Horse Show Field Guide: The Palm Beach Masters
Marina is a guest blogger for Hunt Club chronicling her adventures at the 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival. She has been riding for twelve years, currently competes in the jumpers, and recently graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. Follow along as she captures what it's like to be a snowbird at the winter show jumping capital of the world. Joining her is her super-pony mare, Capri, who will be giving her input for many of the blog posts as well.
It’s hard to believe that we’re already approaching WEF 7! The weeks have certainly flown by at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, however, I had the great privilege and experience of showing at a different venue in Wellington as well: The Palm Beach Masters, at Deeridge Farms.
The Palm Beach Masters is a week-long horse show held just down the street from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center at the farm belonging to the Jacobs family. This was the show's second year running, and it held both national and international classes held at the CSI 3*-W level. The highlight of the horse show was the $216,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping class, which was set on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The Winter Classic started on Friday, which included the portion of the horse show geared towards national horses. Deeridge Farms sits on 300 acres, which is relatively unfathomable given Wellington’s condensed equine-city not even a mile down the road. The farm is basically something one could only dream of: beautiful barns, tons of grass riding spaces, large rings, paddocks, you name it. It was something out of a horse-show fairytale, and there were parts of it that were not even explored in the week we were there.
The horse show was “boutique” style- everything about it was quaint and chic. The stalls were organized by national and international horses, which means that horses showing in national classes were kept in one section of the stabling area, and horses competing in international, or FEI classes, were confined to secure stabling, complete with security fencing, security guards, and the need to have credentials to enter. I was lucky enough to have an FEI pass, so I was able to get in and visit with my trainer Heather Caristo-Williams’s, horse Evening Star.
Upon walking down a path from the stalls, you approached a grass schooling ring which was a short walk away from the Hollow Brook Wealth Management Grand Prix Ring. If there is a such thing as grass-ring envy, this ring would take the cake. It was a huge field, with the Taylor Harris VIP Club tent on the left, bleachers at the back, and a pond and the scoreboard on the right. The entrance had large Longines markers that the competitors would walk under, and the landscaping would give any country club a run for its money. Just past the grand prix field was the main jumper ring, which was a huge sand arena with some built in twists and turns that separated it from your average rectangular ring. Attached to this was a large schooling ring and standing area for those waiting for their turn to compete. It also had big entrance markers like those to the field. Unfortunately, the field was reserved for FEI classes, but even having the privilege of walking by it and watching the world-class riders schooling their horses in preparation for Sunday was an incredible experience.
Capri was in national stabling, and this was actually the first “away” show that I’ve attended where I took care of her completely on my own. It was a great horse show to give this a try, since there was only one ring I showed in and everything was relatively close together. I felt like my years of working to build a partnership with her (that I detailed in my last blog post) absolutely paid off at this show. My mornings started between six and seven AM depending on the day’s schedule. Our horses got to Deeridge via trailer even though it’s just a short distance down the road; it made it easier for them to get dropped off with our equipment. All horses had to be checked in on Wednesday, and FEI horses had to be ready to do their “jog,” or soundness check, at 1 pm that afternoon. I went Tuesday night to set up Capri’s stall so it would be ready by the time she got there, and by 10:30 Wednesday morning, we both arrived at the Deeridge property. We were actually the first horse and rider pair asked to test the new footing in the schooling ring, and it was glorious: fluffy and giving on the top, but firm enough in the base. It was just the type of footing you wanted to ride on everyday.
Thursday was the first day of the show. There was an “exhibition” 1.30 class in the morning, meaning the class didn’t count for points. Some people used it as a schooling for the weekend Winter Classic portion of the Palm Beach Masters, which ended up being our plan as well. After Thursday’s round, I noted what I wanted to change to have success on Saturday and organized my barn work so I could be ready to watch Heather do her horse in an exhibition class on the field. Evening Star jumped a clear round and was ready to start his Friday in the $35,000 Qualifier for the big Sunday class. I had a very generous friend who was watching the class from a table in VIP, so I was able to watch the class from there. I had never seen a VIP tent like that before, and the view was just spectacular.
Friday was a light flat day for me knowing that our important class was on Saturday. At this type of horse show, divisions did not exist - there are only individual stand-alone classes for you to enter. On Friday Capri simply needed to get out and stretch her legs and stay walking. The show stalls are a bit confining, so we like to keep our horses moving throughout the day so they don’t get stiff. At a horse show, this means a lot of walking under tack and in hand whenever we have the chance. That afternoon my trainer jumped a clear round in the Qualifier, which meant she was in for the big Sunday class. It was a nice day overall! By the time Saturday rolled around, Capri and I felt pumped to show. We did a jump-off class, which is unusual for us given that we normally do speed rounds. Jump-off rounds are important nonetheless because they remind the horse that you don’t always have to go fast first thing in the ring, but can instead have a nice round and then go fast. We had a clear first round and a fast jump-off, and were able to take fifth in a field of thirty riders. It was a great experience, and I was over the moon with the result. Having the opportunity to attend a horse show like this was amazing enough, and being lucky enough to get a ribbon was truly the icing on the cake. As always, I noted the things I would do differently next time, but then I quickly went back to celebrating the rounds with Capri and my trainers. At that point Capri got her post-ride routine of an ice bath, iced legs, poultice wraps all around, and lots and lots of cookies. She got to hang out and graze until Sunday afternoon, when the trailer would take her back to her big comfy stall at home with a massage waiting for her (of course). Since Capri had shown the week before at WEF as well, the following week would end up being an off week for her.
Sunday was the grand prix, and needless to say, it was indeed grand. The first three riders got eliminated, the fourth one retired, and the fifth got around but it was bumpy. My trainer was sixth to go in the order, and they were first to jump the jumps clean, but with a time fault. Nevertheless we were absolutely thrilled with the result, as a solid 1.60 course on a grass field is no easy feat for even the most seasoned of showjumping veterans. There were more clear rounds as the class went, and Heather managed to hang on to twelfth place, which made for a super weekend in terms of FEI points she needs for her international ranking classes and overall world and national standings.
All in all it was a great week, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to show at Deeridge. It was a top competition with great horses and great riders. Despite the fact that I compete and ride with the same group of riders weekly at WEF, it’s always fun to test out new waters at another venue. The horses enjoyed the change of scenery, and we could not have been happier with the facility. That said, it’s Tuesday, and we are about to begin WEF week seven! I look forward to debriefing the Hunt Club team on new and exciting Wellington happenings in the coming weeks.