By Christina Keim for Premier Equestrian
My calendar claims that spring officially begins in less than a month. But if you are like me, and you are looking out your windows right now at snow, ice or shoe-sucking mud, then days with footing good enough to swing a leg over the saddle still seem far off in the future. Lucky for us, we can live vicariously through equestrians who have made the journey to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in sunny Wellington, Florida.
Now in its 42nd year, WEF is the largest, longest running hunter/jumper/equitation event in the world. The 2021 Festival started back on January 6 and will run through April 4, featuring thirteen weeks of high caliber national and international competition. With team selection for the postponed Tokyo Olympics still ongoing for many countries, the best in the world have congregated in Wellington this winter to prepare.
I will admit, to me, Wellington in general and WEF in particular have always seemed like a fairytale place, almost a Disneyworld geared for equestrians. Produced and managed by Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP), WEF is based at the magical Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC)—five hundred acres of horse paradise with 18 competition arenas (including an elegant derby field and the largest covered riding surface in the world), 57 miles of hacking trails, 256 permanent stalls and horse-themed streets. Over 6,000 horses may visit WEF during the course of its run each year, along with a list of top riders, trainers and owners that reads like an equestrian “who’s who.” Though PBIEC hosts equestrian events year-round, WEF is its crown jewel, the diamond in its tiara.
Pre-COVID, visitors thronged to the show grounds to watch top competition as well as browse displays from countless vendors and sponsors. The marquee event each week was (and is) Saturday Night Lights—Federation Equestre International (FEI) Grand Prix show jumping held in the world-renown International Arena, set to a backdrop of live music, good food, and an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.
In 2020, Premier Equestrian was honored to be chosen by ESP to upgrade the footing in PBIEC’s International Arena. Premier Builder Travis Gould of JTWG Inc. installed OTTO Sport Base Mats and Premier ProTex® Footing, which immediately received rave reviews. These products provide competitors with a stable surface that holds up to heavy use, ensuring each rider encounters similar conditions in the ring during her round.
“A show facility needs to keep a fairly stabilized surface, otherwise after the first few horses the footing gets all chewed up and it’s not very fair,” says Heidi Zorn, president and co-owner of Premier Equestrian. “But if you roll the footing so tight that you can get a lot of horses through, those horses are going to have some energy zip back into their joints.”
Premier Equestrian is the exclusive North American distributor for OTTO Sport Base Mats, which provide the ideal solution to many arena management challenges. These mats are placed over the base and below the footing; they offer improved drainage, water conservation and stability, and absorb as much as 50% of the energy caused by the impact of the horse’s hoof striking the ground.
“I think PBIEC is the finest show facility in the world, and it is quite an honor to have our products there,” says Zorn. She notes that ESP remains committed to providing the highest quality footing to competitors in all their rings –some of which might see 400 rounds per day—and that the Premier Pro Tex® Footing has been installed in two additional arenas for 2021.
WEF 2021 Week 8 is Premier Equestrian Week, and Premier is proud to sponsor several classes including the FEI $150,000 Nations Cup on March 5. The Nations Cup is a unique, two round competition for teams of three or four riders from countries all around the world.
Of course, COVID protocols continue to impact horse show management, and this year spectators are not allowed at WEF. But thanks to a free livestream (pbiec.coth.com/category/live_channels) those of us who are waiting for our Fairy Godmother to bring spring our way can still feel part of the action.
“PBIEC is a state-of-the-art horse show facility,” says Zorn. “We at Premier are honored that WEF chose our products.”