Wellington, FL - January 7, 2014 - Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) hosted an opening press conference on Tuesday afternoon at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL, to kick off the start of the 2014 FTI Consulting WinterEquestrian Festival (FTI WEF) as well as the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).A large crowd of local, national, and international media were in attendance to kick off the 12-week winter circuit. The FTI WEF circuit will host thousands of the world's best horses and riders competing in the hunter, jumper and equitation disciplines starting January 8 and running through March 30. The AGDF features the best of dressage through 12 weeks of competition on January 9 through March 30.
Tuesday's press conference panel included Equestrian Sport Productions' CEO Mark Bellissimo and President Michael Stone, Show Jumping Olympians Eric Lamaze, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Rodrigo Pessoa, Dressage Olympian David Marcus, and WCHR Leading Hunter Rider Havens Schatt, along with Thomas Baur, Sport Director of Dressage for AGDF, and Gérard Manzinali, President of Jumping Chantilly.
Mark Bellissimo welcomed everyone and spoke about the exciting growth and expanding support of both shows. "This is going to be an exciting year for us in 2014," Bellissimo stated. "We have gone through some major transitions over the last couple of years, and I think that this venue and this event has become one of the top in the world. It came with a considerable investment and a considerable commitment from the families involved, and I think we have an infrastructure now that can support a truly world-class show."
"FTI Consulting has been very supportive with the Winter Equestrian Festival," Bellissimo acknowledged. "We now have a new relationship with Rolex that is going to take us to a different level. Adequan has been phenomenal for the Global Dressage Festival. We think both of these circuits will really establish themselves in a fantastic way over the next couple of years. All in all we are very excited about where we are, and the future. I think that is a real testament to the energy and the passion for horse sport and the strong team that we have assembled here to really energize the sport. I think we will see equal growth in dressage."
"This is going to be a spectacular year," Bellissimo stated. "Thank you to Rolex for their unbelievable faith in us. I think this will be a turning point in Wellington across all of the disciplines that we have here. We will continue to work hard and invest in those things that will make us better as an operation, and we look forward to a great season."
Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Lamaze spoke about how the FTI WEF circuit has become a world-class competition with many great opportunities for horses and riders. Lamaze has some great new horses this year and looks forward to competing against many of the world's top riders.
"We used to come to WEF to prepare for our seasons in Europe or wherever we were going next and this used to be, in my opinion, a great facility to train your horses for the summer tour," Lamaze said. "Now, this equestrian festival has become world-class show jumping, so we actually arrive here and train all summer and make a plan to compete our best horses here and to expect the very best in the sport."
"I have been coming to Wellington to compete for over 20 years," Lamaze stated. "This is a different game. I would put it as a top of the world circuit with top riders competing here. I think it is a must now that you choose to come here. What we can do here, which we can't do at many shows in Europe, is it offers all kinds of divisions. We can drop an experienced horse down, train a young horse, train our young riders. We can do so many things on the circuit here. For sure there is a lot to lose by not being here."
Three-time FEI World Cup Finals winner Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum agreed that the competition has grown greatly and that riders are now able to compete with more options.
"I've really enjoyed my time here. I've come here for many years," Michaels-Beerbaum noted. "It has been a fantastic tool for me to ride here and bring along my young horses. Shutterfly started here as a seven-year-old. Checkmate as well started here as a seven-year-old and is returning as a 19-year-old. This has been a wonderful place to bring along horses, but it is not only that now. It is an amazing event with tremendous prize money. We can do two things at one time as riders. We can bring along our young horses and we can compete against the best in the world and get world ranking points and prize money, so it is absolutely ideal for all of us."
Brazilian Olympic Gold Medalist Rodrigo Pessoa explained how the increased sponsorship will greatly improve the level of competition at the FTI WEF.
"It is really a wonderful thing, the arrival of Rolex here in Wellington," Pessoa acknowledged. "I will take this opportunity not only to thank them, but all of the sponsors of the FTI WEF because without them this would not be possible. (Rolex is) a brand that needs no presentation. They have been very big in equestrian sport and other sports as well for many years. They will definitely attract new sponsors to this show. WEF has become really important for us to develop our horses and have the opportunity to be on the same show grounds as our students and be able to develop them. It is a fantastic tool that we have to prepare our horses and our students for the year to come."
The hunter rings represent a significant portion of competitors at the FTI WEF. WCHR Leading Hunter Rider Havens Schatt has had great success at FTI WEF for many years and spoke on behalf of the hunter competitors at this year's competition. She looks forward to the increased $100,000 prize money in this year's USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, held under the lights on Saturday, February 15.
"My first year at WEF as a professional was 1991," Schatt stated. "Now, the amount of classes that they offer for the hunters, for every level of horse and every level of rider, is just amazing. With the 12 weeks, you can bring a young horse along nicely and still very successfully. It is amazing with the footing and the amount of rings we have and the classes. It is really nice."
The AGDF has a new and improved schedule this year as well, with 12 weeks of competition at The Stadium at PBIEC. Canadian Olympian David Marcus spoke about how important the competition has been to the sport of dressage.
"I think for us to see the growth has been really exciting," Marcus said. "We didn't really have a real, world-class venue to be able to compare with what has been done over here with the jumpers and now to have that has been a real asset in our preparation. Combined with the streamlined CDI schedule that we have this year, especially in a championship year, it has been imperative for our horses to have that to be able to peak at the right moments. For us, it has been really exciting to have this venue where we know we can rely on the best footing in the world, the best stabling in the world, and real world-class venues that make us do the best job that we can do."
The press conference concluded with Mark Bellissimo and Gérard Manzinali, President of Jumping Chantilly, announcing an exciting new partnership between FTI WEF and Jumping Chantilly to expose exhibitors of both competitions to new venues. As part of the partnership, the winner of the Jumping Chantilly Grand Prix classes will receive an invitation to the 2015 FTI WEF. The Under 25 winner of the Artisan Farm Young Rider Grand Prix Series will receive a free Wild Card entry to Chantilly Jumping CSI 2* on July 25-27.
Manzinali spoke about the partnership, stating, "Wellington and Chantilly are considered the equestrian capitals of their respective countries, so it came naturally for Mr. Bellissimo and I to create a partnership with our shows. It is safe to say that this partnership will allow us to raise the allotted slots for American riders, and we are also very excited to offer an invitation to the best young American rider through the Artisan Farms Young Rider Grand Prix Series. Thank you to Michael Stone and Christian Paillot, our ambassador here in Wellington, for their assistance in making this partnership a reality."
With a full, exciting season at both facilities of the PBIEC, Equestrian Sport Productions looks forward to welcoming you to see the best in equestrian sport. The 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival kicks off on Wednesday, January 8, and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival begins Thursday, January 9. For more information and for a full schedule of events, please visit www.equestriansport.com orwww.globaldressagefestival.com.