Even the table football in the rider’s lounge — a cute hut situated at the entrance of the warm-up arena — is horse-themed.
9. Competitors at WEF vie for more than $10 million (over £7,252,000) in prize money, which is the largest amount distributed over 12 weeks anywhere in the world.
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