White Fences Equestrian Center Thrives in Florida’s Intense Competition Calendar

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Adam Pollak with rider at Welcome Back to White Fences show. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LOXAHATCHEE, Florida, April 2–The oldest dressage show grounds in South Florida has resurrected itself to thrive in what is the world’s most overheated competition calendar of at least one and sometimes two horse shows every week, including 11 CDIs over four months.

Mixing top quality competition footing, permanent stables and the lowest entry fees, no irritating add-on charges and free Wi-FI so competitors can check their emails while eating free (yes, no charge) lunch, you have the White Fences Equestrian Center.

Its distance of about a 20-minute drive from Wellington, the center of horse sports in South Forida in winter, has become a big plus–a world away in atmosphere of lots of trees, grass, a friendly atmosphere.

Not even an announcer, though when the wind is blowing the wrong way snatches from the loudspeakers of a nearby competing show remind riders why they chose White Fences.

New permanent stabling at White Fences. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The White Fences Equestrian Center held its first Palm Beach Dressage Derby 30 years ago, one of a series of shows that hopscotched across Florida each winter until Palm Beach became the undisputed center of dressage, hunters, jumpers and polo for up to five months a year.

The Palm Beach Dressage Derby is no longer staged at White Fences but at nearby Equestrian Estates where it moved during a period when White Fences was in transition but strong support wanted to keep alive the event that is the oldest continuous dressage show in South Florida.

White Fences was initially created by a German immigrant couple developing real estate and staged the first derby in 1983.

A new winter show series, Welcome Back to White Fences, was inaugurated in 2006 by Ingred Lin who owned the White Fences Equestrian Center. Classes were limited to six horses so every combination won a ribbon. Ingred also owned high performance Lusitano horses when she died at the age of 54 in December, 2009, after battling breast cancern for 13 years.

Adam Pollak, her son now aged 25 and who had gone to college for mechanical engineerng, took over. He has grown the lineup to a series of four Welcome Back to White Fences shows and three other compaetitions from December through April.

Dressage competitions exploded–with shows at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that hosted the Winter Equestrian Festival; the Jim Brandon Center, built with millions of dollars of taxpayer money as a multi-use facility, and Equestrian Estates that had takn over the signature Palm Beach Dressage Derby.

By 2011, dressage in South Florida was controlled by organizers who managed events at both Jim Brandon and Equestrian Estates as PBIEC held no competitions. The only other choice was White Fences which held no CDIs, the only competitions that count for qualifying for championships at the highest level of the sport.

That’s also what has made it attractive for so many riders.

“It’s calm,” Adam said during one of this year’s shows when three competition arenas were in use full time for two days with about 200 rides. He was speaking while ordering 25 large pizzas for lunch.

“People feel less pressure. Olympians bring there horses here because they feel comortable, especially if they have adult amateur students and young horses. We’ve always had free food and drinks. We like being friendly. And it is the most affordable show.”

Chuck Smith, who with his wife owned Rocher ridden by George Williams, showing community spirit by performing duties as a ring steward at White Fencs Equestrian Center. He owns a farm nearby. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Chris Hickey, who won U.S. team and individual gold medals at the 2007 Pan American Games, is a competitor who supports Adam’s shows. In February, Balissa, owned by Hilltop Farm of Colora, Maryland, for whom he rides, won awards for both high score of the show and for a Born in the USA horse.

“We’re very impressed that Adam has built the new stabling although we trailer in so we don’t have to pay for anything except our entry fees. Adam is trying so hard to keep his mother’s passion alive–a smiling, fiendly face who tries to be as helpful as he can. Other competitors and trainers must see this as his shows have been well attended this year.”

Cost is a factor. Competitors who trailer in their horses at one of the other three show grounds are charged up to $50 (€37.50) for each horse per day on top of entry fees.

Diederik Wigmans and Dirk Fiechter, two European trainers and horse sales agents who have bought a home in Palm Beach because they spend so much time in Florida, liken White Fences to the “better country championships in Holland. An international facility with a nice atmosphere, lots of horses, easy to walk around, good footing, friendly and relaxed.”

Dirk Fiechter and Diederik Wigmans at White Fences. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Bill McMullin, who splits his time between New England and Florida, said he likes the White Fences shows because of “the great atmosphere” and as he is based nearby wants to dispay “community spirit.”

Vendors agree.

Michelle Hundt who displayed her Show Chic fashions, described the show as “fabulous. Adam has stayed true to his mother’s vision and honored her. And he’s doing a great job at it.”

But White Fences became a victim of the pecularities of U.S. horse show organizing rules in 2011.

National competitions are typically protected by a so-called mileage rule except… a show can apply for a CDI that is not subject to the mileage rule. If the CDI is approved, the organizer can then add a national competition, no matter that another national show may already be scheduled within the mileage exclusion zone.

The organizers of the Equestrian Estates competitions less than a mile away were approved for a CDI last year then added a national show–the same weekend as a White Fences national show. Entries for White Fences were hurt.

The same thing occurred this year.

But this year, competitors voted with the feet, or at least their horses’ hooves.

The first of the Welcome Back series in 2006 had 150 entries.

In February this year there were a record 435 rides, contradicting arguments that the new GDF world class facility with unprecedented prize money would kill off the other shows.

The same weekend that competitors were faced with choosing between two shows less than a mile apart for the second year in a row?

The Equestrian Estates CDI was well attended. Most national competitors went to White Fences.

Creation of the Global Dressage Festival with prize money of $275,000 (€202,000) by PBIEC in Wellington has also changed the dynamics of horse showing in South Florida.

An unofficial cooperative relationship has developed between the two opposites of dressage competition.

The staff of the new multimillion dollar GDF grounds in Wellington work as unpaid volunteers at White Fences when needed, while Adam volunteered at the $120,000 (€90,000) GDF CDI5*, the only one in North America in 2012.

Jimmy Mandala, a fixture at many horse shows around the U.S. including the Global Dressage Festival, as a volunteer ring steward at White Fences. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Adam admits the growth in the number of shows has made all the organizers “step up their game” by improving footing and building permanent stabling to be a draw for people.

“There are so many competitions,” he said, “it has forced the shows to become more competitive by upgrading their facilities and offering more benefits for competitors.”

Fun is also a big factor.

One of the most popular events at White Fences is the Super Bowl party. It’s a sellout.

Adam also is scheduled to manage three national competitions organized in the summer by the Palm Beach Equine Sports Complex in Wellington.