War of Words Over Global Dressage Festival Show Grounds

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Robert Dover, (right) with Mark Bellissimo at the ground breaking for the new Global Dressage Festival show grounds at Florida's Palm Beach International Equestrian Center earlier this year. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

As construction of the Global Dressage Festival show grounds moves ahead, a small group of wealthy landowners and others have launched a campaign to limit development of the multimillion dollar facility that has sparked a blast from Robert Dover, a six-time U.S. Olympian who is a strong supporter of the project.

The controversy is over the show grounds that originally were the Palm Beach Polo Club with a large permanent concrete grand stand and permanent stables and which now is part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that hosts 12 weeks of the Winter Equestrian Festival of jumper and hunter competitions.

The development is undertaken by Wellington Equestrian Partners that bought the show grounds hosting WEF and spent an estimated $30 million over the past four years improving the facility.

With changes to the main show grounds nearing completion, the group turned its focus to dressage and to create a faclity dedicated to the sport a few hundred yards from the main PBIEC grounds. The partnership bought the polo stadium and playing fields more than four years ago, built a grass derby field on part of the grounds and for two years staged a steeplechase.

Further, the group has formally expressed interest in hosting the 2018 World Equestrian Games that will require extensive competition facilities.

The Global Dressage Festival portion of the grounds has received the permits and approvals required to build four outdoor dressage arenas, permanent stabling, a covered arena and improvements such as roads.

A separate proposal and the most controversial is a proposed five-story condominium hotel and retail plaza of boutique stores and restaurants for which construction permits and approvals are being sought.

Wellington is a community of  about 55,000 people with a large equestrian preserve reserved for horse farms that are typically 5-50 acres (2-20 Ha) though some much larger, and horse shows that attract several thousand participants from around the world plus tens of thousands of spectators.

A second group called the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance was re-created from a former entity and opposes all permanent structures on the Global Dressage Festival site even if limited for dressage competitions.

This group is headed by Lou Jacobs, whose family participates in jumper/hunter competitions and owns a large estates near the new facility.

Directors include Jane Forbes Clark, sponsor of dressage (including Robert Dover for many years) and jumper competition horses and riders, and Neil Hirsch, owner of the Players Club bar and restaurant that is next to the grass derby field. Spokesman for the group is Mason Phelps, an equestrian publicist.

WEPA brochures denouncing the development were distributed at the recent annual symposium of the U.S. Dressage Federation in San Diego.

Dressage-news.com makes available both the WEPA brochure and Robert Dover’s response.

For the WEPA report, click WEPA Newsletter Fall 2011.

For Robert Dover’s response, click Robert Dover Response