Wellington Dressage Community Steps Up in Support of New Show Grounds

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Olympic and World Equestrian Games riders Robert Dover, Lisa Wilcox, Michelle Gibson and Oded Shimoni with Mark Bellissimo at the ground breaking ceremony. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 15–Jane Forbes Clark has resigned as a director of the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance while the first of three steps moving toward approval of the development of a commercial project as part of the Global Dressage Festival was overwhelmingly passed.

The Wellington group that had vehemently opposed development at the former Palm Beach polo stadium announced the resignation of Jane Clark as a director a day after dozens of dressage participants turned out in rarely witnessed support for the new facility.

The opposition group announced two new directors, including Margaret Duprey, the owner of the World Equestrian Games mount Otto and who owns a farm in Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve.

The group backed off from its opposition to aspects of the Global Dressage Festival grounds that include construction of four new outdoor competition arenas, a covered arena, permanent stables and other elements making it one of the largest commitments to dressage anywhere in the world.

The war of words has grabbed the attention of riders and other participants in the sport around the world.

A dressage-news.com correspondent was questioned about the dispute by numerous riders and both equestrian and mainstream journalists at top international shows in London and Frankfurt this week. Most were puzzled that participants in the sport would oppose development of facilities to enhance Wellington’s already high profile status, especially in light of formal expression of interest to host the World Equestrian Games at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in 2018.

The project is being undertaken by Wellington Equestrian Partners as part of multimillion dollar improvements of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center complex that organizes the Winter Equestrian Festival as the largest and longest running horse show in the world.

The dressage segment will be ready for its first circuit beginning in February of five CDIs and the largest prize money purse for dressage in the world outside of the World Equestrian Festival at Aachen. Germany.

The Wellington Alliance headed up by amateur jumper rider Louis Jacobs whose family owns one of the largest estates in Wellington that is close to the new dressage grounds and a grass jumper derby field that was built three years ago, said in a statement issued Thursday it “is in full support of the state-of-the-art dressage facility and all ventures that do not threaten the equestrian way of life.”

It remained opposed, it said, to development of proposed commercial elements of the project that required any changes to existing regulations.

The group had previously announced it was opposed to any permanent structures on the former Palm Beach Polo Club grounds. A permanent concrete grand stand and stables were abandoned by the previous owner of the site and were removed by the PBIEC organizers and new plans drawn up to create a show horse grounds equal to the finest in the world and the premier destination for the winter circuit.

The meeting that was held Thursday night was one of three of different bodies that have a influence over developmen of the dressage project and associated commercial elements including a proposed five-story condominium hotel and spa and a retail plaza of boutique stores, restaurants and exhibition space that the organizers hope will become the heart of Wellington that currently has no city center.

Wellington is a city of about 55,000 people whose lifestyle in sub tropical South Florida draws tens of thousands of top jumpers, hunters, dressage and polo riders and owners from around the world for what has become about six months of premier international and national competitions with millions of dollars in prize money. In addition to participants, the horse shows draw many thousands more spectators, with an economic impact of several hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

With the overwhelming approval of a formal equestrian advisory group Thursday night, the proposal to enable changes to building regulations to allow development of commercial aspects next goes to a planning and zoning meeting scheduled for Jan. 4 and then to a Village of Wellington council meeting on Jan. 31 fo a final decision.