Florida Dressage Schedule Revised for 2014 With CDIs Cut to 8 from 12 to Put Shows on Firmer Financial Base

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


International competitions on Florida’s winter circuit in 2014 will be centered on the multmillion dollar Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington but maintain CDI events such as the iconic Palm Beach Dressage Derby at Equestrian Estates in neigboring Loxahatchee, organizers of the competitions announced Wednesday.

Under an agreement negotiated between organizers of four different series of CDI competitions and leaders of the USEF Dressage, High Performance and Licensed Competition Committees, the number of CDIs–events authorized by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI)–will be cut to eight in 2014.

Five will be at the GDF grounds in Wellington and three at Equestrian Estates, show grounds that are only 12.5 miles (20km) apart.

The draft schedule provides for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival venue as the main base for the international events except for the Palm Beach Derby CDI-W, while other shows would continue at the Loxahatchee venue or Jim Brandon Equestrian Center.

Noreen O’Sullivan, Manager of Wellington Classic Dressage, said the agreement will help dressage “really grow and reach the level it deserves by utilizing the fantastic facilities at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.”

Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, described it as “a great step forward and is proof that groups working together despite prior differences are much more powerful than continued opposition. We can now give Wellington a world-class circuit at a world-class venue and that is only to the benefit of both the dressage and non-equestrian communities.”
Michael Stone, ESP President, said he was “confident that our proposal will be well received and is in the best interest of the sport.”

No interruption to use of the Global Dressage Festival grounds is expected for the winter circuit despite opposition from a wealthy family based at a nearby equestrian estate and a majority of the local government council.

In the most intensive CDI calendar in the world, 12 CDIs were scheduled at three different show grounds for the 2013 winter circuit over three months. One was canceled because of too few entries. Twelve CDIs were tentativey scheduled for 2014 subject to approval by the FEI, before the new agreement was worked out.

The USEF is scheduled to consider approval next week of the revised 2014 calendar that will be centered on the same 12 weeks as the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington from early January through the end of March. Both GDF and WEF are organized by Equestrian Sport Productions at PBIEC.

The future of the popular World Dressage Masters CDI5* that was staged at WEF for two years before moving to the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in West Palm Beach for the past three years was unknown.

Competitions at Equestrian Estates are organized by a group that includes Danish Olympian Lars Petersen and Ed Borreson who operate a successful training and sales business near the Loxahatchee show grounds as well as Noreen O’Sullivan and John Flanagan of Wellington Classic Dressage.

A fourth series of competitions are organized at the White Fences Equestrian Center a few hundred yards/meters from Equestrian Estates but are national only.

Lars Petersen checking riding surface at Equestrian Estates dressage grounds. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Lars Petersen checking riding surface at Equestrian Estates dressage grounds. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

However, George R. Williams, who chairs, the CDI Task Force, a subcommittee of the USEF Dressage Committee, determined that for the first year or two of the expanded circuit “we would essentially take a free market attitude, in a sense let the competitors speak, and then re-evaluate the schedule.”

“Interestingly enough, after the second year it appears all of the stake holders, including the Task Force, have reached the same conclusion; the Florida circuit can be stronger and more exciting with some modifications,” he said.

Revamping of the Florida circuit came after an explosion in the number of national and international shows created around the WEF of jumping and hunter competitions grew to 25 events in 2012 and 2013 from a total of about 15 from 2008 through 2011.

Over the same period, a review by dressage-news.com found that entries were about 5,000 in 2008, 4,800 in 2009, 4,150 in 2010 and 4,000 in 2011. The total exploded to about 5,500 in 2012 then dropped to about 4,650 in 2013, a non-championship year for the Americas.

Changes between 2013 and 2012 of shows organized under different names were dramatic. Global Dressage Festival showed an increase to more than 2,000 in 2013 from about 1,740 in 2012 and White Fences grew to almost 900 in 2013 from 810 a year earlier.

The non-profit Gold Coast Dressage Association, managed by the organizers of Wellington Classic Dressage, showed a decline to about 270 in 2013 from about 530 in 2012, Wellington Classic shows were down to 900 from 1,430, the Palm Beach Dressage Derby to 370 from 700 and International Horse Shows at the same grounds as the derby about 210 from 330.

Janet Foy, chair of the dressage High Performance Committee and organizer of a CDI in her home state of Colorado, has supported the growth of CDIs over the past decade.

“In the past few years,” she said, “it has taken on a life of it’s own, with a huge number of CDIs asking for approval in Florida. We need the number of CDIs in the USA for several reasons:

“For support of our FEI judges, who now must complete a certain number of CDI competitions and Grand Prix classes in three years or lose their license, and also to give our horses a good chance to qualify for the important competitions. I am thrilled that so many organizers have stepped up to the plate, and hope that we can find a schedule that works for the riders and horses as well as the organizers.

“Having venues that allow U.S. competitors to compete with Europeans in highly electric atmospheres is to our benefit. There are several experienced show managers and good facilities in Florida that offer different experiences for our horses.

“From my personal point of view, I hope that we will continue to have top competitions in Florida and California and around the U.S. with good prize money, good atmosphere, top judges and European riders.”

George Williams, who has been active in most aspects of dressage as well as chair of the CDI Task Force, said: “We have pushed for years for more CDIs throughout the country. They are essential to our High Performance efforts and it is wonderful for our riders be able to have choices and so many opportunities to compete.

“What is happening in Florida is very exciting. I’m sure there will be some adjustments to the schedule in the future. One thing we all agree on is that it can only help dressage in the U.S. if we can get more riders from around the world to come here to compete.”

Although there were concerns the size of the Florida circuit may have a negative impact on CDIs in the other parts of the country and possibly in Canada, he said, “it poses challenges that we have to be aware of and try to work together to find solutions.

“However, the Florida circuit continues to offer more and more positive benefits and no one involved in the sport wants it to return to what is was a few years ago. Instead we need to find a way to build on the momentum that is here in Florida.”