Welcome to Week 4 of the Winter Equestrian Festival – Feb. 1st to 5th, 2012

This show circuit gets more exciting and informative every year! There are many changes going on both at the WEF grounds and especially the sister property at the corner of Pierson Rd and Southshore Rd, which was the site of the old polo field and barns and has been the location for the yearly jumper derby and steeplechase. The Palm Beach Riding Academy has been located here as well for a few years, with tent stabling, paddocks and large sand arena for lessons – and affiliated with the show as well. More on this venue and its stunning changes after I let you know about the different features at the existing show.

Ponyland, or Pony Island, as they call it, consisting of the new rings 11 and 12 and a warm up ring that were added on the main show grounds last year partly on water- at amazing speed, just before and partly during the show, seems very well set up. They just completed a “family center” – a separate air conditioned building, overlooking the pony rings. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays and looks like it will amuse kids from 2 to 102! No kidding – leather chairs and sofas, 2 large TV screens, Wii and Xbox games, movies, cards, board games – and with ramp – for strollers or wheelchairs!

Two additional covered raised viewing platforms are also located next to the pony rings, from last year. On one hot afternoon this week, several young exhibitors were chatting at tables, some proud grandmas were taking photos of grandkids and parents, coaches on cell phones were notifying grooms as to what time to bring various ponies down to the rings for their classes. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere – everyone looked comfortable, not frying under the hot sun as in other years when there was very little shade at previous rings. Yes, even the coaches looked less frazzled than usual! The whipper-in people are very good – almost always very courteous and patient. They all have laptops that have class lists and exhibitors on them. They can tell coaches ahead of time approximately when their go time will be, how far away the hack is time wise, etc. This has become essential because many horses are now stabled at various distances from the showgrounds. Even Grand Prix Village is quite a walk if you’re at the far end, and you’re heading to one of the rings at the end of the showgrounds. With 12 rings going most days you can imagine the activity – the horses or ponies are sometimes ridden but often led for what can be a 45 minute walk from their barn. The grooms carry all their necessary grooming supplies in backpacks.

The hunter horses and ponies are gorgeous, and all impeccably turned out. The riders are turned out very well also, but very conservative in their mostly navy and black coats. Jumper land has more variety – I’ll go over there soon. I did get a photo of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who is here with her husband this year. She is quite a fashion plate. For one of the big classes she had on orangey brown boots. The photo here shows her more modest coloured pair of brown boots.

Ian Millar is listed as having 17 horses here from Millar Brooke Farm but he tells me that under the umbrella of his people – Yann Candele and Susan Grange, I guess, there are 40.

The Budweiser Clydesdales were here this week making several appearances both in downtown West Palm and before two main classes at the show – the $80,000 Adequan Grand Prix and the Suncast $25,000 Championship Jumper Classic. Two of them were at the entrance of the horse show on Sunday for a couple of hours, to the delight of spectators arriving at the show, who stroked the gentle giants while they posed for photos.

The Global Dressage Festival officially began their winter series this week, hosting the inaugural CDI 3* event on Feb. 2 – 5 at their brand new facility near the corner of Pierson and Southshore. I spoke to Terri Kane of Diamante Farms, one of the sponsors of the property and she was excited and very pleased at how the facility is developing. I stopped by during the first couple of hours of competition and heard a delighted “He loves this footing!” from a rider trotting in the schooling ring. Glad to see that good footing was a priority.

Several proposals are still being debated before the Wellington Village Council regarding further development of the total 96 acres – a resort condo/hotel, restaurant and retail space.

The large covered arena, which is under construction and not required this year, will hold 3 full dressage arenas! There are 4 outside arenas as well as the schooling ring. The two permanent stables have 96 stalls in each. Robert Dover has been involved with the planning and his attention to detail and concern for only the best for the horse shows.

If they complete the complex as proposed, it looks like it will be the Rolls Royce of Dressage venues worldwide.

Combining this with the WEF hunter/jumper show, I think this would establish Wellington as the number one equestrian destination in the world. They dream big here.

Evi Strasser’s daughter Tanya Strasser Shostak showed “Ruby Tyme” on Sunday in the FEI Young Rider Freestyle and executed the most stunning finish – a breathtaking extended trot down the center line right to a dramatic halt at the judges box! Evi and Tanya, from St Adele, Quebec are very pleased with Ruby, who a year ago came back to their farm refusing to move under saddle. They patiently started back from the beginning with the now 11 year old mare and are delighted with her complete turnaround. The Oldenburg is so enthusiastic now that Tanya is trying to talk her mother into letting her show Ruby down the road in Hunter/jumper land for a change of pace!

More news will be coming on this Global Dressage Festival, which continues until the first week of April.

The weekly Lunch and Learn series has been held every Thursday at 11:30. This week’s talk and complimentary buffet lunch was sponsored by Adequan – Dr. Victoria Maxwell spoke about Degenerative Joint Disease in the Equine Athlete. Dr. Maxwell began with the concept that we put such a heavy load on many of our horses – stabling, footing, handling, showing, etc – all are components. Degenerative joint disease is based on repetitive load- whether it’s 2 or 3 yr old TB’s prepping for the Derby or older jumpers, dressage horses etc. Horses show discomfort by lameness or more subtle changes in response when we’re riding them – ie. attitude changes, slow lead changes etc.

Articular cartilage is the holy grail when keeping horses sound. This begins to thin over time – due to shoeing, age, conformation…What brings a horse to DJD? Fatigue, repetition of stress (ie. longeing), training (aggressive or passive), genetics and breeding – a horse should be skeletally correct first before beauty – and age.

Dr. Maxwell states that the earlier and more aggressively we start treating for DJD the better the result when the horse gets older. Don’t wait for the advanced stage of the disease. Then it’s too late. (She mentioned a trick when checking horses’ legs, using the back of your hand – there’s a lot more heat sensitivity there than in the fingertips) .Her goals would be to suppress inflammation, repair articular cartilage and stimulate hyaluronic acid in order to preserve long term joint function. If you map out your horse’s career in this way he will have a longer career life. She prefers neck injections of Adequan – for example after surgery it has been shown to go right to the surgical/traumatized joint. Dr. Maxwell noted that “The most expensive therapy is the one that doesn’t work.”

This past week has flown by. I have been riding regularly at the Palm Beach Riding Academy and running around the show taking photos and chatting to some very interesting people, all passionate about their horses. This week is really packed full of events – starting with a Jump Chute Clinic tomorrow and a Young Horse Show Tuesday- as in a European style showcase of young sport horses. And the main show doesn’t officially start for the week until Wednesday!