Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Up Close and Personal: The Winter Equestrian Festival

2014 WEF

  This past Friday I had the pleasure of leaving behind cold and snowy Philadelphia, as I made my way down to Wellington, Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington..  It was there that I joined my girlfriend to take in a couple days of some of the highest level horse showing in the world.  An extra bonus was the 70-80 degrees weather for the duration of my stay.  Over 2,000 riders from around the world congregate each year, some coming and going just to compete in the shows which run from Wednesday-Sunday at WEF, others staying the entire 12 weeks, January-March.  I had been to shows before this one, but none prepared me for the magnitude of the Winter Equestrian Festival of Wellington.  In my previous experiences I could not really recall too much of the business aspect of the sport, in terms of sponsorship and their presence on digital media.

Upon attending WEF I saw that several well known companies had signs and other items they were using for exposure set up around the show grounds. Such companies included: Fidelity, Bank of America, Enterprise Rent a Car, and WEF's newest sponsor, Rolex.  In the main four pro sport leagues in the United States, we are used to hearing many different aspects of games being sponsored.  For instance, every time the Flyers go on the power play at home energy company PECO gets its name out to roughly 20,000 people.  This same idea followed suit down in WEF.  Each class, or event often has a sponsor to go along with it. Although most of the general public does not pay much attention to the the sport of horse showing, at this competition level there is just as much behind the scenes work as other major sports between the seasonal grounds keeping crew that are required to keep the rings fresh for each event, and the interns working to help manage many other aspects of this event.  Pictures of moments through out the days of the event can be found on their Instagram "ftiwef".

Gates' property in Wellington
To put the size of this event into some perspective. Over 200 million dollars  has been invested in to the Wellington show grounds by a group named Wellington Equestrian Partners to secure over 500 acres and create the destination for an Equine type lifestyle.  My jaw definitely hung a few times when seeing the elegance of some of the larger properties surrounding the show grounds.  As part of my trip I learned some fun facts about a couple millionaires by the names of Bill Gates and Bruce Springsteen, both of whose daughters are equestrians. I mentioned that some of the properties were monstrous, and so too are the ones owned by these two. Mr Gates is the proud owner of a $8.7 million dollar house to the right while Springsteen's property clocks in at about $4.6 million dollars.

       Most people do not go out and seek to attend a horse show, which is the typically the one and only way to watch the event.  It is a sport that most have to be a part of in some fashion in order to ever attend one.  My first taste came last summer and I found it quite enjoyable.  The sport can be relaxing and intriguting to watch as the riders tactically and gracefully make their way through the course. In terms of sheer excitement, some classes are lacking. A certain type of competition style known as "Jumpers" brings the heat though.  As a show jumper, the goal is to complete the course as soundly as possible, as quickly as possible.  At the highest level of these events which happens to be the Olympics, jumps can be as high as 5 foot 3 inches.  Having seen some classes in the high 3 foot range down at WEF, I once again found my jaw agape at how amazing to see the work done between rider and horse to run the correct speed and number of strides in order to make these high jumps, in addition to the cuts and change of direction the horses make.  For your viewing pleasure here is a link to a jumper round.  I consider myself privileged to have been able to get a glimpse into the horse show world at its highest level.  Florida ain't too shabby of a place during the Winter either.

Cole Miller, from Haddonfield, NJ, is currently a sophomore Sport Management major at Drexel. Over the summer, Cole volunteered for the 43rd SABR convention, a large convention with many speakers and other events for baseball fans who enjoy the new age statistics being brought to baseball such as WAR (wins above replacement ).   Cole is a huge fan of baseball, specifically the Phillies.

You can connect on Cole on LinkedIn here. 

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