THE 13-week Winter Equestrian Festival kicked off on Wednesday in Wellington, Florida. The longest running weekly consecutive horse show in the world attracts large numbers of Irish riders to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre (PBIEC) venue, where four weeks of five-star action takes place, as well as a four-star Nations Cup on March 5th.

All four of Ireland’s Tokyo Olympians will be in Florida for the winter circuit, with Cian O’Connor travelling from his Karlswood Stables base in Co Meath, and Darragh Kenny and Bertram Allen making their way from mainland Europe, while Shane Sweetnam’s Sweet Oak Farm is based in Wellington.

Others with a base in Wellington include Richie Moloney, Brian Cournane, Paul O’Shea, David Blake, and Daniel Coyle, among others, while Germany-based Eoin McMahon confirmed he will start his season at the venue for the first time (see pages 76-77).

The venue will be the largest hub of international activity in the world offering over $12 million in prize money across jumping and dressage competitions.

PBIEC was purchased in 2021 by Global Equestrian Group (GEG), a large hedge fund that has made multiple investments in the equestrian industry in the last year.


The new owners made a number of improvements to the facility ahead of WEF 2022, with ambitious plans for further development. PBIEC management will remain intact with Mark Bellissimo continuing as CEO, Michael Stone as President, and David Burton as Chief Operating officer. During a virtual held to open the season, Irishman Michael Stone outlined the progress made.

“We made improvements for parts of the facility that affect horses. Thanks to GEG’s investment, they were able to buy two more lots on Gene Mische Road, so we’ve extended stabling tents and parking to that part of the property. With a shuttle system and a new, big parking area, we are hopeful that we will fix a lot of those issues,” Stone said.

“There has been a lot of work done underground for drainage that people won’t necessarily notice. While Florida rain can be torrential, everything is draining very fast. Bearing in mind GEG got involved in July, it’s amazing how much has been achieved in a short period of time. The concentration has been on horses and the athlete experience. We have big plans for more.”

GEG also own Helgstrand Dressage and Beerbaum Stables, along with the Kingsland Equestrian apparel and accessories company. “We really believe in events. That is why I fought for this [acquisition of WEF and PBIEC]. I was very happy and lucky that we could buy it,” said CEO Andreas Helgstrand, adding: “We are there to create something even more unique than what it is already. We want to take care of it and have Wellington stay as the best place on earth for horse people.

“What I like is that this is run by passionate people and people with knowledge. Hopefully very soon we can also take over the dressage and go full power on that side as well.”

GEG Commercial Director Anders Bjørnstrup added: “Currently we are working on a five-year plan on development of the whole facility. We can’t change everything in six months, not even in 18 months. We listen to the riders, spectators, community – everybody who is involved – and all of the feedback provides us with input for the future plan. We want to enhance WEF and maintain our position as the main event in this sport.”