Throwback Thursday: When WEF Was Young

Jan 5, 2023 - 2:56 PM

As the Winter Equestrian Festival kicks off this week in Wellington, Florida, we’re looking back to 1984, when the annual winter series was still in its infancy. The show report from the March 9, 1984, issue of the Chronicle painted a very different picture of the area nearly four decades ago:

From the March 9, 1984, issue of the Chronicle.

An endless expanse of flat land, broken only by the landscaped knolls and valleys of countless golf courses, lent itself ideally to further the near-perfect conditions at the Insilco Masters Horse Show, held Feb. 21-26 at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington, Fla. The second show in a seven-week series of shows on the Florida circuit, the Masters was actually the second of three shows to be held consecutively at the club. At times, the huge show, which ran three to four rings simultaneously to accommodate the 850 horses competing, became almost too much of a good thing. On the final day of the Masters, there were actually two shows taking place at the same time. The deep sand footing spared the horses from concussion, but tugged at their legs and dried their hooves and made driving cars in the stabling area—across the road from the main grounds—difficult. Many of the innumerable schooling areas were almost too deep to work in, causing some competitors to seek the firmer areas of car tracks and lanes instead.


Leslie Burr [Howard] won the $25,000 Masters Cup Grand Prix, which was a World Cup qualifier, at the show, riding Boing. Mary Phelps Photo

The Masters Cup was held on the polo field rather than the Grand Prix ring and although the field was large, it was remarkable for the absence of many big-name horses—I Love You, Noren, Calypso, Jet Run, Southside, Touch Of Class. These stars are being saved as the first of the Olympic selection trials at the American Invitational (March 24) nears. But an exciting 10-horse jump-off performed by big-name riders—Leslie Burr, Rodney Jenkins, Anne Kursinski, Katie Monahan and Ian Millar—made up for the missing horses. Last year’s Mercedes AGA Rider of the Year and the bay gelding Boing secured the victory by going clean in 36.30. On a long and sweeping turn in front of the grandstands, Boing showed himself every inch the Thoroughbred as he flattened out and charged toward the last fence in the jump-off. Burr pulled it all together just in time to jump the oxer direct and clean. An audience of 6,000, mostly polo fans, gave the pair an enthusiastic cheer.

“Boing was strong going to that last fence, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to slow him down,” Burr said following the grand prix. “Catty” is how Burr summed up Boing’s characteristics. “He is very light on his feet,” she said. “And he has excitable tendencies. His temperament can be a problem, so I do a lot of daily flat work, which is important with him.”

Molly Ashe (now Ashe-Cawley) rode Even Tide to the small pony hunter championship at the Palm Beach Classic. Pennington Galleries Photo
Grand prix veteran Margie Goldstein (now Engle) did time in the hunter ring and rode Promises To Keep to the green hunter championship at the South Florida Fair Hunter & Jumper. Darkroom On Wheels Photo
Leslie Burr (Howard) also was a frequent winner in the hunter divisions as well as the grand prix ring, guiding Without A Doubt to the second year green hunter championship at the Palm Beach Classic. Darkroom On Wheels Photo
Months before their historic double gold medal performance at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Joe Fargis and Touch Of Class won the Grand Prix of Florida in Tampa. Darkroom On Wheels Photo
Don Stewart was a force to be reckoned with in the ring. Pennington Galleries Photo


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