Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) cut the ribbon on the 2020 season at an opening press conference held Tuesday, January 7, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), and welcomed media, athletes, and spectators alike to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).

Panel speakers represented both WEF, which will offer $13 million in prize money throughout 12 consecutive weeks of top hunter and jumper competition, and AGDF, where top national and international dressage riders will return for competition unlike any other in North America. Both circuits run from January 8 through March 29.

Featured speakers at the opening press conference included ESP President Michael Stone, 2019 Pan American Games Show Jumping team bronze medalist Alex Granato, 2019 Pan American Games Dressage individual gold and team silver medalist Sarah Lockman, two-time Olympic Show Jumping team gold medalist Beezie Madden, and top hunter rider and trainer Christopher Payne.

“We are very excited and looking forward to this season and I think what we have produced for this season is a game changer in our sport,” said Stone, whose team at ESP invested in upgrading footing at PBIEC as well as raising prize money to a record-breaking level. “Our big focus this year was on footing, and all of our resources really were poured into that.

“Most importantly, it’s high performance while at the same time kind to the horses,” continued Stone of the new surface in both the International Arena and warm-up ring. “As far as sport goes, we are proud that we have been able to make this event accessible and open to local spectators. The public here knows who these top riders are and comes to cheer them on.”

While unable to attend the press conference, ESP CEO and Wellington Equestrian Partners Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo commented on the continuing expansion of the sport in Palm Beach County and what makes Palm Beach International Equestrian Center integral to the sport’s success.

“We are entering our 13th season as managers of the Winter Equestrian Festival,” he said. “We created the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in 2012 and brought the International Polo Club Palm Beach into the fold in 2016. With these three incredible venues, we strive to provide a quality experience not only for the exhibitors competing, but for spectators, sponsors, and our local community. We are proud to be a part of the equestrian community and help set the tone for top horse sport not only in the United States, but for the world. We look forward to another amazing winter season and can’t wait to see what it brings.”

For grand prix riders and their equine athletes, the 2020 WEF season will offer 11 weeks of FEI competition, featuring four CSI 5* grand prix events during weeks 5, 7, 9, and 12. The 12th and final week will shine a spotlight on the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*.

For Madden, WEF is where she will make her final bid for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, saying, “I’m lucky enough to already be on the short list [for Tokyo], so I can really pick and choose what I want to do here to hopefully peak my horses. I’d like to have them starting to peak by the end of the circuit here because our observation trials come up quickly after that. Being here is nice because we can pick and choose what weeks we want to compete, and obviously there’s some good prize money to aim for. It’s really a great start to the year for us.”

WEF commences with a fan-favorite event in the $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, presented by Wellington Regional Medical Center, during “Saturday Night Lights” on Saturday, January 11. The multi-phase event has provided a night of excitement and rivalry during opening weekend for many seasons. This year’s event is promised to impress as the men’s team tries to win back its 2018 title over the women’s team which has scored all but one victory in the 11-year history of the event.

Also highlighting the season during Week 4 of WEF, the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments® will return for its 11th season. The event groups amateur and professional riders into teams with elaborate costume themes and has repeatedly engaged a large crowd. The event has raised over $13.5 million to date and benefited more than 230 well-deserving Palm Beach County charities over the last 10 years.

Another rider setting his sights on the grand prix spotlight at WEF is Granato. He has campaigned his top horse Carlchen W at WEF since the mount was a five-year-old, and together they helped the U.S. bring home a team bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

“WEF has been a really key part of my year, with not only him but with a lot of my young horses,” said Granato. “It’s a consistent showgrounds where you get to focus week after week on new courses and new course designers. They get a lot of experience in a short amount of time, which has been a really helpful part in my development with that horse.”

With three USHJA International Hunter Derbies, three USHJA National Hunter Derbies, nine weeks of USHJA incentive programs for the 3’-3’9” Green Hunters, a pony hunter derby, and 12 weeks of Hunter Classics for the Small, Medium, and Large pony divisions, the circuit will also offer divisions for every level of hunter horse or pony.

“This show is great for developing young hunters,” said Payne, one of the top hunter riders competing at WEF this season. “WEF offers everything [for me and my clients]. You get the nice rings and the great atmosphere. We spend the first few weeks gearing toward the WCHR (World Championship Hunter Rider) week and making sure that they’re jumping well. Then they also get to do the derbies on the grass, which is really nice for the hunters. We don’t have a lot of places that actually do that. You get so much mileage here.”

Wellington dressage competition continues to thrive in 2020 with the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival. The “Friday Night Stars” opens with the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W, presented by Lövsta, on Friday, January 10. Opening weekend continues under the lights on Saturday evening, January 11, with the Para-Dressage CPEDI3* Freestyle presented by Adequan®, Mission Control, Fair Sky Farm, and Nutrena.

Making her debut in Wellington this season, Lockman has traveled from her home base in California and is eager to leave her mark, saying, “I love the west coast. I’m very proud to be representing it, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to have my barn of horses here this year. What I’ve really noticed, coming from the west coast, is we don’t have much of a connection with other disciplines, and it’s really amazing to be able to compete and then come out the next day and watch the jumpers. It’s incredible.”

New this year to AGDF are events for young Prix St. Georges and Grand Prix horses, as well as the U.S. selection trials for the 2020 Olympic Games during Week 7.

“I brought with me my Pan Am ride, First Apple, and we are really excited to be debuting him in the grand prix this season,” continued Lockman. “One of the great things about being here in Wellington as compared to California as a dressage rider, is there are so many options; there are multiple CDIs and national shows, so it really gives us a chance to pick what is best for the horse and not necessarily what is our only option. I also brought a string of young horses and developing horses, so I’m really excited to try to qualify them for our national championship for young horses.”

The team at Equestrian Sport Productions looks forward to welcoming the best in equestrian sport to both the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival and 2020 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival. For more information and a full schedule of events, please visit www.PBIEC.com and www.GlobalDressageFestival.com.