Palm Beach Seeks “Revolution” in Dressage to Attract Spectators, Sponsors

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Louise Serio and Laura Kraut with Mark Beliissimo and Michael Stone. © Mancini Photos

WELLINGTON, Florida, Jan. 11–A “revolution” in dressage competitions is needed to attract spectators and sponsors that the chief of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center said Tuesday he is searching for to showcase the sport at one of the world’s top venues.

Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Equestrian Sport Productions that owns and manages PBIEC, reiterated that the World Dressage Masters that was the centerpiece of the Florida winter dressage circuit was canceled because top European riders did not make firm commitments that would make the CDI5* financially viable after two years of a money-losing investment.

This year is the 20th anniversary of dressage at the WEF show grounds, but no competitions have been scheduled.

“It is always our goal to have dressage here,” he said, “but we have not always been able to get the level of support it needs.”

He said that he is open to ideas and has already discussed some possibilities with six-time dressage Olympian Robert Dover; Kim Boyer, a partner in ESP as well as a major sponsor of dressage, and Ken Braddick of dressage-news.com.

“Dressage needs revolution instead of evolution,” he said, to make it appealing to spectators who are not involved in horse sports. “It needs to be shaken up.”

The remarks were made at the news conference on the eve of the start of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival that offers more than US$6 million (€4.2 million) in prize money during 12 weeks of hunter/jumper competition.

The main entrance to the show grounds was under construction as crews worked to complete a new access road lined with palm trees that is part of the $25 million (€19.3 million) invested in the past three years to create what the organizers plan to be one of the world’s top equestrian show grounds.

Early indications are that a record 3,000 riders will compete at 2011 WEF in PBIEC’s 12 competition arenas plus 12 warmup rings, all of them with footing identical to the 2008 Olympics and installed by a partnership of Bart Poels of Belgium and Brett Raflowitz of the U.S.

Olympic jumper gold medalist Laura Kraut and top hunter rider Louise Serio praised PBIEC’s improved facilities and the quality of the footing making it “the best place in the world to show.”

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions, said that many more foreign riders have indicated their intention to compete in Palm Beach this year. In addition to teams from Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico and several Latin American nations that have competed for several years in the Nations Cup, Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and France may also field teams requiring splitting the event in two to qualify for the final round.

Three Under-25 team competitions will also be held to qualify for EY Cup final scheduled for Leipzig, Germany, in conjunction with the World Cup Finals of Dressage, Jumping and Driving at the end of April.