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Winter Equestrian Festival brings in big business

Posted at 11:55 PM, Jan 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-18 23:55:09-05

WELLINGTON, Fla. — WELLINGTON, Fla. -- Horse business is big business in Wellington right now, with the Winter Equestrian Festival well underway.

The festival features hunter, jumper and equitation competitions over the next 12 weeks until March 9. Top national and international dressage riders have also returned for competition started last week.

The event -- now it’s in 40th season -- is bringing thousands of people and millions of dollars into the area and the numbers to show it aren't horsing around.

“If you’re looking to sort of experience different types of equestrian events, there’s no better place in the world than Wellington during this time period," said Mark Bellissimo, Equestrian Sport Productions CEO.

According to a report by Palm Beach County Sports Commission last year alone, people spent about $89 million on horse related expenses at the festival.

That helped to create more than 1,600 new jobs as well.

And those numbers are even bigger when you add in polo and the other competitions throughout the year.

“It’s a mass influx in the winter," said Douglas Elliman real estate broker Martha Jolicoeur.

She's on her toes showing properties around the Wellington area to some of the thousands of families pouring into town for the Winter Equestrian Festival.

“This is when they’re busy doing their looking. So we’re busy seven days a week at this time of year," she said.

The economic report shows 130,000 room nights generated by the festival alone last year.

“We get participants from all 50 states and 43 countries, with more than 3,000 families from all over the world coming in so the economic impact is tremendous," said Bellissimo.

A good chunk of that includes rentals to house riders, trainers, veterinarians and other staff.

“Each horse, they say, brings up to five people with them," said Jolicoeur.

With 6,000 horses competing each year, they need a place to stay, too. About 20 million dollars was spent on temporary and permanent stabling last year alone.

“People don’t realize how much it takes to have the horse here," said Jolicoeur.

Around 150 horse retail vendors like Cesar Hirsch of Equis Boutique rely on this festival for his business.

"This is the longest running event in the world in our sport," he said.

He's a Wellington local so he's also able to enjoy working in his own backyard.

“Having 12 weeks of the biggest show in the world just 5 minutes from your office? Obviously is very convenient," said Hirsch.

Things will wind down after WEF ends on March 31, but there are still more competitions that continue through the spring and most of the year.

“The majority of the people here speak the same language, which is horse," said Jolicoeur. "We’re all here because we love the horses.”

Spectators receive free admission to the event, including a minimal parking fee, to encourage more exposure of the equestrian world to the community.

“It’s really some of the unknown benefits through our ownership -- which we incurred about 11 or 12 years ago -- is making the admission free. It has generated a tremendous amount of interest," said Bellissimo. "And what you’re finding is that most of the audience are non-equestrians who are looking for a great night out. The spectators come once and decide they want to come again."

Free events including Saturday Night Lights on Jan. 12. Thousands are expected to attend.

The Great Charity Challenge takes place in week four. The event has raised over $12.2 million to date and benefited more than 230 nonprofit organizations.

Click here for more information about the festival.