Horse Show Field Guide: The World Equestrian Center
Showing at new venues can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be a little stressful not knowing what to expect when you arrive with your four-legged friend. Hunt Club’s Horse Show Field Guide hopes to dispel the mystery around some of the best show venues in the US, so you can plan your own trip with confidence or put yourself in the shoes of top riders and get a sense of what it's like to compete with the best.
This past March the Hunt Club Crew made our first trip out to the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington Ohio – an equestrian oasis just off I-71 in the middle of rolling Midwest farm country. What the area lacks in restaurants, hotels and so-called “muggle attractions”, this all-inclusive, European style facility more than makes up for in pristine rings, top-notch competition, and world-class events every single week from November to April (and that's just the indoor facility!). Read on for some of our first-hand tips on how to make the most of your trip to this new show venue!
1) Spend some time getting to know the layout of the facility. Like most equestrian centers that are completely indoors, WEC has seen a number of additions built onto the original Roberts Arena that initially occupied the property. The resulting structure feels a little like a mix between a rabbit warren and a space colony on Mars – a maze of tunnels and hallways connect the barns to the common spaces, schooling rings, show arenas and lunging areas.
To avoid getting lost and wasting precious time on show days, spend an hour or so walking around the facility to get a sense of where the three main arenas are – the Sanctuary (jumpers), R+L ring (grand hunter) and Roberts ring (small hunters and ponies). Locating food is also important, so scope out the High Horizons Café near Chagrin Saddlery as well as the International Grille and Café above the show office overlooking the Roberts Ring. Our trip to WEC took place in March before the new outdoor rings opened, but this important tip will become even more crucial as the facility continues to expand during the summer of 2017.
2) Come prepared with comfortable shoes to change into. Unless you’ve found the holy grail of tall boots that are comfortable to ride AND walk in, make sure to bring a comfortable pair of shoes to change into after you’re done showing. Guaranteed you’ll find yourself running from ring to ring to watch your friends, grab a bite to eat or hit the shops, and even though WEC is all enclosed and connected by tunnels and walkways, it really is a HUGE facility. Depending on how far your stalls are from the main arenas, you could find yourself hiking back and forth quite a bit. On the plus side, you can wear your favorite boat shoes or sneakers even in the dead of winter because the entire facility is indoors, mud-free, and kept at a toasty 60-65 degrees. Yay!
3) The WEC souvenir shop - aptly named the 'Sudden Impulse Boutique' - is extremely dangerous (for your wallet). No wimpy sweatshirts or scratchy tees here; all of the World Equestrian Center branded apparel features top brands like Vineyard Vines and J.Crew, just to name a few. Talk about going all out with their branded merch! If these sound a little expensive for your taste, they also have a bevy of high quality ball caps and super-soft sweatshirts emblazoned with the iconic WEC logo. As of this week, WEC is now offering an adorable consolation prize for riders who take a tumble or fall off while competing at the facility. After an unplanned dismount, riders can stop by the Sudden Impulse Boutique to claim their very own Sandy Bottoms (an adorable plush horse) and membership into the Sand Divers Club. How cute!
4) Peekaboo stalls – need we say more? While the stabling at WEC is top notch (new, clean, bright and heated), our horses were particularly thrilled that we could open up the bars and let them stick their heads out into the barn aisle. Most show stabling either offers an “always open” or “always closed” door configuration that either keeps friendly horses cooped up or lets grumpy horses nibble on passersby, but the stalls at WEC offer innovative bars that can be opened or closed depending on your preference and your horses manners.
5) While the tack shop offering at WEC changes every show, Chagrin Saddlery is centrally located and open every single week to cater to the needs of every rider from the pony divisions on up. Scope out unique and trendy brands you won’t find anywhere else on the show grounds like Carma USA, LeFash NY, Callidae, GhoDho and more, including an enormous selection of your favorite Hunt Club gear. Their setup is right across from the High Horizons café, and is centrally located between the R+L and Sanctuary rings. To that end, don’t forget to check out The Custom Fox tack trailer located outside of the Roberts Ring! We almost missed this fabulous little shop owned by the Pfeiffers out of Lambertville, Michigan since you have to venture outdoors to get there. It’s well worth the trip, though, as the Custom Fox is fully stocked with all your show day essentials from hunt coats and breeches to boot polish and sore-no-more.
6) Free stabling is available for all winter shows (you heard that right), and junior riders who participate in the weekly Cadets Horsemanship Program can earn $250 in free entry fees every week. The Cadets Horsemanship program was designed as a unique educational opportunity for young junior riders to learn basic horsemanship skills and earn points that will subsidize the cost of competing at WEC. Young equestrians have the opportunity to learn from the industry's top professionals, who present weekly on topics ranging from grooming tips and horse shoeing basics to entrepreneurship and equine nutrition with an emphasis on fun and safety. At each Cadets Horsemanship Clinic there is a random drawing for 40 of the Cadets in attendance to receive a horse show credit of $250 - nice! You don't have to be a junior rider to take advantage of the comped stalls for the winter circut though, which is a nice treat for those amateur equestrians among us.
7) The area around WEC is pretty sparse when it comes to hotels and lodging, but luckily for horse show exhibitors the venue also offers on-site “human stabling” in adorable rental cabins or multi-bedroom trailers across the street at their Home Away from Home ‘campsite’. For our first trip out we opted to stay at the nearest hotel 30 minutes away and will definitely be staying at one of the rental trailers for our next visit. They’re clean and close, come outfitted with everything you’ll need for your stay, and let you sleep in an extra half hour before your early morning wakeup call for the 7am USHJA National Derby that takes place every Sunday – win, win win.
8) Special events are a way of life during the winter circuit at WEC. Something exciting is always going on! WEC #11 featured a fabulous Hunt Club trunk show at the Chagrin Saddlery shop, and Fabbri boots & Carma USA were in town during WEC #10 for their own special fitting and sale event. WEC itself hosts a number of fun events, including movie nights on Fridays, catered dinners during the weekly Grand Prix, and the popular Cadets program for junior riders which meets early on Saturday mornings. The best way to find out what’s going on at the facility during your visit is to keep up with their social media accounts and keep your eyes on the announcements section of their show pages on horseshowing.com, the website WEC uses to report results, update class schedules and post orders of go.
9) The WEC is now offering year-end awards for both the World Equestrian Center and Country Heir show series that take place seasonally at their facility. Competitors can sign up (for free) on the WEC website and watch their points pile up as they compete throughout the winter. This is a pretty exciting development for riders who travel to WEC from as far away as Kansas, North Carolina and even Canada, as their own local PHA or HJA organizations might not sanction WEC as a show that counts towards year end awards. On top of that, the ribbons offered for champion and reserve champion circuit honors might just rival the jaw-droppingly gorgeous prizes from the Gucci Masters a few years ago – don’t try to tell us you haven’t been dreaming about winning one of these beauties.
10) Even with all of these exciting perks WEC has to offer, our favorite thing about the great new facility has to be the heat. For those of us determined to continue showing through the cold Midwest winters, WEC’s all-inclusive heating system seemed too good to be true. We arrived fully expecting it to be colder than everyone was making it out to be – they can’t possibly keep the entire facility around 65-70 degrees all day and night, can they? Oh yes. Yes they can. Leaving your horse for the night in just a sheet definitely took some getting used to, especially when the temperature outside of the barn doors typically hovers around 20 degrees or colder, but it made our trip nothing short of delightful.
Stay tuned as we add even more fabulous equestrian destinations to the Hunt Club Horse Show Field Guide throughout the year. Have a venue you want us to cover? Send us an email through the contact form or give us a shoutout on Twitter or Instagram!