Wellington’s Global Dressage Festival Moving Ahead After Local Government Signals Approval

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Palm Beach International Equestrian Center's Global Dressage Festival grounds. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The Global Dressage Festival is moving ahead in preparing for its second winter season at the multimillion dollar show grounds in Wellington, Florida, a circuit of five CDIs including two World Cup events, a CDI5* and the only Nations Cup in the western hemishere.

Mark Bellisimo, chief execuive officer of Equestrian Sport Productions that organizes the Global Dressage Festival and the Winter Equestrian Festival at Wellington’s Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, said he is confident that both the dressage and jumping shows will go on as planned with a six-month special use permit. It will be the same way GDF operated this year. WEF has operated the same way for the past 30 years.

“We’re confident we’ll have the support to get a special-use permit going pretty quickly so that we can confirm the dressage festival for next year,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s any risk to the Global Dressage Festival.”

Michael Stone, ESP president also confirmed to dressage-news.com the schedule of competitions. Although he would not confirm prize money.

However, it is expected to at last equal the inaugural 2012 total of almost $300,000 (€240,000) with Aequan as a title sponsor for three years at a cost of $150,000 (€120,000) per year.

Confirmation came after a rocky few months in which a newly elected majority of the Village of Wellington council that governs the community of 55,000 people blocked development of the dressage facility. The council prevented access to the venue and withdrew approvals that had already been issued by a previous council.

Five world class outdoor dressage arenas, one of the world’s largest covered arenas, 200 permanent stables with plans to construct another 200 stables had been completed in an effort to make Wellington a premier dressage venue in winter equaling the globally famous circuit of jumpers and hunters.

At a meeting earlier this week the council voted unanimously not to force ESP to start the approval process from the beginning. An outside law firm was hired by the council for the first time in the history of the village at a cost to taxpayers of up to $250,000 with the sole mission of reviewing previous approvals.

The law firm found no deliberate omission of reporting a bureacratic step from 11 years ago–before the village began keeping records, as demanded by opponents of the equestrian shows, primarily a handful of wealthy landowners.

Opposition to equestrian sports by the newly elected majority on the village council has already led to ESP withdrawing its application to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games that, if awarded to Wellington, would have had a beneficial economic impact of more than $100 million.

At least two of the three members who have mounted attacks against the horse shows while procliaming their support for dressage complained at a hearing this week of the outpouring of public opinion against their actions.

In addition to riders and owners from across the Americas angered at the opposition to their sport in a community that has welcomed them for three decades, top European riders have joined in the criticism.

Some say they wanted to compete on the new Wellington circuit but are frustrated at the on-again, off-again actions that hinder long-term plans essential to training of high performance Olympic and world championship horses and the additional burden of transatlantic air transportation.

Instead, some told dressage-news, they will compete on the winter circuits in the south of France and Spain where the weather is not as favorable as South Florida and not near a wide range of other activities that enhance a winter-long commitment.

Two other facilities in Palm Beach, the taxpayer-owned multi-discipline Jim Brandon center in West Palm Beach and the privately-held Equestrian Estates in Loxahatchee, are given good marks as competition venues, but not of the world class caliber of the new GDF facility which is also based in the heart of equestrian sports as part of PBIEC. Plus, prize money is minimal compared with GDF in a sport which has few commercial sponsors.

ESP has already been approved by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the governing body of the sport in America, for five of the 11 CDI3* and above events scheduled for Palm Beach County next winter.

The Nations Cup at Wellington has become critical for the entire Americas in preparing for the 2014 Pan American Games in Toronto. The Wellington event is being used as a test bed of how dressage competition can be formatted to remain in the Pan Ams as an Olympic qualifier while elevating the sport to Grand Prix from its current small tour.

The schedule of CDIs in Palm Beach County, Florida in 2013:
Jan. 17-20 – Goald Coast Opener CDI-W – West Palm Beach, Florida
Jan. 23-27 – Wellington Classic Sunshine Challenge CDI5*/3* – West Palm Beach
Jan. 31-Feb. 3 – Wellington Dressage CDI-W/3* – Wellington
Feb. 7-10 – Wellington Classic Spring Challenge CDI3* – West Palm Beach
Feb. 14-17 – Florida Dressage Classic CDI-W/3* – Wellington
Feb. 28-Mar. 3 – Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI-W – Loxahatchee, Florida
Mar. 7-10 – Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge II CDI1* – West Palm Beach
Mar. 14-17 – WEF Dressage Classic CDI3* – Wellington
Mar. 21-24 – International Horse Sport Championship Cup CDI-W – West Palm Beach
Mar. 28-31 – Dressage at Equestrian Estates CDI3* – Loxahatchee
April 4-7 – 5* West Palm Beach CDI5*/3* – Wellington
April 11-14 – WEF Wellington Dressage Nations Cup CDIO3*/3* – Wellington