Andreas Helgstrand on Plans for Major Improvements to Palm Beach Horse Show Center, Work With American Breeders to Grow Young Horse Business
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Oct. 19, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Andreas Helgstrand in partnership with fellow Olympian Ludger Beerbaum is preparing major improvements to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center with hundreds more permanent stables and extending top quality footing throughout the show grounds.
The show ground upgrades will go along with the addition of jumpers to the significant lineup of dressage sales horses and equestrian clothing and jewelry to enhance Wellington as one of the world’s premier competition centers.
Plans are to make available to American breeders service by their top stallions in Europe and to stage more young horse competitions, both aimed at boosting breeding in the United States to meet a shortage of horses in a booming market.
PBIEC’s Winter Equestrian Festival has been successful attracting top jumper riders from around the world and though that is not reflected in dressage Andreas looks to more amateur riders from Europe to compete at the Global Dressage Festival of 12 weeks during winter.
Although Andreas admits dressage is where “my heart is beating” having spent his career in the sport, he and his team are fully dedicated to jumping and hunters that is the biggest part of the Wellington horse world.
Andreas said up to 1,000 new horse stalls may be needed for WEF jumping to replace tents and up to 500 for dressage. The current Global grounds have 200 permanent stables.
“People don’t want to have their horses any more in temporary stabling,” he noted. “The horses are so expensive. We need to fix that problem.”
The Global dressage circuit is set to be held next winter for the 11th year, 12 weeks of competition with seven weeks of CDIs–three World Cup qualifiers, the only Nations Cup outside Europe and a top rated CDI5*–at the same time as WEF. Equestrian.
The Equestrian Village property where dressage is staged was retained by the Mark Bellissimo-led Wellington Equestrian Partners. Mark has also bought the adjoining Coach House project that has been approved to develop up to 52 condominium units.
Among the options for a future home for Global is a section of the nearby International Polo Club where a large arena with lights for night competitions has been built but dressage has not been held there.
The acquisition of the Palm Beach show grounds provides Netherlands-based Waterland Private Equity with investments in some of the fastest growing segments of the equestrian industry.
Included are Helgstrand with divisions in Denmark, Germany and the United States; Beerbaum and the Riesenbeck International Equestrian Centre that includes the Longines World Equestrian Academy both in Germany; Equitour dressage and jumping shows in Denmark; Kingsland equestrian wear for humans and horses; Helgstrand jewelry; Zibrasport Equest livestreaming in Scandinavia; an automatic electronic arena maintenance robot company and a high tech heart rate monitor for humans and horses.
The Winter Equestrian Festival of jumping and hunters was created in the 1970s alongside a polo circuit built on strawberry fields to help promote sales of homes.
A group headed by Mark Bellissimo, an entrepreneur whose family participated in horse sports, took over the show grounds and renamed it Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in 2007. The facilities were upgraded and the winter circuit extended to 12 weeks from six. WEF was already the largest and longest-running equestrian competition in the world, and upgrades made it even more successful with the number of competitions growing to more than 40 weeks a year by 2021.
Andreas’s competition career has been in dressage and became the stable rider for Blue Hors in Denmark succeeding Lars Petersen when he moved fulltime to the United States. Andreas rode on Denmark’s team at the 2004 Olympics, partnering with Blue Hors Cavan that had been competed successfully by Lars including silver medal at the 2002 World Cup Final.
His greatest early competition success came two years later on Blue Hors Matine, then a second Olympics in 2008 on Blue Hors Don Schufro, the Oldenburg stallion.
How did Andreas get to become in a relatively short time a major figure in the equestrian world?
When he started his own business after Blue Hors, he said, “I realized how big was the industry; way bigger than I thought.
“Then thought, ‘If I’m selling a horse why not also sell some clothes or jewelry or something else?’ Then I started thinking even more and thought, ‘I want to be the first one to sell my company not just continue on until we’re done; let me try to see if it’s possible’.”
After building Helgstrand Dressage from the base in Denmark, he did just that in 2018–selling 51% to Waterland.
“The opportunity is never ending,” said the 44-year-old Andreas, “so many aspects to the equestrian business—land, shows, houses, trucks, cars, clothing, equipment, horses, jewelry—a never-ending story.
“It’s not just one little thing. People want to spend money, it’s their hobby.”
Ludger Beerbaum is one of the most successful jumper riders for Germany, three team and an individual gold in seven Olympics over more than three decades, two world championships, a World Cup as well as four European Championship team and two individual golds. He has never competed in Wellington though has visited his brother, Markus, and his German-American wife, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who have competed and coached riders in Wellington for many years.
The organization of this September’s European Championships of jumpers by Ludger and his staff was lauded as among the best ever.
“I think I have found the best partner I could get with Ludger Beerbaum,” Andreas said. “He is such a solid guy and has a great team behind him. He can teach me tons of things but I also think I can teach him a few things.”
Next month, young talented jumper horses developed by the partners will be brought from Europe along with the dressage horses that Andreas has been importing to Wellington for the past five years, most recently at the Windsome Farms of 80 acres/32.3ha that was acquired almost two years ago. (For full disclosure, Ilse Schwarz, a contributor to dressage-news.com and wife of the writer of this article has stabled 12 horses at Windsome for six months.)
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we want to try to copy the Helgstrand brand into the Ludger one. With more horses over here we want to be a big part of the show grounds. We are used to running big show grounds in Europe–we just hosted the European Championships which was a super success. I think we can move a lot of that over here with our experience.
“It’s not only about having the most beautiful stadium; it’s not only money. It’s also about knowledge, and we have the strongest team ever seen, I would say, in all the corners.
“If we can’t do it,” he laughed, “then nobody can do it. I don’t say it like this but just for people’s understanding that we are really looking hard to get the right people in every single corner of this business, to put it together.”
Michael Stone, who has been president of the Wellington show since Mark Bellissimo took it over 15 years ago, remains as does David Burton, Jr., the experienced event organizer. Both are also financially invested in the new show grounds structure.
“We are super excited about this opportunity,” said Andreas after he and the partners spent a week in the United States, most of the time in Wellington that included a meeting with the local government that controls building and other permits required to operate.
“I wanted the best one and got it.
“We believe a lot that Wellington is a brand. For me the most important is the branding. The brand together with Wellington is pretty cool. It’s something that people say: ‘Wow!’
“The charm and all we have here in Wellington is unique; therefore, we just have to step up and keep it as the best place in equestrian.
“We are trying develop the place a lot. We will do a lot of investment. In the short term, the most important things are parking, stabling, a few arenas still missing footing. We have to be ready by Dec. 1 for shows. We will try as hard as we can to make a lot of improvements.
“We will make a master plan as quickly as possible.and show them what we want to do, what we want to build here. It seems very, very positive and that is nice.”
He described the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, built by the Roberts family about 240 miles/386km north of Wellington, as “amazing, unbelievable.”
“Ocala wants to attract people from Wellington which I expect they will do, the same as there are people in Ocala who want to come to Wellington. At the end of the day there’s space, and people and customers enough for all of us. You just have to have the best product and that’s good for competition.”
A centerpiece of building his business over the past decade has been performances of numerous Helgstrand horses at the World Young Horse Championships.
Fiontini ridden by Severo Jurado Lopez of Spain rode for Helgstrand captured the triple crown of world championships at the ages of five, six and seven in 2015 through 2017. Jovian that Andreas rode to capture the world titles as a five- and seven-year-old in 2019 and 2021 (championships were not held in 2020 when Jovian was six because of coronavirus).
About 80% of Helgstrand’s business is in Europe and the rest in the United States.
But worldwide, he said, there are not enough horses. Breeding in Europe declined significantly during the economic downturn about a decade ago.
“There’s so much request for trained horses so we need to breed way more,” he said.
“I think the opportunities here are enormous. I think we have to create young horse classes that makes it more interesting for people to breed, because they will quickly see results. Without the breeding, we cannot develop the sport quickly enough.
“The breeding business is so small here compared to Europe. If we get the breeders up and going here there will be a market for them. Buyers don’t have to travel far and they can compete against each other.
“The key, for sure, is that breeding grows and then we can start with the young horse classes and produce for top sport as well. That is not only for the richest people on Earth who can afford to buy these horses.
“Then you can buy a horse for $20,000. Imagine that! That will be super.”
Andreas acknowledges the belief of many in the United States that top European horses are not available but held back for the benefit of the nations where they are bred. And that the successs of the United States at the Olympics, for example, is because wealthy sponsors buy top horses for talented riders.
“People just have to get used to the fact they don’t get second-hand horses over here,” he said. “We actually bring exactly the same horses here as we do in Europe. We buy 100 foals a year. There are 650 dressage horses and we can’t use them all in Europe. We get exactly as good money for them over here as over in Europe.
“The only problem has been that we are selling so fast in Europe now that we don’t need to bring them here. We sell enough over there. In the future as we get even more numbers then maybe we can make some good relationships with breeders over here to try to breed 50 horses a year and slowly fill up the market from this side as well. At the end of the day, people don’t care whether it’s Hanoverian or Oldenburg–if the horse is good they’ll buy it.
“For Americans, if there are good American horses compared with a European horse they will go for an American horse. They are proud of it. But we need to come to that level.
“I think we can support that a lot because we have the best stallions in the world in dressage. Over here, they often bought an old stallion—say, 15, brought it to America to start a breeding season. These stallions are already too old. The breeding goes so fast that in Europe they breed the young ones because they are the next generation of top athletes.
“That’s why nobody looks to buy a horse in America, because of old bloodlines. We have the stallions in-house. And they also belong to the U.S. market. So we can support with young stallions here, try to help the breeders.”
In a comparison of opportunities for Americans and Europeans, he said:
“You can’t be an amateur and come into the higher level over here. It is impossible. But in Europe you can still get up there with a horse you can find.
“We have to create the opportunity that we are not only looking at the top. Of course, there will always be the rich people. They will have the best horse on Earth. I understand, when you can afford it, why not? But if we can put the rest of the riders into the sport then we have reached a big goal.”
Andreas is looking to attract more amateur riders from Europe to compete at GDF over winter. Global has not been as successful as WEF in attracting top riders from around the world.
“I think the luxury circuit for amateurs will be very good for them,” he said.
“They will have a lot of experience in a very short time. Not only running with 5* riders but also to attract the ones behind because they can benefit from going to all these shows to train themselves in a fantastic environment.”