Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) held its first-ever virtual opening press conference for the 2021 show season on Monday, January 4. The press conference was held via Zoom and included panelists representing both the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).
WEF, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), will offer 13 weeks of top hunter, jumper, and equitation competition, beginning on January 6 and continuing through April 4. Elite dressage competition will take place at Equestrian Village at PBIEC for AGDF, starting on January 13 and running through April 4.
The panel at the opening press conference consisted of ESP President Michael Stone, AGDF Director of Sport Thomas Baur, U.S. Show Jumping Pan American Games team bronze medalist Lucy Deslauriers, U.S. Dressage Olympic team bronze medalist Steffen Peters, and top hunter rider and trainer Havens Schatt.
Although this year will look different due to COVID rules and guidelines, Stone is confident that it will be a successful season of competition. “There will be no spectators at WEF or AGDF this year, which is going to be very different for the competitors because the atmosphere in the past for the night classes was fantastic and unfortunately, we are not going to be able to do that,” Stone said. “While we are maintaining no public spectators and limited guests at the facility, we do look forward to hosting all of our usual top sport.”
ESP will offer fully-produced live streams for “Saturday Night Lights,” grand prix classes, and major events free of charge for people watching from home. “We are going to work with Olympic and World Equestrian Games announcer Steven Wilde to make it a full presentation,” he said, “with interviews and more to make the live stream fun and interesting to watch.”
Show jumping riders will have 12 weeks of FEI competition, including four CSI5* events taking place weeks 5, 7, 9, and 11. WEF 11 will feature the highlight class, the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*. The FEI Nations Cup CSIO4*, presented by Premier Equestrian will take place on Friday evening, March 5, 2021, during WEF 8.
Jumper riders can look forward to more opportunities to show on the Derby Field this season. The $401,000 Fidelity Investments® Grand Prix CSI5* during WEF 9 will be held on Sunday, March 14, on the grass Derby Field at Equestrian Village along with all other FEI jumper classes, while the other three five-star grand prix classes will be held under the lights on Saturday evenings on the main show grounds.
“The grass was such a success during the summertime that we have actually put the WEF 9 five-star show out there on the grass, which will be a first,” Stone explained. “We also added a grass week for the jumpers during week 2.”
Deslauriers is excited to have the opportunity to spend the whole season at WEF while her classes through the University of Pennsylvania are still online. She is aiming to gear up her top horse, Hester, for the four-star and five-star events taking place this season.
“I’m really looking forward to using the time to establish a bit of a routine centered around riding in a way that I haven’t ever really been able to do before, so that’s super exciting for me,” said the 21-year-old Deslauriers of her schedule for the upcoming season. “I feel really fortunate that we all are in an industry that is still running right now, and we are able to do what we love and compete, so that’s the basis for what the next few months look like because so much is unknown right now for everyone.”
For the 12th year in a row, WEF 4 will showcase the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments®. In the past 11 years, this event has distributed $14.8 million to 256 Palm Beach County non-profit organizations.
“We are continuing to host the Great Charity Challenge even though we won’t be able to have crowds. It’s just such a major fundraiser for the community,” Stone said of the relay-style event where riders are put in teams and dress in costume. “There’s a huge problem nationwide on food shortages so we are going to concentrate on that area and helping people who are suffering because of COVID. We thought this would not be the year to cancel; this is the year we should double down and raise even more money for people who are less fortunate.”
Hunter riders also have several important classes to count on during WEF, including five USHJA International Hunter Derbies, two USHJA National Hunter Derbies, a USHJA Pony Hunter Derby, 12 weeks of USHJA incentive programs for the 3’-3’9” Green Hunters, and 13 weeks of Hunter Classics for the Small, Medium, and Large pony divisions. The sixth week will continue to be a WCHR (World Championship Hunter Rider) qualifying week and highlight the $50,000 USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. New this year is a second week of WCHR qualifying during WEF 12.
Well-known hunter rider Schatt is happy to be back competing at PBIEC and has already noticed some of the improvements done to hunter rings for the 2021 WEF season.
“One thing is we got new footing in the Grand and the Rost hunter rings and that seems to be amazing,” Schatt commented. “They have added a few derbies this year which is great. It’s just so nice to be in Florida, the weather [and] the facility is so nice, and you can get into a consistent routine with all of your horses. We have young horses, adult hunters, and derby horses, so there’s a path for everybody here.”
AGDF is looking forward to opening competition for both national and international dressage riders. The season will showcase two “Friday Night Stars” freestyle events during AGDF 7 and 10, for the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI5* and Stillpoint Farm FEI Nations Cup Grand Prix Freestyle and Intermediaire-1 Freestyle CDIO3*; the 2021 Lövsta Future Challenge/Young Horse Grand Prix Series; the Florida International Youth Dressage Championships in AGDF 8; as well as three World Cup Qualifiers. Five-star competition will take place AGDF 7, starting February 24. AGDF 1 will highlight the 2020 Lövsta Future Challenge Finals, which was canceled last March. Live streaming of major events from AGDF will also be available free of charge for fans.
“The finals of the 2020 Summit Farm Future Challenge/Young Horse Prix St. Georges Series and the Lövsta Future Challenge/Young Horse Grand Prix Series will take place in AGDF 1. Then we start with the 2021 season in AGDF 3, and the final will be in AGDF 12. We have 11 of the 16 qualified in the Prix St. Georges and eight of the 10 qualified in the Grand Prix [returning this year for the Finals], so it looks quite promising,” said Baur.
Olympic dressage rider Peters is ready to return to AGDF after a summer of light competition. Peters plans to bring three horses: Suppenkasper, Boreas FRF, and a client’s horse.
“Our first CDI will probably be early February, the five-star, maybe another one the middle of February, and then the last one, the CDIO, in early March,” Steffen commented of his plan for the season. “The goal is to requalify and hopefully get a spot on the team for the Olympics that hopefully will happen this year.”
After a full 2020 winter circuit with Suppenkasper, Peters rested his top horse. “It was, for me, really good because it was the first time in 26 years that we didn’t go to Europe, and I enjoyed the heck out of the summer,” said Peters.
After Suppenkasper’s training resumed in October, Peters competed in California in November and hopes to continue that level into the 2021 winter season.
The team at Equestrian Sport Productions looks forward to welcoming the best in equestrian sport to both the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival and 2021 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival. For more information and a full schedule of events, please visit www.PBIEC.com and www.GlobalDressageFestival.com.