Wellington, Florida, USA — January 8, 2019 — Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) once again hosted its annual opening press conference on Tuesday, January 8, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) to welcome exhibitors and media to the 2019 show season. The conference panel comprised representatives from both the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).
WEF will be returning for its 40th season and will run for 12 consecutive weeks spanning from January 9 until March 31 and will offer elite hunter, jumper, and equitation competition. Top national and international dressage riders will return to AGDF for competition beginning January 10 until March 31.
Speakers included ESP CEO Mark Bellissimo, ESP’s President Michael Stone, Olympian Margie Engle, three-time USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship winner Liza Boyd, 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games Show Jumping Team Gold medalist Adrienne Sternlicht, seven-time Swedish Olympic dressage competitor Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven, and Anne Caroline Valtin, Executive Director of the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments®.
“I would like to say thank you to the athletes who are attending today. Without these athletes this wouldn’t be a world-class venue and event, so thank you to the esteemed group,” Bellissimo began. “This will be the 40th year of WEF and it is now the world’s largest festival centered around show jumping, dressage, and polo, so I think equestrianism in Wellington is alive and well and we are very excited about the future.”
A fan favorite, the $75,000 Battle of the Sexes will return as the first “Saturday Night Lights” of the 2019 season on Saturday, January 12. The multi-phase event, presented by Wellington Regional Medical Center, has provided a night of excitement and rivalry for many seasons. This year’s event is sure to be well-attended after the men’s team scored their first victory in Battle of the Sexes history in 2018.
During Week 4 of WEF, the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments® will return for its tenth season. The event groups amateur and professional riders into teams with elaborate costume themes and has repeatedly engaged a large crowd. The event has raised over $12.2 million to date and benefited more than 230 nonprofit organizations. “I’m very lucky I get to go to these non-profits and see the impact it has had on the community,” stated Valtin. “This year we’ve already exceeded our target of distributing another $1 million and we are still four weeks out.”
The 2019 season will also offer an unprecedented amount of FEI events including four CSI 5* grand prix events during weeks 5, 7, 9 and featuring the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* on week 12.
Margie Engle, one of the USA’s top riders and a local Wellington resident, is looking forward to being able to compete at the international level in her hometown.
“It’s amazing to even have five-star events here in Wellington and it brings the best riders and competition from all over the world,” Engle stated. “We never had that until just a few years ago, and as someone who’s grown up here, it’s amazing to see what it has grown into; the level of competition here is as good as anywhere in the world.”
Bellissimo noted, “The five star weeks here are obviously the by-product of a great sponsorship portfolio and we’ve had a fantastic portfolio led by Rolex, who has been a tremendous sponsor for us for the past five years and will continue to do so. That is how we can get a lot of great energy around the prize money and the five-star status, so we are very grateful to them and very thankful for the strong sponsorship portfolio we have at WEF.”
During the five-star weeks, exhibitors will also have the ability to compete in concurrent 2* classes which allows for both horses and riders of different levels to contest international competition.
“I’ll be using this winter to build my string, taking some pressure off Crystalline,” said Sternlicht of her WEG partner. “I have a new mare who will probably act as my top horse for the winter. Her name is Just A Gamble and I haven’t shown her yet, so tomorrow we’ll be making our debut. I hope to be jumping a lot of classes and Saturday night grand prix classes and getting used to these new horses.”
With three USHJA International Hunter Derbies, three USHJA National Hunter Derbies, nine weeks of USHJA incentive programs for the 3’-3’9” Green Hunters, a pony hunter derby, and 12 weeks of Hunter Classics for the Small, Medium, and Large pony divisions, the circuit will also offer divisions for every level of hunter horse or pony. “There is so much great exposure for young riders and young horses at the top of the sport this year and we are so excited,” commented Boyd. “I have two derby horses that I did well with last year that are both here, and a couple of young horses. But I am most excited to have some green ponies for my daughter to compete.”
Guided by Bellissimo and President Michael Stone, WEF’s 40th season looks to continue to improve on its previous successes. “We’re not going to stand still. I think the way you improve is by analyzing every year what was good, what was bad, what we need to improve on,” said Stone. “You need to be innovative and look at ways of making more interesting competitions and things to make it the equestrian lifestyle destination of the world.”
Source: Press release written by Summer Grace / Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions & PBIEC – Palm Beach International Equestrian Center
Photo: © ESP / PBIEC