WDM Palm Beach Cancellation Labeled “Tragedy,” “Disappointing” by Riders

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Holland's Christa Larrakkers at World Dressage Masters Grand Prix Freestyle under lights at Palm Beach. © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Holland's Christa Larrakkers at World Dressage Masters Grand Prix Freestyle under lights at Palm Beach. © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 3–Cancellation of the 2011 World Dressage Masters at Palm Beach that also ends dressage at the world’s premier winter show grounds was described on Friday as a “tragedy” and “disappointing” by riders from several nations who compete on the Florida circuit.

While the Palm Beach winter dressage calendar is jampacked with an international or national competition virtually every week for more than four months, WDM at the glamorous Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was the centerpiece of Florida dressage, perhaps of the entire Americas outside of global championships such as the World Equestrian Games or World Cups.

The cancellation was announced by Equestrian Sport Productions that owns and manages PBIEC that hosted the €100,000 ((US$130,000) CDI5* event kicking off the WDM series that included four shows in Europe in 2010. The WDM competitions are the richest series in the history of dressage and since launching in 2009 have attracted all of the top riders to different venues.

ESP cited the reason for the cancellation of WDM scheduled for Feb. 3-5 as the failure of the Dutch-based WDM to obtain commitments from the top European combinations that would justify the expense of staging the event. ESP incurred costs of about $200,000 for transportation and accommodation of horses, riders, grooms from Europe and California, plus five judges, for each of the two years of staging the event. WDM provided 90 per cent of the prize money.

WDM said, however, that it has a contract with ESP to stage the event for 2011 and the last-minute cancellation deprived American competitors and fans of the rare opportunity to participate in and watch head-to-head competition with Europeans.

Steffen Peters, double bronze-medalist at the WEG in Kentucky, and Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Ravel, have offered to seek a new venue for WDM in the United States. However, they are based in California which no longer has any World Cup qualifiers.

Arlene “Tuny” Page, who represented the United States at the 2006 World Cup Final in Amsterdam said of the cancellation: “Sadly this effectively disenfranchises a large segment of the horse population. ESP is missing out big time in the future even as we miss out now.”

Ashley Holzer, Canadian Olympian who competed in both WDM events at Palm Beach, said the cancellation was “very sad” as PBIEC with its distinctive coral-colored world class footing “is such a beautiful facility.”

Mikala Gundersen, a Wellington-based Danish rider who was a reserve for her national team at WEG, said in a text message, “that’s toooooo bad! I was really looking forward to that show. It’s the only show ground in Wellington that provides the real international atmosphere.

“It’s sad that the show doesn’t want our side of the sport just because they don’t makes as much money as the jumpers.”

Katherine Bateson-Chandler, a member of the U.S. team at WEG, said: “I think it’s a tragedy. There is nowhere else in winter that we can have that kind of atmosphere.”

Ilse Schwarz, a Wellington-based Australian rider and trainer, said: “We will miss a chance to perform in the most international environment with terrific atmosphere, not to mention the footing that was so rewarding for riders and horses.”

Cancellation of WDM ends two decades of dressage competition at the Wellington equestrian center.

Four dressage competitions–one in December and three during the Winter Equestrian Festival from January through March–were scheduled at what became the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center when ESP took over the show grounds in 2007.

Dressage competitions were cut back at PBIEC until only the WDM CDI5* remained, which has now been canceled.

At the same time, dressage has expanded dramatically at other Palm Beach facilities, but none as glamorous or with the same quality footing as PBIEC.

From January through the end of April there is a nationally sanctioned competition almost every week at the taxpayer-funded Jim Brandon Center five miles (8km) from Wellington and at the rustic White Fences Equestrian Center or Equestrian Estates, both in Loxahatchee about 15 miles (24km) from Wellington.

The competitions include three World Cup qualifiers, one CDI3* and one CDI1*.