The 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) is well underway in Wellington, but there’s still time to enjoy this annual, three-month-long marathon of exciting equine competition, shopping and fun from January 11 to April 2.
Global Equestrian Group, which purchased Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in the summer of 2021 and changed the name to Wellington International last March, is pulling out all the stops for their first year at the newly rebranded venue, in what is widely considered “the winter equestrian capital of the world.”
Wellington originally welcomed the Winter Equestrian Festival in 1974, before the property became its permanent home in 1989. Since that time, the event and venue have had more than three decades of unprecedented growth, along with the Village of Wellington and Palm Beach County, evolving into one of North America’s most important hubs for equestrian competition.
Hamptonites will recognize standouts from the annual Hampton Classic and many of the world’s most prestigious horses and riders, and Olympians, in competition at Wellington this winter.
Among them, look for Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Hampton Classic Grand Prix champion McLain Ward, Israeli Classic champ Daniel Bluman, Germany’s Richard Vogel, Hamptons and Wellington resident Georgina Bloomberg (who trains here), Wellington’s Scott Stewart, and Laura Kraut of Royal Palm Beach, as well as Karl Cook, Kate Kosnoff and so many other elite athletes competing in show jumping, hunters, equitation and dressage.
According to Global Equestrian Group CEO Andreas Helgstrand, Wellington International has introduced a number of capital improvements for the 2023 season, as part of a long-term development plan for the facility.
“We believe that the feedback from our community is the best guide as we continue to develop Wellington International,” Helgstrand says in a “Welcome Back” letter for the 2023 festival.
New & Improved Winter Equestrian Festival
The most exciting improvements this year include new and refurbished stables, a new Wi-Fi system, new sound system to enhance spectator experience, updated riding surfaces, new awnings, improved menu at the International Club and new Tiki Hut terrace, to name a few.
They’ve also launched a Sunday Brunch Series and have several options for spectators.
Guests can watch from the members-only International Club hospitality pavilion; the upscale and intimate Blue Ribbon Club where tables can be reserved for four, six or eight, or full suites for groups; the corporate event and outing-friendly Wellington Club; Central Park, an open-air section available on a first-come, first-served basis; the Gallery with tables and a 21-and-over nightclub on Saturdays; the Beachside with tables, dinner buffet and bottle service; and the new Tiki Hut, a fun, open-air spot with bar and catering options in a tropical setting.
“Visitors to the 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival will notice upgrades to the permanent stabling, the hospitality spaces and the riding arenas, but these items are just the first baby steps in a much larger and more ambitious strategy,” Helgstrand points out in this year’s WEF Souvenir Program, which explains a five-year plan that will raise the venue to another tier and bring it to a “Disney World-like” level of equestrian excellence that few of the world’s equine sport venues can match.
Potential plans include doubling the facility’s already hefty acreage, allowing for a second equestrian center, complete with a stadium, grass derby field and extensive guest amenities right alongside the original property.
But even before these future changes, there’s already plenty to celebrate and enjoy at the new Wellington International and this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival — and competition will be fierce in February and March. Visit the new and improved event/venue website, wellingtoninternational.com, to get the most up-to-date schedules and info.
Rider Richard Vogel, who had an excellent performance at WEF last year, was already off to a great start on January 5, winning the $35,000 Adequan WEF Challenge Cup Premiere Round.
“I have to say I really looked forward to coming back,” he said of the Wellington Equestrian Festival after his victory, adding, “It’s a really nice lifestyle here and it’s super for the horses. At the show, there are plenty of opportunities to bring them in the ring and allow them to grow in bigger sport. I try to have them all sound, healthy and happy, and the rest comes by itself.”
Horses are the main attraction at WEF and Wellington International, but visitors will find plenty of other distractions on the massive, 500-acre grounds with more than 80 acres of competition space.
Winter Equestrian Festival Shopping & Family Fun
A Vendor Village has 33 retail shops with numerous equine-related vendors such as Anne Gittins Photography (the official photographer at Equestrian Sport Productions), Barn & Beyond, CM Hadfields Saddlery Inc., CWD Custom Saddles, Der Dau Custom Boots, Equestrian Apparel, Pet Supplies Plus and the WEF Official Boutique, among many others.
International luxury brands and smaller fine retailers have also set up shop at the Tiki Terrace and Bridge Deck where visitors will find the likes of Hermes, Keyes Art (as seen in Sag Harbor and numerous art fairs), Marina St. Barth, IYC yachts, Tommy Conch jewelry, Yagya AB riding wear and more.
The Shoppes at International Club and various barns around the property offer additional retail experiences, while food and beverages vendors add another layer of choice to each guest’s adventures.
A Farm Stand area has food trucks and food shopping, and pop-up markets such as Meraki Juice Kitchen (vegan) and Tess & Co Homestyle Cooking. Other stops for eats and sips peppered throughout the property include Don Chepos, Harry’s Lemonade, Loopy’s Crêpes Cafè, Oasis Café, Tony’s Fast Food, Muddy Paws Ice Cream (treats for dogs), Nathalie’s Café, MDI Lobster & BBQ, Magdalena’s Mexican, Island Kitchen and more.
Pick up a map at the show or download online to plan ahead and find your favorite shopping and eating spots.
Saturday Night Lights
Spectators are welcome at Wellington International in Wellington (3400 Equestrian Club Drive) from Wednesday through Sunday throughout the Winter Equestrian Festival, but the feature event of the week is Saturday Night Lights. This Grand Prix equestrian event features food, fun, live music and the highest level of competitive show jumping every Saturday evening through Saturday, April 1.
In addition to the competition, Saturday Night Lights offers fun for the whole family. Each week, visitors can expect a live band, face painting, games, pony rides, petting zoo, magician and stilt walkers — all for free!
Admission to all WEP horse shows and events is free and no tickets are required, so bring the whole family or a car full of friends.
Parking is free for daytime horse shows and daytime valet is available for $10. Parking is $20 per carload for Saturday Night Lights, but free off-site parking is also available at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival facility across the street (13500 South Shore Boulevard), with a free shuttle over to Wellington International. All horse show events are rain or shine.
Visit wellingtoninternational.com for a complete schedule and info about everything happening at the Winter Equestrian Festival and Wellington International.