Equestrian sports festival kicks off in Wellington

Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-04 09:18:59-05

Palm Beach County's biggest sporting event is upon us.

Polo season opened Sunday and now the start of the Winter Equestrian Festival is just days away.

The grass is perfectly mowed, the tents are up and equestrian athletes from every corner of the world are in Wellington to win some serious prize money.

“It's all about competing against the best in the world and showing off all your great attributes,” said Conor Swail, an equestrian athlete ranked No. 32 in the world for show jumping.

This will be Swail’s fifth year competing in Wellington's Winter Equestrian Festival.

“It's very exciting,” said Swail. “I'm really looking forward to it.”

Mark Bellissimo is the developer of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, where most of the competitions will take place.

“We're going to have the best year we've ever had,” said Bellissimo, the CEO of Wellington Equestrian Partners.

As many as 8,000 people a day will be there through April. There's polo, dressage and a dozen competition rings. Bellissimo's vision is to make this a sport for everyone.

“Bring the best of both worlds in the context of people who just come out, enthusiasts for the sport and others who want a great day out with their family,” explained Bellissino, who owns all three venues, including the International Polo Club, known as IPC.

For equine veterinarians, their workload quadruples.

“Our days go from a normal eight hour day to 12,13 plus and then emergencies in the middle of the night, which in the summer you really don't see much of,” explained Dr. Leah Patipa, an equine veterinarian with Paddock Equine.

Even the types of cases Dr. Patipa sees changes during season.

“You watch the horses go, you watch them go in your saddle, you flex them to make sure you’re staying ahead of any problems that could affect their show season,” said Dr. Patipa, who also loves to ride.

The first competitions will be next Wednesday: show jumping and dressage

The festival runs for 12 weeks through the beginning of April.