Stellar Line Up of Athletes at Winter Equestrian Festival Press Conference
Wellington, FL – January 23, 2007 – Tomorrow, January 24, at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club, the 10-week 2007 Winter Equestrian Festival season begins, concluding on April 7 at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center in Tampa, Florida with the Tournament of Champions and the Budweiser American Invitational.
So, with less than 24 hours on the clock until WEF opens its doors for the 35th edition, the traditional press conference was held in the VIP marquee overlooking Arena Internationale, and was well attended by media as well as a talented cross-section of equestrian athletes representing various disciplines.
Following introductions, and kicking off the proceedings, one of the Hunter communities most successful riders and no stranger to the winner’s circle at most of the nation’s major events, Lyman T. Whitehead defined the Winter Equestrian Festival as “The best competition … a springboard into the year … the crème de la crème.” And continued by explaining, “This is the start of the year, there are a lot of people coming out, breaking the ice. It’s the best facility and if you can win blue ribbons here you an win them anywhere.”
For Brianne Goutal, it’s a threshold year as she makes the transition from junior to senior show jumping ranks. She’s no stranger to success, or the challenge of high-level competition, however, as the 18-year-old has already rewritten the history books with her list of gilt-edged accomplishments. Asked how she felt, as she embarks upon her first major Grand Prix season, the articulate teen said, “I have to say it’s a little intimidating, but I’m looking forward to WEF. You hope to get through it, and if you make it through Florida you can make it through the rest of the summer.”
Sitting alongside Goutal, Leslie Howard is one of a handful of veterans who has worked her way through the ranks having opened her major-league account on the Florida circuit many years ago. “I was 15 years old when I started, and I’m now 50, so that’s 35 years. In those days, it wasn’t really a festival, it was Jacksonville, Winterhaven and Palmetto, then we moved across to where the polo stadium is,” explaining that jumpers had to cross back and forth across a main road to the ring. Howard continued by saying, “It’s so amazing to see how the sport has changed over the years, and the growth. Gene Mische has done such a tremendous job in bringing this sport along to the top competition it is now, with international riders like Rodrigo [Pessoa] coming.”
One international who regularly heads south for the Winter Equestrian Festival from his Quebec home is one of Canada’s Olympians, Mario Deslauriers, who reflected on the possibility of back-to-back wins for his team in the Nations’ Cup, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Friday evening, March 9. “It would be a nice way to start the year for Canada, to win the Nations’ Cup here. We have a very good team this year. Ian [Millar] has got a few new mounts, and Eric [Lamaze] will be on his game I’m sure, and my horses I feel are going well, so hopefully we can peak that week and do well through the circuit.”
Although Brazilian international Rodrigo Pessoa, gold medalist from the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, clocked up the air miles commuting between WEF and Europe last year, he plans to keep his feet firmly planted in Wellington throughout this season, his primary goal being to secure sufficient points for his ticket to the World Cup final in Las Vegas in April. As it happens, he’s spent the few weeks since his arrival in Wellington rehabilitating the broken hand he sustained in a fall during the Geneva World Cup show. “I’m very happy. It’s great to be back at this tremendous facility. The weather is great, the competition is tough, but I’m really excited. I have some new horses and am looking forward to starting.”
Not restricted to show jumping, dressage veteran and local resident Arlene ‘Tuny’ Page – who was named as alternate for the U.S. team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Germany – is also delighted to be involved with the Winter Equestrian Festival, saying “I’m a little bit like Leslie because I remember having to cross the street, so I agree that it’s pretty extraordinary what’s happened here with the growth.” She continued by saying, “For the dressage horses, we are looking forward to seeing the same kind of growth as with the jumpers. They have a CDI here in March, which is a great development for our team because we are bringing in the very best judges from around the world. It’s very important for them to see us in this venue because it’s in every way an international venue. Last year we had our league finals here under the lights, which was every way as exciting as a Nations’ Cup. It was an important transition for WEF to be presenting us in that light and we couldn’t be more grateful to Stadium Jumping and Gene Mische for making that a reality. It’s extremely important for us to be able to compete on home turf in a truly international way, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Counting United States Dressage Federation silver and gold medals among her many achievements, Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer, Melissa Taylor, also from Wellington said, “I’m looking forward to showing the young Dacado for the first time here at the CDI. We also have two young riders and a junior rider so we’re helping them to get themselves prepared for competitions. Again, we have the young horse classes coming up so I think what Stadium Jumping has done for us, is the ability to be so close, being right up the street, and doing all these competitions that prepare us for the up-and-coming season, so we don’t have to worry about going from state to state, traveling and putting all that stress on our horses when we have such a nice condensed amount of shows that we can hopefully qualify for other events.”
President of the 35th Edition Winter Equestrian Festival and Stadium Jumping, Inc., Eugene R. Mische, following his welcome address said, “I would particularly like to say that with everything you can do to this venue, make it look good, put the best jumps out there, get the best dressage rings, without the athletes you have nothing, so I thank them for picking our circuit and we hope we can do them proud so they can show off their talents.” Mische continued by saying that the show grounds had been expanded, out of necessity, using some of the Littlewood property, and will be offering additional classes in order to meet exhibitor demand. Mische concluded his introduction by thanking the media, “For helping bring this sport in this country to what it is in Europe.”
Finally, as the Winter Equestrian Festival is once again scheduled to host the first leg in the 2007 Global Champions Tour Series, offering a purse of 300,000 euros, which is just shy of $400,000, Mische said, “It’s definitely the biggest money purse ever offered in the United States, so we’re looking forward to being the first leg of the Global Tour.” This year, the Tour extends to eight events: Wellington, Florida (March 18), Cannes (France), Monaco, Estoril (Portugal), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Valkenswaard (Netherlands), Arezzo (Italy), finishing in Athens, Greece, next October at the site of the 2004 Olympic Games.
PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Taylor, Arlene ‘Tuny’ Page, Rodrigo Pessoa, Mario Deslauriers, Leslie Howard, Brianne Goutal and Lyman T. Whitehead. Photos by: PMG Pictures/Peter Llewellyn
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