By Elaine Wessel
The iconic Winter Equestrian Festival will return to Wellington for its annual three-month run starting in January 2022. Hunter, jumper and equitation classes will showcase equestrian talent of all levels from Jan. 5 through April 3, 2022. The highlight class of the entire series, the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*, will take place as the grand finale.
As the world’s largest and longest-running equestrian sports event, WEF will attract 4,000 families, 7,000 horses and thousands of competitors from across the globe to Wellington to compete for more than $12 million in prize money.
The upcoming winter season will come hot on the heels of two big announcements from the WEF team, including a major new investing partner and an award for event safety following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2021, it was announced that Andreas Helgstrand, CEO of Global Equestrian Group (GEG), and Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP), formed an unprecedented partnership focused on developing international equestrian sport in Wellington.
Now with GEG onboard, the initiative will launch major investments in all areas of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center facility, while also increasing exposure in Europe, Asia and South America.
“The Winter Equestrian Festival and PBIEC are fantastic brands within international equestrian sport,” Helgstrand said. “Together, we will strengthen the offering and create a global market leader spreading our passion for equestrian sport and lifestyle to new markets.”
Ludger Beerbaum, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping, is also involved as GEG’s co-owner. “Our goal is to enhance equestrian sport by providing superior venues and top sport so riders across the world can live out their passions and dreams,” Beerbaum said. “With the acquisition of PBIEC, we now have the perfect setting to do this in the United States.”
Bellissimo looks forward to this unique international collaboration. “We are pleased to be collaborating with both Andreas and Ludger, whose passion and commitment to equestrian sport is extraordinary,” Bellissimo said. “Opportunities abound to take the sport to a new level.”
Perhaps the most recognizable equestrian sporting venue in the United States, PBIEC is operated by Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) and hosts 42 weeks of United States Equestrian Federation-rated competition from August through June, highlighted by WEF, the flagship event. This past summer, PBIEC started on its first round of improvements since the GEG investment, beginning with a series of riding rings that receive heavy traffic.
“Our competitors will appreciate all of the work that has been completed in the off-season to upgrade the facility, especially the riding rings,” said David Burton Jr., chief operating officer and competition manager. “Thanks to JTWG Inc. and Pro Equus, the footing in the Mogavero has been completely replaced, and Pro Equus OT-40 mats installed. This is just the start of improvements that will make for an even better experience in our competition arenas and will hopefully contribute to keeping horses safe and performing at their best, which has always been our priority.”
Following the acquisition announcement, there was another important development over the summer. In August, PBIEC was honored with a second place SUNsational Award in the “Event Safety Plan” category from the Florida Festivals & Events Association. Out of a total of 170 events that were nominated for various distinctions, PBIEC was one of a select group that was recognized with an award.
PBIEC was among the honorees due to its extensive and industry-leading COVID-19 Action Plan that was produced and implemented for the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival. The nearly 20-page plan was all-encompassing and outlined new operating procedures across all areas in order to safely bring horse shows back amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was PBIEC one of the only horse shows to successfully run its entire show circuit in 2021, but it simultaneously increased digital spectator engagement and viewership, while ensuring that those industry professionals who rely on the sport were able to continue their livelihood.
“The entire team at PBIEC contributed to the success of the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival, and thus this honor,” ESP President Michael Stone said. “We are so pleased to have our collective efforts recognized, and we will continue to work diligently to offer award-winning horse shows for years to come.”
At this time, WEF plans to open its doors to the public for the 2022 season, much to the delight of the local community. The general public will be welcomed each day, but the Saturday Night Lights series is the biggest showcase, as spectators are invited to join for evening Grand Prix competition, family-friendly activities and entertainment. While on-site, visitors can revel in the multitude of vendors both for equestrians and non-equestrians. Whether you are looking for the season’s cutest clothing, a new puppy to adopt or a saddle for your horse, the shopping experience at PBIEC is not to be missed.
For any individuals or groups looking for an especially unique or elevated experience, PBIEC also offers extensive hospitality options. Seating options during WEF include offerings such as ringside boxes and VIP tables, while private tours and event spaces are also available to host a meeting, conference or special event.
Mark your calendars and save your weekends for the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival, which gets underway the first week in January.
The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is located at 3400 Equestrian Club Drive in Wellington. For more info., call (561) 793-5867 or visit www.pbiec.com.