Behind the Scenes: FEI at the Winter Equestrian Festival

Behind the Scenes: FEI at the Winter Equestrian Festival

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 WEF is already over! While I tried to cover some cool aspects of the horse show pertaining to Capri and I, there is much more to the twelve weeks than just that. For this week’s blog, I’m giving you guys some insight into what the life of an "FEI horse" is like.

My trainer, Heather Caristo-Williams's horse, Evening Star, waiting to jog for the 5* Grand Prix. 

My trainer, Heather Caristo-Williams's horse, Evening Star, waiting to jog for the 5* Grand Prix. 

"FEI" stands for Federation Equestre Internationale, which is the worldwide governing body for equestrian sports.  In the case of the Winter Equestrian Festival, FEI deals with the show jumping division, and there are FEI sanctioned classes weekly.  FEI sanctioned classes are classes in which riders vie for points that count towards their global standings.  A placing in these classes goes towards your overall ranking, and your points go up and down depending on your results, how often you show in FEI sanctioned classes, and what type of FEI class you’re competing in.  FEI classes are ranked by a “star” system, which rates their level of difficulty.  WEF offers 2*-5*, and there are multiple weeks which run 2*-5* classes simultaneously.  However, riders can only compete in one level or another; you either have your horses in the 2* or the 5* section during these weeks.  FEI classes are entered through an online computer system, and you have to be accepted into your section.  For WEF, your standings for the entire show are based on your ranking as of WEF 1.  Therefore, if you have 2,000 points (which is quite high) going into the first week of WEF, you will remain in that standing throughout the entire circuit.  Points accumulated during circuit get applied after season is over.  Sometimes, riders will enter to show in the 5* knowing that there’s a possibility that they may not get in.  Depending on the other entries, they may be able to slide in, or can simply drop down to the 2*.  During 3* and 4* weeks which are run on their own, riders just enter to show in that particular section and either get accepted or don’t.

The entrance to FEI stabling. This board houses rider and horse lists, schedules, and some rules that anyone involved with horses competing in international classes must abide by.

The entrance to FEI stabling. This board houses rider and horse lists, schedules, and some rules that anyone involved with horses competing in international classes must abide by.

For example, Week 9 was a 2* and a 5* week.  Saturday night held the $380,000 5* Grand Prix, and Sunday held an $86,000 1.50m 5* Classic and $50,000 2* Grand Prix. During the week, there were options for 2* and 5* horses to jump classes within their respective sections: 2* horses have some 1.40 and 1.45 classes, speed and jump-off, and 5* horses do as well, with the addition of a Grand Prix qualifier, known as "the WEF," on Thursday.  Riders have to decide which path is the best for the horses they’ve chosen to enter for the week.  For example, if you enter two horses to compete in FEI that week, and both get accepted, riders might decide to use their speed horse in both 1.45 speed classes and use the grand prix horse for the WEF and hopefully for Saturday night.  Forty horses qualify on Thursday for the Saturday night class; however, even if you don’t get in on Thursday, most riders opt to keep the horse in the secured FEI stabling in case there are scratches for Saturday, or they to show it in the Sunday 1.50m 5* Classic instead.

The FEI jog path: Horses have to trot up, turn around, and trot back under the watchful eye of vets and stewards.

The FEI jog path: Horses have to trot up, turn around, and trot back under the watchful eye of vets and stewards.

The beginning of an FEI week is quite busy if you have a horse showing. Most FEI horses have a groom specifically for them due to the time commitment necessary for its care. There is a special FEI Stabling section at the horse show where these horses are housed all week long.  It is secured stabling, with security personnel and large fences around the area.  This is the same setup as I described at the Palm Beach Masters.  Horses must be checked into their FEI stall by 11am on Tuesday, and they have to wait for their section to jog for a panel of vets and stewards.  The jog line can be quite tedious since there can be upwards of one hundred horses waiting to jog (stallions are permitted to cut the line if they don’t like standing, though).  The horses must jog, or trot, on a special path, in a straight line down and back.  During this time, the stewards can look over the horse and request a re-jog if they question the horse’s soundness.  At this time, a vet also looks through the horse’s passport and makes sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations, and compares the marking page to the actual horse to verify that you are presenting the correct horse.  Once you jog, you turn the horse’s passport in until it leaves FEI stabling for the week.  Once the horse leaves FEI stabling, it is not allowed back in for that particular horse show week, and can no longer compete in FEI classes.

FEI is very strict about who goes in and out of this stabling area- This is in an effort to prevent any unwanted or illegal "horseplay."

FEI is very strict about who goes in and out of this stabling area- This is in an effort to prevent any unwanted or illegal "horseplay."

FEI has its own riding ring that riders must work their horses in.  Horses competing in FEI are not permitted to leave FEI stabling unless they are showing.  They must have a number on anytime they are out of their stalls, and all grooms. riders, owners, and trainers must have proper verification on them- this means an FEI pass issued to individuals placed on a certified list at the beginning of season.  If you don’t have this pass, you won’t be allowed to enter FEI stabling.  This system ensures that horses in this stabling area are only being handled by people verified by the horse’s team.  This also (hopefully) decreases the possibility of illegal activities before the horse shows.  On show day, a security guard and steward at the front gate to FEI marks down the time the horse leaves, and the horse is also checked in at the International Ring when it gets there.  This ensures that people aren’t detouring the horse to questionable places on the way to a class.  After the horse shows in FEI classes, it must walk straight from the in-gate to the boot-check, where a steward takes off the horse’s boots and checks the legs to verify that only legal equipment was used in the class.  After this process, the horse is then checked out from the ring and permitted to walk back to FEI, where it is once again checked in by other security personnel.

FEI is a whole other world that is an incredible experience to be a part of, even if it’s just a small role.  The best horses in the world are housed in there during their respective show weeks, and it’s a very humbling and amazing learning experience to see how top horses and riders prepare for big classes.  Plus, the pizza before the jogs on Tuesdays is a tasty bonus. Even though WEF is over, stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts and stories for the upcoming summer horse show season!

Horse Show Field Guide: The World Equestrian Center

Horse Show Field Guide: The World Equestrian Center

Horse Show Field Guide: The Palm Beach Masters

Horse Show Field Guide: The Palm Beach Masters