Over the weekend of February 12th-16th, seven senior members of Work to Ride at the Gleneayre Equestrian Program traveled to Wellington, Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival. This trip allowed the girls to gain firsthand exposure to many of the career paths in the equine industry and provided unique opportunities to meet prominent equestrians.
On Saturday morning, our trip began as we volunteered as judges for the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center’s Special Olympics Event at the Global Dressage Center. Viewing the competition from the perspective of the judge rather than the exhibitor was an eye opening experience for many of our aspiring riders. We were highly impressed with the Vinceremos riders who displayed great confidence aboard a fleet of trustworthy horses as we judged their equitation. The riders graciously accepted our placings along with positive and practical comments at the end of each class.
That afternoon, the group toured Beezie Madden’s barn and met many of her mounts including Simon, Cortez, Coach, and Vanilla. Beezie’s assistant Emily Gailis explained her role in helping to manage the often hectic schedule on the road. Emily filled us in on each horse’s personality and temperament undersaddle. She would not profess to having a favorite horse and it seemed as though she loved them all equally! We carefully observed Clark Shipley as he groomed Cortez after a ride. We paused for a photo-op with Beezie and Simon before heading to Cloverleaf Farm to observe an over fences equitation lesson with Stacia Madden. There was much to learn from Stacia about the horse’s tempo on the course, the rider’s upper body position, and the control of the horse through the rider’s aides.
On Saturday evening, we headed to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center where we joined Beezie Madden as she prepared for the Saturday Night Lights $380,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 5*. In the International Arena, Beezie walked the Grand Prix course and we followed in her footsteps. She counted the striding to each line with our girls and explained how she was planning to ride the course. She identified different elements on the course that might be difficult to negotiate because of how the horses would perceive the obstacle. Noting areas where riders would be able to use their horse’s speed to stay under the time allowed, Beezie also indicated places where she would ride more conservatively.
As guests of Katherine Bellisimo, we watched the field of 45 competitors in the Grand Prix from a table in the Special Events Pavilion. Beezie rode Breitling to a clear first round, but with one rail down in the jump-off, she finished fifth. Mclain Ward and Rothchild were the fastest of the double clear rounds and claimed the victory.
On Sunday morning, we returned to the show grounds to walk the ASPCA Maclay equitation course with Stacia Madden. The course was technical and included an option to jump one of three fences towards the gate followed by one of the same three fences away from the gate. This allowed for several different roll back turns. Stacia explained each of the options and which would be best suited for different horse and rider combinations. Stacia pointed out several challenging elements of the course and explained how her riders would set out to complete the class. Our girls watched several trips in section A of the ASPCA Maclay which was won by Stacia’s rider Lilly Higgins aboard Valentino F. Additionally, Stacia’s riders finished 2nd and 4th in Section A and 1st in Section B.
Heading back to the International Arena, we met Michelle Grubb, a former Olympic rider, who had several students competing in the $86,000 Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic. Michelle graciously explained the sophisticated course to our riders and focused on the path that her riders would take to a tricky combination. Michelle provided insightful commentary as we watched the field of almost 75 riders, including many highly recognizable names, complete the course. Clear and very fast in the jump-off, Jessica Springsteen and Davendy won the class.
Following the 1.50m Jumper Classic, we had the esteemed honor of sitting down with George Morris in the International Club courtesy of Katherine Bellisimo. George had much wisdom to share with our girls and as usual, focused on the importance of horsemanship, elbow grease, and the turnout of the horse. On the topic of work ethic, Mr. Morris stressed that he would much prefer a strong willed individual over a naturally talented rider- “attitude over aptitude”. Mr. Morris indicated that he was always a timid rider, and when asked how he overcame that, he said he never did! His advice was “if you feel chicken, you do it. If you’re nervous, you do it. If it’s comfortable, don’t do it.” Mr. Morris concluded by telling the girls that there is no substitute for being on a horse working in the saddle, both physically and mentally.
After meeting with George Morris, we relaxed on a grassy hill and watched the Adult Amateur Hunters. Mesmerized by their floating trots, elegance at the canter, and grace over fences, everyone longed to be back in the saddle. It was difficult to pick a favorite horse as each was as gorgeous as the next.
On Tuesday, we wrapped up our unforgettable trip with a tour of Hunter Farms where former GEP participant, Irene Barowski, is a barn manager. Irene passed along her tricks of the trade, with an emphasis on the cleanliness and health of the horse, including that dirty brushes make dirty horses. We met several of the horses who spend the winter months in this very serene and peaceful barn. Pictured here are our girls with Faroukh who won his Grand Prix with rider Sarah Wayda in the week following our trip!
Throughout the trip, we were shadowed by Meg Banks from the Social Media and Marketing department of Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC. Meg made a name for herself in this industry after traveling to the Winter Equestrian Festival and starting her own blog. A self-starter who launched her career out of a passion for horses, Meg passed her advice to our girls that their goals are within their reach.
We wish to express our sincere gratitude to everyone who helped to make this trip a once in a lifetime experience for our riders. Special thanks to Katherine Bellisimo, Meg Banks, and Vaneli Bojkova of Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC for providing some of the images for this post as well as the WEF souvenir gear! You can read more about the trip in the Weekly Wire.