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Exciting Season Ahead At WEF

Exciting Season Ahead At WEF The Winter Equestrian Festival Features 13 Weeks Of Hunter, Jumper And Equitation  Competitions

The 44th annual Winter Equestrian Festival kicked off its 13 weeks of competition in early January, running through April 2 at the Wellington International showgrounds featuring world-renowned hunter, jumper and equitation competitions.

Twelve of the 13 weeks feature FEI-sanctioned competition, welcoming some of the most talented and highest-ranking show jumpers from around the world. Spectators are welcome at Wellington International from Wednesday through Sunday each week.

“The most exciting thing this year is that the riders have started to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games,” said Michael Stone, president of Wellington International. “The qualification period has just started. That means that all the top riders have come here to get their qualifications done early.”

Highlighting the season is the return of Saturday Night Lights, featuring international Grand Prix and hunter derby competitions under the lights in the iconic International Arena.

Spectators can enjoy a variety of food and beverage options, live music, shopping, as well as family-friendly activities, such as face-painting, carousel rides, a petting zoo, magicians and stilt walkers.

Hospitality packages are also available for interested guests who want to experience the night’s competition from the best seats in the house.

“This is the only place where you can get free family entertainment and watch top athletes in the world,” Stone said. “This year, we have Olympic champions, world champions, European and Pan-American champions competing every Saturday night.”

The four CSI5* Grand Prix classes, the highest level of international show jumping in the sport, will take place on Feb. 11 (WEF 5), Feb. 25 (WEF 7), March 11 (WEF 9) and April 1 (WEF 12). These competitions feature the top horse-and-rider combinations in the world and include four FEI World Ranking classes.

The final CSI5* competition of the circuit (WEF 12) will welcome the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*, the most prestigious international class of the 2023 season.

The $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* will once again take place on the final Saturday of the season on the derby field at Equestrian Village.

As part of the Saturday Night Lights series, Wellington International will proudly host the Great Charity Challenge, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, on Saturday, Feb. 4. This exciting event, in its 14th year, blends philanthropy with equestrian sport by awarding more than $1 million to more than 40 charities in Palm Beach County.

On Saturday nights, gates open at 6 p.m., and general admission is free. There is a $20 per car fee for parking.

The Wellington International team will also be expanding its special event offerings with brunch on select Sundays to offer fans and competitors another opportunity to enjoy the sport this season.

“We have started this special brunch offering, so people can come by early on a Sunday afternoon to watch the jumping,” Stone said. “Then they can go on to polo after that and have a really great Sunday of equestrian sports.”

Brunch will be offered in the Blue Ribbon Club, and attendees will start their Sundays with a prime view of the International Arena and a complimentary glass of champagne. The Blue Ribbon Club Brunch debuted on Jan. 29 during WEF 3 and will continue on Feb. 12 (WEF 5), Feb. 26 (WEF 7), March 5 (WEF 8), March 12 (WEF 9), March 19 (WEF 10) and March 26 (WEF 11).

Now owned by the Global Equestrian Group, the former Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was rebranded Wellington International during the final weeks of the 2022 season. Over the past year, the new owners have put nearly $9 million into upgrades at the showgrounds.

“We have done a lot of investing here, such as new stables,” Stone said. “We have built three new permanent barns. This has been really well received by the competitors. This is part of our long-term plan to continue to enhance the facility to ensure that we remain the No. 1 horse show in the world.”

This has included a focus on horses, riders and spectators.

“We continue to improve the footing in the rings, so that the horses have the best conditions to compete in,” Stone said. “We have also created more viewing areas for the public, so that everyone who comes has a place to watch, especially during the Saturday Night Lights events.”

Wellington International is located at 3400 Equestrian Club Drive, off Pierson Road. Visit to learn more.



Faces of WEF 2023

Faces of WEF 2023

The 2023 edition of Wellington’s signature horse show series, the Winter Equestrian Festival, is underway at the newly rebranded Wellington International showgrounds. Since being acquired by Global Equestrian Group last year, there have been nearly $9 million in improvements to the facility, home to the richest and longest-running horse show series in the world. Horse and rider pairs will soar over fences, navigate complicated sequences and make hairpin turns — all to the delight of the crowds. Riders known around the world will join up-and-comers, youngsters and adult amateurs in the ring at WEF, which offers classes for every age and skill level. Over the next few pages, you’ll get a glimpse at just a handful of the riders competing this season at WEF, from current superstars to future stars, in our annual Faces of WEF feature section

Olympic gold medalist Ben Maher rides for Great Britain and has competed in four Olympic Games. He is currently ranked sixth in the Longines Rankings and 34th in the FEI Jumping World Cup Standings. With more than 145 wins under his belt, Maher is one talented rider to watch at the Winter Equestrian Festival this year.

Originally from Baltimore and now living in Wellington, John French is one of the top hunter riders to watch at WEF this year. French most recently won the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby at Wellington International during the ESP Holiday Series aboard Wyatt. A seasoned and decorated horseman, French is fantastic to watch in the show ring, where he brings decades of experience.

Conor Swail, a native of County Down, Ireland, is a frequent rider on the WEF circuit each winter. He is currently ranked No. 5 on the Longines Rankings and No. 2 in the FEI World Cup Standings. A crowd favorite, Swail will no doubt make many jump-offs exciting at this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival.

Coming from a family of equestrians, Luke Jensen is one of the most talented young riders to watch this year at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Last year, Jensen was the winner of the 2022 WEF Equitation Championship on Stephex Stable’s Jamaica. Originally from Denton, Texas, he is a bright, rising star.

One of the most decorated American riders, New York native McLain Ward is a perennial fan favorite. A five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Ward started WEF 2023 on a high note when he won the $75,000 Prestige Italia Grand Prix during Premiere Week at Wellington International aboard Catoki, owned by Marilla van Beuren and Bob Russell.

Natalie Dean is one of today’s most talented young riders. A California native, Dean is currently ranked No. 5 in the Longines Jumping FEI World Cup Standings and No. 7 in the FEI Jumping Under 25 rankings. She was chosen by the United States Equestrian Federation to represent the U.S. at the $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO4* last season at WEF.

One of America’s leading hunter riders, Scott Stewart has been a staple in Wellington International’s hunter rings for decades. Stewart, who grew up in Connecticut, has won all of the nation’s top hunter awards, including the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular in Wellington. Stewart was victorious during WEF’s Premiere Week in the Equine Tack and Nutritionals 3’9” Green Hunter Division aboard Jordan.

Victoria “Tori” Colvin is one of the nation’s most successful young riders. She has been consistently in the ribbons for both hunters and jumpers since she began showing ponies as a child. Her accolades include being named the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame Rider of the Year in 2020. In 2022, she was the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Overall Hunter Rider Circuit Champion.

Wellington native Zayna Rizvi is a talented junior rider who won the coveted 2021 ASPCA Maclay National Championship. Her aptitude in equitation, hunters and jumpers knows no bounds. She competed at the 2022 FEI Jumping Nations Cup Youth Final. Last summer, Rizvi won the $37,000 North Face Farm Welcome Stake CSI 2* at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival aboard her mount Excellent, owned by Peacock Ridge.

Conter, a top Under 25 rider, is no stranger to success. From an equestrian family, she is the daughter of Stephan Conter of Stephex Stables. Last year, during the second week of WEF, Conter won the Martha W. Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider Award. She also placed sixth in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* during Week 12. She enters 2023 with an eye toward more impressive victories.


Living The Horse Life

Living The Horse Life A Day In The Life Of Show Jumping Star Daniel Bluman In Wellington

By Mike May

Show jumping is an international sport, which can be showcased by the professional and international lifestyle of world-class show jumper Daniel Bluman.

Born in Colombia, now living in Wellington, and competing internationally for Israel, Bluman is currently 19th in the world. A year ago, he was ranked 11th in the world. “Your world ranking is highly influenced by your type of horse,” Bluman said.

Bluman, 32, was born in Medellin, Colombia, on March 15, 1990. He is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, who spent three years in Auschwitz during World War II. After liberation, the family left Europe and moved to Colombia.

Bluman’s father, Samuel, is an entrepreneur, and his mother, Orly, is a psychologist and social worker. While growing up in Colombia, Bluman’s parents set high standards and taught him and his brother Steven the meaning of dedication, professionalism and dependability. To this day, Bluman’s life is laced with integrity and gratitude.

Bluman said that to succeed in the equestrian industry, you have to love horses.

“I love and have a passion for horses,” he said. “You have to know how they live and act. You have to know how to get in their head and body. I was fortunate to be able to learn the horse life.”

A regular day for Bluman is totally horse centric.

Right now, he manages 10 horses a day in Wellington. These horses are the ones that he uses to compete as a show jumper. None are younger than seven and few are older than 16.

“I will ride a horse for show jumping for roughly nine to 10 years,” Bluman said.

While he takes great efforts to pamper his horses, it’s also important to give the horses time and space.

“I must let horses be horses, which means they are free to graze in the field for many hours a day,” Bluman said. “They only get a workout for 45 to 60 minutes a day.”

When it comes to feeding horses, they need a well-balanced diet, just like any world-class athlete.

“We feed the horses carrots, grains, hay and supplements,” Bluman said.

In addition to his stable of horses here in Wellington, he also controls a group of younger horses that live in Europe. As they mature and get trained, they will eventually travel to the United States to join his group of horses in Wellington.

And, just like a world-class athlete, there’s a somewhat short window or season when they compete each year.

“Each of my horses is only competing for 12 to 15 weeks a year,” Bluman said.

Meanwhile, Bluman makes sure that he stays fit, as well. “It’s important that I work out, keep hydrated and have a good, balanced diet,” he said.

During the competitive show jumping season in Wellington, Bluman is very busy from Thursdays through Sundays. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, he and his horses are often resting, recovering from competition, and getting ready for the next competition series.

After the Winter Equestrian Festival concludes in Wellington, Bluman spends time competing in New York and Europe.

“After the season in Wellington, New York becomes my home base, as we have a facility in North Salem, New York,” Bluman said.

Bluman got started in the equestrian world before he enrolled in kindergarten. When he was three years old, he started riding horses and was a member of a local pony club in Colombia. He was motivated to ride due to the interest in horses shown by his older cousins.

It didn’t take long for Bluman to develop his own true passion for horses, which is the foundation of his current equestrian lifestyle. Once he grasped the art of being a show jumper, Bluman quickly joined the international circuit. He competed in Colombia, Germany and the U.S. Along the way, he trained with some of the top equestrians in the world, including Brazilian Olympian Nelson Pessoa, whom he trained with in Belgium for several years. This led to him competing at some of the top show jumping competitions in the world.

Nowadays, Bluman is also focused on his Jewish roots, as he competes on the international equestrian circuit as a representative of Israel. Bluman competed in the Olympics in 2012 in London and in 2016 in Rio as a member of the Colombian team, but he switched his national affiliation soon after returning from Rio.

Bluman would have competed as a member of the Israeli team at the Tokyo Olympics, but a mistake with his horse’s documentation prevented him from making the trip to Japan to compete at the postponed Tokyo games in 2021.

Bluman was actually a finalist in the 2012 Olympics aboard his horse Sancha LS, but he now admits that he was not competitively ready to really contend for a spot on the medal platform in London. However, it was an unforgettable, formative experience.

In recent years, Bluman’s achievements include wins at the Rolex Grand Prix of Rome, the Rolex Grand Prix of Central Park, the Hampton Classic, the FTI Wellington Finale and the Douglas Elliman Grand Prix.

Looking back, Bluman said that he has been the beneficiary of good timing and had the opportunity to make great connections in the show jumping world from a young age.

After spending the first 10 years of his life in Colombia, his family moved to South Florida, where he spent ages 10 to 13. While in Florida, his family lived in Weston, and on weekends in the winter, Bluman’s mother would drive him up to Wellington, where he experienced the atmosphere of the world-renowned Winter Equestrian Festival. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, meeting with the right kind of people.

He and his family returned to Colombia when he was 14, but at age 17, he left Colombia for good to pursue his career as a show jumper.

In his spare time, Bluman can be found at home with his wife Ariel and their children. His kids enjoy karate, soccer and bicycling. The family supports various charitable organizations, such as the UJA Federation, the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association (INTRA) and Antorchas de Vida, a foundation that focuses on nutrition and education for poor children back in Medellin, Colombia. In recent years, the Blumans have created “Ride The Future,” a program that helps pair professionals with riders who are interested in continuing a career in the sport but might not have the means or tools to do so.

To learn more about Daniel Bluman, visit


Horsepower Travel On The Move

Horsepower Travel On The Move The Dutta Corporation Provides Top-Class Equine Airfreight Service

By Connie Sawyer

The Dutta Corporation, founded in 1988 by Tim Dutta, is a global equestrian air transportation firm based in Wellington that serves the many equestrians and equine residents and visitors to the Wellington area.

Since its inception, the Dutta Corp. has maintained a core vision to provide a top-class equine airfreight service worthy of its clients. This vision has allowed the company to rapidly expand to service clients around the world.

With his deep knowledge of both the equine and business worlds, Dutta has created a structure that has the well-being of the horses at its core.

“Every layer of our company is staffed by horsemen and horsewomen, and we understand horses and their needs,” Dutta said. “We also have vast experience in international travel.”

This vision has proven extremely successful, as the Dutta Corp. has grown to become the shipping company of choice for world-class horsemen and top international athletes. Whether the horse is a world champion or a personal champion, they are all equal when traveling “Dutta Style.”

From a young age, Dutta competed successfully in both the show jumping arena and the polo field, where he developed his lifelong love of horses and horse sports. He has proudly represented his home country of India in both disciplines.

Dutta’s love and passion for all things equestrian is reflected in his daily life in Wellington, where he both lives and has chosen to headquarter his business.

Very involved in the daily operations of the Dutta Corp., he can often be found accompanying a horse shipment to ensure that everything is as it should be. He travels extensively to attend competitions and events worldwide, making it a priority to keep up to date with his clients and the various disciplines his company serves.

“We fly 2,500-plus horses in and out of Miami for the Wellington International and Global Dressage Festival shows,” Dutta said, adding that while Miami is the air hub of choice for international travel, national flights operate from Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The Dutta Corp. team also currently fly weekly, coast-to-coast in the U.S., and from JFK, Miami and Chicago to Amsterdam in the Netherlands or Liege in Belgium, and bimonthly to Mexico and Argentina.

At the heart of Dutta’s success and happiness is his family, the love of equestrian sports and passion for horses that has become a family tradition.

Dutta’s wife, Susie Dutta, is a renowned dressage rider who has represented the United States worldwide and is a Realtor in Wellington. Son Timmy Dutta is a dedicated polo player who can be found playing regularly during polo season with his father on the Dutta Corp. Polo Team.

Once a horse is booked for transportation, the Dutta Corp. team starts the process, beginning with bloodwork, a vaccination records check and preparation of health papers before scheduling flights, consolidating shipments and preparing customs clearance to set up import into the arrival country.

What is the travel process like for the horses? “Like humans, some are very nervous, and some fall asleep before takeoff,” Dutta said. “No horse is alike, and we have to be able to read them and take care of them in flight.”

This is why Dutta insists that all layers of his staff include professional grooms with vast experience to be able to cater to each individual horse’s needs.

For horses used to trailer travel, air travel is not that much different.

“Very rarely do we see a horse fight the process,” Dutta said. “They are herd animals, and if their neighbors relax, they do.”

For more information, or to get in touch with the Dutta Corp. to schedule a flight or inquire about importing and exporting, visit, call the Wellington office at (914) 276-3880 or e-mail


Obstacles, Clears And Finishes

Obstacles, Clears And Finishes Coming Up With Unique Course Designs Is All In A Day’s Work For Andy Christiansen

By Mike May

To work in the equestrian field as a course designer for hunters, show jumpers and equitation competitors, some of the keys to success and longevity are to have a positive mental attitude, a passion for horses and a true love of the sport. If you can find the joy of being immersed in Wellington’s equestrian environment — which will involve long days and weekend nights — you will thrive.

In many respects, that sums up the mindset you must have to live the life of Andy Christiansen, who specializes in creating course designs for those who compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival in the hunters, show jumpers and equitation events.

Christiansen is now a certified international FEI Level 3 course designer. He’s good at what he does, but he plans to improve and move up the ladder in the course design profession. One of his career goals is to design CSI5* competitions and international championships, such as the Olympic Games.

So far, some of his big career experiences in show jumping are designing national and international competitions across the Americas and working next to world-renowned course designers at previous Pan American Games, World Equestrian Games and South American Games.

“I grew up with horses,” said Christiansen, 38, who is a native of Quito, Ecuador, and is now a full-time Wellington resident. “I have lots of passion for horses and show jumping.”

To work in Christiansen’s circles, you must have patience and be willing to invest time in the profession in order to learn and gain the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed. Christiansen’s ability to design courses for riders did not come from a textbook. It came from listening to others and asking questions.

For Christiansen, life as a course designer is an ongoing education. As long as you are willing to listen, and watch as the sports evolve, you will continue to learn and get educated to continue your professional growth. You also have to be a team player who is willing to help and assist others.

While Christiansen has a home in Wellington, he can usually be found at the Wellington International showgrounds off Pierson Road, especially during the 13-week Winter Equestrian Festival, which is now underway.

“The Winter Equestrian Festival is the biggest horse show in the world, and I enjoy being a part of it,” Christiansen said.

During WEF, it’s especially busy every week from Wednesday to Sunday, which are competition days. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Christiansen and his team plan and get organized for the next five-day gauntlet of competition.

There is far more to Christiansen’s professional life than designing courses at WEF. He is also busy at Wellington International with the Spring Series, Summer Series, Fall Series and the Holiday Series. In all, that’s roughly 30 to 35 weeks of competition in Wellington, where he’s in charge of getting jumping courses designed, installed, modified and removed many times a day, as the rings switch between competitions.

During WEF’s five days of weekly competition, there are three to five classes of competition each day, and three to five different tracks that must be installed throughout the day. To make it all work on a timely basis, Christiansen must plan ahead. He has a large team of professionals — a ring crew of at least 48 people, who transform the horse show’s outdoor jumping rings many times a day. It must be done efficiently and quickly.

“We don’t want our customers waiting on us,” Christiansen said.

This is where teamwork comes into play. In some respects, it’s no different than being a special teams player on a football team, whose job it is to efficiently perform on kickoffs, punt returns and field goal situations. If you make a mistake, everybody will notice.

“We don’t have a great deal of time to make changes, usually 15 to 20 minutes,” Christiansen said.

To be a part of his crew, he expects you to be humble, hardworking, attentive and alert, especially on those Grand Prix Saturday Night Lights events that draw big, enthusiastic crowds.

Christiansen is always committed to excellence. He wants to make it all happen with perfection.

“I consider myself a very organized person,” he said. “Before I head home every night, I make sure that my crew gets the arena ready for the first competition of the next morning. I make sure to leave behind all the needed paperwork and get all details done at the end of the day, just in case something out of the ordinary happens, and I’m not able to be there in the morning. After all, the show must go on.”

When he’s not in Wellington, his profession takes him to many places in the United States, Canada and South America. His U.S. destinations include Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut, California, Virginia and others.

As Christiansen reflects on his career, he said there are two individuals who have served as key mentors for him. They are American course designer Anthony d’Ambrosio and Brazilian Guilherme Jorge. Both have helped Christiansen grow and develop as a course designer, sharing their knowledge and providing sound advice to him over the last 20 years.

For Christiansen, it’s not easy creating a variety of course designs in confined settings, which are all different and diverse. After all, not all show jumpers are in the same skill class, so the degree of difficulty needs to change depending on the ability of the horse and the rider.

According to Christiansen, all competitive venues in show jumping are not created equal, which puts a premium on his ability to design a jumping venue that is always going to be competitive and fair. Some venues are indoors, and some are outdoors.

“The indoor jumping venues are not big arenas, and they are surrounded by walls, bleachers and different elements that cause many distractions, which sometimes makes it challenging to design different courses,” Christiansen explained. “Depending on the venue, the outdoor arenas are normally bigger, but not all the same size. It’s nice to have some variety and different shapes.”

When Christiansen has free time, he gets away from the equestrian world and spends it with his wife and children. They enjoy their free time together, relaxing, swimming, bike riding and fishing.


Help Find A Cure

Help Find A Cure Challenge Of The Americas Features Dancing Horses And Family Fun To Fight Breast Cancer

Paint the town pink on Friday, March 10 at the Challenge of the Americas (COTA) and experience a colorful, family-friendly equestrian extravaganza, as horses and riders from around the world dance to music to help fight breast cancer. COTA is a spectacular evening of horses and fun, all to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) through Play for P.I.N.K.

This one-of-a-kind event showcases the Olympic sports of dressage and show jumping, and features some of the top international competitors from the United States, Canada, Europe, Central America, Australia and Israel as they maneuver their horses in precise patterns set to a musical theme.

General admission gates open at 5:30 p.m. at the Global Dressage Festival showgrounds on the corner of South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road in Wellington. Grab some food and beverages available for purchase and enjoy pre-show entertainment by local singer Michael Boone. General admission ticket holders will have an ideal vantage point in the grandstands to see top show jumpers and their mounts performing choreographed jumping set to music starting at 6:30 p.m.

Next, horse and rider duos will impress with their pas de deux –– typically a dance for two people but, at COTA, it’s two horses and their riders moving in harmony.

The headline event features six teams of six horses and their skilled riders competing in the musical Grand Prix Quadrille Team Challenge. Competitors pull out all the stops with intricate choreography and colorful costumes in themed musical quadrilles to delight the crowd, and impress the world-class judges, while raising funds for breast cancer research.

COTA has evolved since its origins back in 2002.

Created by Mary Ross to honor her mother, who died of breast cancer, the event grew from an afternoon luncheon featuring three horse-and-rider combinations to an international event with 46 riders and their mounts. Its success and continued growth are due not only to its partnership with the top-rated breast cancer organization in the U.S., but to its uniquely entertaining format.

The Challenge of the America’s mission is to #challengebreastcancer through the BCRF and its partner, Play for P.I.N.K., a grassroots organization committed to raising funds for research through sporting and lifestyle events.

The BCRF is dedicated in its mission to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research. It is the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the U.S. That research is saving lives, improving outcomes and uncovering new approaches to this complex, challenging disease.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide — surpassing lung cancer for the first time in 2020 — and the most common cancer diagnosed in American women. It knows no boundaries and doesn’t discriminate. It is a leading cause of cancer death in less developed countries, and the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. There are few people who have not been directly or indirectly affected by the disease.

General admission tickets for the Challenge of the Americas are available at the door for $20, and children 12 and under are admitted free. VIP tickets, available at, provide the same top-notch entertainment with the bonus of enjoying this year’s festive, Western-chic Challenge Gala featuring dinner and dancing under the tents at the showgrounds.

Proudly wear pink and join the Challenge of the Americas for an exciting evening of horses and family fun on March 10 to #challengebreastcancer and help find a cure in our lifetime.

Learn more about the Challenge of the Americas at


Tenacity In Top Form

Tenacity In Top Form How Hunter Rider John French Paved His Way To The Top

By Jessica Brighenti 

A professional rider with a reputation that precedes him, John French is known for his natural talent, horsemanship and, of course, many appearances in the winner’s circle. As one of the sport’s most accomplished hunter riders, French has been a prominent figure in the equestrian community for decades. He is now excited to permanently call the equestrian destination of Wellington his home.

Raised in “hunt country” outside of Baltimore, French learned the importance of horsemanship from an early age as the son of a riding instructor.

“I wasn’t in the ring all the time or competing. We did more riding cross country or over to my friend’s house,” he recalled. “We’d go on trail rides together in the woods, jump over logs and go fox hunting. I think growing up that way really helped me get a feel for the horse and a natural way of riding the show hunters.”

French enjoyed early success in the Green Pony Hunter division with a pony his mom bought for just $500, but once he moved to horses and set his sights on larger shows with stiffer competition, the cards were stacked against him. “I got discouraged and said I couldn’t do it,” French said. “We didn’t have the funds to show at that level.”

Determined to improve as much as he could, he sent a photo in to George Morris’ popular column at the time in Practical Horseman Magazine. In each month’s column, Morris would critique riders’ photos over fences and provide pointers to both them and the readers. French’s photo was chosen for inclusion, and although Morris was initially critical of French’s “long hair” and the untalented jump of his 15.2-hand-high Palomino, he made a remark that would forever change the trajectory of French’s riding career. “He said, word for word, ‘All in all, this is the best example of classic hunter seat equitation I’ve ever seen.’ That’s when I thought, maybe I could do this if I just had a different horse,” French said.

At the age of 16, French hooked up the horse trailer, picked up his friend’s horse and headed to the Maryland Equitation Finals. He not only won the championship, but he did so all on his own without assistance from a trainer — propelling him on the ride of his life.

From then forward, people asked him to catch-ride horses and ponies for them, allowing French to work for some of the most knowledgeable horsemen on the east and west coasts for decades. Before officially hanging up his square jumper saddle pads for the fitted show pads of the hunter arena, French went on to represent the United States around the world in multiple Nations Cups and FEI World Cup Finals.

After residing on the west coast for a little over 30 years, French packed his bags and headed to Wellington to join forces with a fellow powerhouse in the equestrian business, two-time Olympian Kent Farrington. “Kent called me up only six months after I moved to Seattle and said, ‘I heard you left California. How about working together with me?’” French recalled with a laugh.

He politely declined the offer at first. “I had just bought a house and said, ‘No it’s not going to happen.’ Kent and I talked at Washington [International Horse Show], and he invited me down to Florida over Thanksgiving that year to check out his barn,” French said. “Just like my initial move to California, it wasn’t my plan, but it looked so enticing to work with him and to be able to have such a strong operation and people to work with, so I thought, ‘Maybe this is the time I move back to the east coast.’”

Since pairing up with Team KPF in 2020, French has continued his success in the show ring with a few special hunter mounts and has been able to focus the rest of his time and energy on his clients. “I take pride in [my students’] successes. We keep the program small and select, but I am really enjoying teaching and working with them,” he said.

When asked what advice he instills in his students and to those who may be in similar financial situations to him growing up, French expresses the importance of horsemanship and gaining knowledge first and foremost. “Don’t be in a rush to start a business. Before you hang up your own sign and have your own clients, learn from as many people as you can. It’s important to find horsemen and get as much experience and knowledge as you can from them,” he said.

Look beyond the top trainers to learn from, he noted.

“They may not necessarily be trainers, but maybe barn managers, vets or blacksmiths. You can learn something from all of them,” French said. “A lot of people also just want to ride, but you have to pay your dues first and do more than that. Work hard and learn from your mentors. It’s going to make you a better horseman for when you do get to be a rider.”

This conversation took place just six months after French suffered a serious riding accident.

“I was riding a young horse. He jumped the fence nicely, but dropped his head on the other side, and lightly hit the rail with his hind feet. His head never came back up, and there was nothing in front of me,” recalled French, who fell off and broke his femur in two places, which resulted in a full hip replacement.

The doctors at Wellington Regional Medical Center worked diligently to get French out of the excruciating pain he was in and back into the saddle as quickly as possible. So quickly, in fact, that French was not only riding six weeks post-operation, but he went on to win the 3”/3’3” Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Incentive Championship aboard Suzan Moriconi’s Wyatt three months later in August.

“If I didn’t like my job and working with Kent, the clients and the horses we have as much as I do, I don’t think I would’ve been able to come back so quickly,” French said. “It’s what keeps me going, and what will keep me going in this business for a long time to come. Otherwise, I would’ve maybe thought that it’s time to stop riding.”

Luckily for all lovers of hunter competition, French doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon. “I feel fitter and healthier now, instead of three years ago. I feel like instead of coming to my end [after the accident], I have a new beginning here in Wellington and working together with Kent,” he said. “I can see myself going for many more years.”

When asked about his longevity in the sport, French declared, “I’m never going to be done. I will keep training and judging, and have more time to work with committees and things that give back to the sport to make it better. Even if I’m not riding, I can go to the show to train and help out. When it comes to horses, there will always be something to do around here.”

Learn more about John French at


WHS Band Goes To London

WHS Band Goes To London Trip Of A Lifetime As Mighty Wolverine Sound Marches In The New Year’s Day Parade

By Deborah Welky

Wolverines disappeared from the British Isles ages ago, but a band of them invaded London in late December and early January, traversing in orderly fashion to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and completing their two-mile march at Parliament Square.

It was the award-winning Mighty Wolverine Sound, of course, Wellington High School’s marching band.

First invited to participate in the London New Year’s Day Parade (LNYDP) in early 2020, the band had to wait nearly three years before they were actually able to participate due to pandemic cancellations. Then, with a live audience of more than 600,000, and approximately 500 million more watching on TV, the group quickly became the pride of Wellington.

Musically and logistically, it was a lot of work.

“We began practicing in early November, twice a week, working on our performance music — a Beatles medley and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen — as well as our parade marching formations,” WHS Band Director Mary Oser said. “Once in London, we spent the five days prior to the parade seeing many of the most famous historical sites in London and the surrounding areas, including Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Oxford University, Abbey Road, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. After having had to postpone the trip twice, the high point was performing in front of such a huge, warm, receptive and welcoming audience.”

Michelle De Armas, mother of 15-year-old Wolverine trumpeter Christopher De Armas, served as the London trip coordinator. “The band director, band students and band parents at Wellington High School worked very hard to get this special recognition and gave a spectacular performance at the parade,” she said.

While Oser handled communication between the band and LNYDP representatives, as well as anything involving the student/parent communication, students’ instruments and uniforms, De Armas handled rooming logistics, passport and plane information, and handbook information. She also created numerous rosters to keep track of the 75 students and 33 chaperones at the hotel, on planes, on buses, during daily tours, at meals and during afternoon sightseeing times.

“Planning was key,” De Armas said. “Early on, I created a hierarchy structure in order to chart out everyone for board members and chaperones, so we could organize the groups. This allowed chaperones to verify attendance and get everyone safely on the planes and buses to each destination. I designated various board members as passport, bus and plane coordinators to handle the overall tasks of checking in at the airports and daily tours, so it wasn’t just me.”

This included room accommodations and assigning a handful of students to each chaperone, whom they would monitor and be responsible for during the entire trip. De Armas created a “pod” system labeled by color and letter.

“This made it easier to group our six pods on the planes and buses, and allowed everyone to easily determine where they would go each day,” she said. “I also identified two captains per pod to verify the attendance at any event and maintain curfew.”

De Armas was also in charge of what she called “endless forms.”

“I input and verified all the passport information for the airlines, checked and double-checked to make sure the names, numbers and dates matched exactly. I worked with Ms. Oser and other board members to create a roommate list based on student preferences, then collated the lists and updated them if someone needed to switch rooms,” she said. “I then provided all rooming info to the tour company.”

The logistics were so complex that a handbook was created to streamline the process. De Armas worked with Wolverine Band Booster Association Public Relations Chair Pepper Adair to write the “Wolverine Band London 2023 Trip Handbook,” meeting with students and chaperones and using What’s App to disseminate information, answer questions and plan itineraries.

“This worked out well, especially for giving out info and updates to students, as well as tracking students and chaperones,” De Armas said. “I had been to London twice, but this was the first time I coordinated an overseas trip for 108 people, so there was a lot of stress. All of us chaperones were counting all the time!”

It certainly was stressful headed to another country, in a big city, dealing with large crowds visiting for the holidays, but, in the end, it was a picture-perfect success.

“Once we arrived at the airport and got everyone checked in, I knew things would be fine, and all of our chaperones could handle whatever would come our way in London,” De Armas said.

Once the entourage arrived in London, LNYDP representative Olivia Konieczka helped with logistics related to daily tours and buses, hotel rooms, banquet rooms, equipment rooms, hotel meals and the parade. She also helped De Armas find places to sightsee, eat and figure out how to get around town.

It was quite an experience, particularly for the students.

Adriana Takvorian is the band’s head drum major and a tenor saxophone player.

“The most exciting part for me was being able to travel outside of the U.S. and see all of the historic sites in London,” she said. “I also enjoyed the environment of the parade. It was one of the best experiences someone could have.”

Trombone player Sydney Nembhard loved the sightseeing as well.

“The most exciting part of the trip for me was being inside Windsor Castle and sharing that experience with my favorite people,” she said. “This trip is something I will never forget.”

It was a trip flute player Anden Toale will also never forget.

“I never thought I would be marching in an internationally renowned parade, one that is broadcast live to millions across the world,” he said. “The excitement and joy that filled me while marching down the streets of London was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I also enjoyed exploring new places and seeing so many new yet famous places I’ve heard so much about, such as Windsor and Oxford. Being able to take in all these new sights with all my best friends is an experience I will forever treasure.”

Aside from the logistics, the trip took years of fundraising to accomplish. Over the last several years, the Mighty Wolverine Sound received donations from its boosters’ GoFundMe page, as well as from Wellington International, the Royal Foundation, the Wellington Rotary Club, former WBBA President Janell Leatherman, and, of course, band parents themselves. In addition, Good Greek Moving & Storage donated wardrobe boxes to ship all 75 uniforms.

“We could never have accomplished this performance without the support of our administration, especially Principal Cara Hayden, and the community of Wellington,” Oser said.

The high point of the trip for De Armas was still the parade itself.

“After all these years trying to attend, I’m so glad the students were finally able to participate in this amazing experience,” she said. “My older son, Alexander, who plays snare drum, was supposed to go two years ago. However, like many previous band students, he graduated during the pandemic shutdown. My younger son, Christopher, was there. For me, walking in the parade with the band, taking photos of them to preserve this special moment, seeing the excitement in their eyes and hearing them play so well was the highlight of the trip.”

Learn more about the Wellington High School Mighty Wolverine Sound marching band at


Investing In Our Village’s Future

Investing In Our Village’s Future A Look At Wellington’s 2023-2027 Five-Year Capital Improvements Program

By Jim Barnes, Wellington Village Manager

As we continue in this new year, you will notice the Village of Wellington undertaking some of the projects that our Wellington Village Council approved last fall in the Fiscal Year 2023 Annual Budget and the 23023-2027 Five-Year Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The CIP is a five-year outlook for anticipated capital projects and is reviewed and updated annually by the council.

The 2023-2027 Five-Year CIP reflects the council’s continued investment in capital projects throughout the village in a fiscally responsible manner. The $24 million program, largely funded through the general and utilities funds and sales surtax, includes $5 million in ongoing funding for new and existing assets, equipment and vehicle replacements, as well as infrastructure to enhance our neighborhoods and home values; $9.4 million for one-time projects; and $10 million for utilities capital projects. In addition to the $24 million CIP, another $5.8 million is budgeted for major maintenance to maintain village buildings and facilities, and our extensive network of parks.

The remaining amount will be spent on enhancements and new infrastructure that will benefit residents and set conditions for the future. Examples include the refurbishment of Margate and Staimford neighborhood parks and the Olympia Park tennis and basketball courts, as well as the exotic vegetation removal and clearing from the 45-acre expansion of the Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat.

Work this year is also focused on the expansion of the multi-use pathway network. Transportation improvements and the continued investment in information technology are also central to our efforts to improve traffic safety and leverage technology.

In developing the Five-Year CIP, the following elements are taken into consideration: council goals, community surveys, grant funding opportunities, commitments made by the village, maintenance/rehabilitation of existing village facilities and infrastructure, technology improvements, and enhancements within the community. The proposed CIP was developed in support of the council’s strategic focus areas with emphasis placed on public safety, fiscal health and community livability. You can stay informed of the CIP process as the village undertakes its update for the 2024-2028 Five-Year CIP, as well as the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, by signing up for e-mail updates and by following the Village of Wellington on social media.

Every year, the council meets to discuss the strategic framework and vision for the coming year. The framework outlines goals related to economic, fiscal and environmental stewardship; best-in-class services and amenities; and the physical, mental, social and emotional well-being of our residents and employees. It also includes goals related to our infrastructure. I look forward to engaging with all of you and working together toward that vision.

We are committed to transparency and community participation in government. Public involvement and input are the cornerstones of everything we do, and we know that we make better decisions and build a better future when we have conversations and gather feedback from invested stakeholders like you. There are many ways you can become engaged and stay informed.

Wellington is known for being a well-planned community that puts residents first. With that at our core, we invite you to engage with your “great hometown” and stay involved in your community. I hope to see you at our public meetings, at our award-winning community events, and out and about enjoying the beautiful community we all love to call home.


Meet The Leadership Team

Meet The Leadership Team USPA National Polo Center-Wellington Opens Its Inaugural Season With Visionaries At The Helm

Fresh off the massive success of hosting the FIP World Polo Championship, the USPA National Polo Center-Wellington (NPC) is gearing up for its inaugural winter high-goal season. Most notably, the calendar will feature the return of the prestigious three-part Gauntlet of Polo series beginning in February. As NPC prepares for what will undoubtedly be a historic first season, after the USPA purchased the former International Polo Club Palm Beach last summer, let’s get to know the faces behind the newly rebranded facility, and the people who have worked tirelessly to turn a promising vision into reality.

Stewart Armstrong: Planting The Seed

The mastermind behind the USPA-owned facility, USPA Chair Stewart Armstrong first detailed his vision for a permanent center for polo in America in the Spring 2020 issue of Hurlingham Polo Magazine in an essay titled, “The Sunday Field.” In it, Armstrong discussed the vitality of the Brackenridge Park field for the San Antonio Polo Club in Texas, and how the disappearance of that shared resource in the 1970s forever altered and stifled growth of the sport in the area.

This lived experience propelled his idea of a perpetual Sunday field as a principal element in the health and well-being of a polo club. Believing polo will not thrive without a centrally located Sunday field to underpin growth, showcase teams, players and horses, as well as unite the wider community, Armstrong approached the USPA Board of Governors and proposed that the USPA acquire a communal facility to ensure longevity and prosperity of the sport in America. With this idea in mind, NPC will welcome not only high-goal tournaments, but also tournament play at all levels, guaranteeing inclusivity across all realms of the sport.

Now serving as the committee chair of USPA Sunday Field LLC, which will manage the polo operations of the center alongside NPC Polo Operations LLC, Armstrong continues to eagerly lead the USPA in the height of this new endeavor to establish NPC as the epicenter of American polo.

Armstrong’s polo knowledge and passion comes from a lifetime in the sport. A third-generation player, Armstrong’s grandfather was one of the founders of the San Antonio Polo Club and established a horse breeding program. Armstrong picked up the sport when he was 11 and never turned back. He achieved a 7-goal handicap and won the illustrious C.V. Whitney Cup twice in the 1980s. His experience both on and off the field has made him an exceptional leader for the USPA, especially during a time that offers many thrilling new changes and challenges for the association.

Charles Smith: Cultivating Growth

Recently elected as USPA president after formerly serving as secretary, Charles Smith has been extremely active in the creation of NPC, especially on the operations side, also serving as chair of NPC Polo Operations LLC.

Much like Armstrong, former 7-goaler Smith draws experience from an incredibly successful career in polo, joining the NPC leadership team as a three-time C.V. Whitney Cup winner, two-time USPA Gold Cup victor and five-time U.S. Open Polo Championship title holder. To recognize his talent and excellence in the sport, Smith was also inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in 2004. Smith hopes to use his deep understanding of polo to create both a competitive and enjoyable atmosphere for players and spectators.

At the USPA Fall Board of Governors meeting that took place in early November, Smith relayed important updates about NPC Polo Operations LLC, detailing a progress report of the ongoing polo-related renovations. Similarly, he discussed the plans to revitalize the stadium, parking areas and main entrance in a multi-phase renovation project scheduled around the 2023 winter season schedule.

Tim Gannon: Nourishing The Idea

Tim Gannon, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and three-time U.S. Open Polo Championship winner, has been a vital contributor to the vision of NPC becoming a reality. Outside of creating an empire in the restaurant business, Gannon has a long and fruitful history in the sport. He began playing in 1992 and, as his passion grew, he created the Outback Polo team, which went on to win the U.S. Open five times, three of which he competed in. The team’s success also produced three consecutive wins in the prestigious competition (1999, 2000 and 2001), a feat that has not been duplicated since.

Off the field, Gannon is widely known as a selfless and devoted supporter of polo and its players. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Philip Iglehart Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional lifetime contributions to the sport. Continuing to remain connected to polo despite not being in the saddle, Gannon now chairs NPC’s Hospitality Operations Inc., setting his sights on reinvigorating the club’s offerings with his extensive experience in the food service industry. He is inspired to use his expertise to add to the culinary side of the club and elevate NPC into a great entertainment and dining experience.

At the USPA Fall Board of Governors meeting, Gannon discussed many of the projects that are ongoing in those areas. He detailed projects aimed at updating the hospitality facilities, expanding and modernizing the Mallet Grill kitchen, bringing in new culinary talent, investing more in catering, and uplifting the experience and what people can expect from the hospitality assets and the club.

Chris Green: Ensuring Longevity

After 40 years as a USPA member and several serving as a governor-at-large and active member of countless crucial USPA committees, Chris Green stepped into the role of chief operating officer/in-house counsel in July 2021. Green is involved in nearly every aspect of the facility and its operations, contributing to all three NPC-focused subsidiaries: USPA Sunday Field LLC, NPC Polo Operations LLC and NPC Hospitality Operations Inc.

Green’s connection to horses began in Lexington, Kentucky, where he grew up in the horse racing industry. He was introduced to polo in his 20s while attending the University of Kentucky and now plays outdoor polo at Giant Valley Polo Club in Hamden, Connecticut, and arena polo at Gardnertown Polo Club in Newburgh, New York. Green’s vast knowledge of the game and the rules, formerly serving as chair of the Rules/Rules Interpretation Committee, have made him an invaluable resource in launching NPC and generating early success for the facility.

An overall incredible achievement for the association and the sport of polo, NPC will and already is redefining the American polo experience thanks to the leadership of these individuals, alongside the hard work of many others within the United States Polo Association, NPC Polo Operations and NPC Hospitality Operations. This is only the beginning of a revitalized and prosperous future for American polo, with many more developments and opportunities on the horizon.

Visit to learn more about the USPA National Polo Center-Wellington.