Postcard: Show Jumping at the 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival

Brianne Goutal was the big show jumping winner this week at the WEF, taking two classes with Ballade van het Indihof, including the Ariat Grand Prix on the grass.

Mares, mares, mares. They have dominated this show week in Wellington, Fla., both in dressage and jumping.

Brianne Goutal won the $127,000 Ariat Grand Prix on Ballade van het Indihof at the scenic stadium grounds of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

To recap: Lars Petersen rode Marriet to the 5-star Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle titles at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, where Steffen Peters swept the 3-star Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special on Rosamunde. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Laura Tomlinson had her own sweep with the personable Unique; she took the Prix St. Georges and the Intermediaire I.

Obviously, this was a serious streak, and it didn’t just involve dressage. Brianne Goutal joined it with her talented Ballade van het Indihof, winning the big WEF class on Friday on the mare, then showing her back to take today’s $127,000 Ariat 3-star Grand Prix.

There are people who love mares, and people who just won’t have them. We know what camp Brianne is in, but I asked for her comments on the subject.

The Ariat Grand Prix, which drew 45 starters, was run on the grass at the Stadium, a half-mile from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center’s hunter/jumper facility. The derby-style course–used last week for eventing’s debut in Palm Beach County–flanks the VIP area. So the people who watched Chris von Martels win the Intermediaire I freestyle with Zilverstar this morning in the big ring, simply turned their chairs around to watch the jumpers on the other side during the afternoon.

Course designer Bob Ellis of Great Britain put together a route that wound through the scenic property, with a backdrop of palm trees giving it an enchanted feel. People watched from a tiki hut and a grandstand, or sat on the hill at one end of the course for a panoramic view.

The course for the Ariat Grand Prix

The bogey fence was 12B, an oxer in the middle of a triple combination near the end of the layout that one-third of the entries had down. Brianne thought the field got hard (and started tearing up a bit) at the end of the course, but she praised the course designer for moving the double combination (the scaled-back triple) before the jump-off to give the seven horses in the tiebreaker better footing.

The fastest trip in the jump-off, completed in 46.77 seconds, belonged to flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders on Don VHP Z, but they had the last fence down.

Harrie Smolders, third with Don VHP Z | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

“My horse is naturally a little slower mover than Brianne’s. That’s why I have to take a bit more risks to put him a bit under pressure. I think we were unlucky today because…he deserved to go clean,” he said.

Harrie had to settle for third, behind Brianne, who finished fault-free in 47.10 seconds, and Heather Caristo Williams, also fault-free in 50.78 seconds on her longtime partner, Evening Star.

“It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to be in a jump-off and I just wanted to do what was right for my horse,” said Heather, who declined to take a time-saving shortcut.

Heather Caristo Williams and Evening Star, second in the Ariat Grand Prix | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

“I was just happy to be efficient for my horse and go for a clear round. It’s so much fun out there.”

Click on this video to hear more from Heather, who made me laugh when she said she always puts on mascara before a grand prix because she hopes she’ll wind up at the press conference.

Brianne’s 14-year-old Belgian-bred mare had been out for two years with a variety of minor injuries that took a long time to heal, and she was missed.

“Now that she’s back, it’s just a pleasure every time you go in the ring,” said Brianne.

“She’s very strong but she takes you right down to the big jumps and she’s extra careful so you’re never worried. She’s a freak of nature and I’m grateful every time I go in the ring with that horse.”

She and Heather, both New Yorkers, were talking about their days on the Zone 2 junior jumper team that is always chef d’equiped by Heather’s father, Ralph Caristo, who walked the course with her today.

Last night was the Great Charity Challenge over at PBIEC, a one-of-a-kind event presented by Fidelity Investments that has given $7.8 million to local charities over the last six years. Teams of amateur, junior and professional riders compete in a relay, each representing a charity. Winning means a $150,000 prize for that charity, and it seemed like karma that this time, the money earned by the victorious squad of Juan Carlos Maurin, Emanuel Andrade, and Victoria Karam went to Danny & Ron’s Rescue, a favorite of the horse show crowd that has adopted 700 of the dogs.

Kim Tudor, Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw of Danny & Ron’s Rescue, the big winner in the Great Charity Challenge at WEF | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

The event, which gave aways $1.5 million this year, was started by Paige Bellissimo, the daughter of Mark Bellissimo, master of the WEF and PBIEC. Paige heard on the 11 p.m. news that with the 2010 recession, many local charities were not receiving contributions and couldn’t carry on. So she broached the idea of helping to her father, who by 2 a.m. that night had sent off an email to Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone that said, basically, “let’s do it.”

Now it’s a major undertaking, with Anne Caroline Valtin serving as executive director to make sure everything is done in a professional way.

Danny Robertshow and Ron Danta, both professional equestrians, started saving dogs after Hurricane Katrina, and they never stopped. They have also found homes for cats and horses along the way, as well as paying for medical care for pets whose owners are unable to afford the cost.

Most of the riders showed up dressed for the theme of super heroes; from ones such as Ironman that I had never heard of, to a lot of Supermans (Supermen?) That made the night a lot of fun, and the place was packed with charity supporters cheering on their teams.

One of the great things about being at WEF is catching up with people and finding out what’s going on; I mean, what’s really going on. I had a chat with Michael Morrissey, the WEF show manager, but also the top man at Stadium Jumping Inc., the pioneering show management company that was founded by his late uncle, Gene Mische.

I wondered what had happened to the American Invitational, which moved from Tampa to Miami last year, but I had heard was going to be held this year only in an abbreviated form.

Michael told me that construction at the stadium in Miami would preclude the event from being staged there for two years. So a class called the Invitational will be part of the Global Champions Tour in Miami Beach, but it won’t be the Invitational as we know it. The GCT is running on the Invitational’s show dates.

Michael wants to hold the Invitational again as a stand-alone in an NFL stadium somewhere in Florida, but he doesn’t have the particulars yet. At any rate, he says he hasn’t given up on the competition that began in 1973 and was always the class that riders wanted to win.

When WEF was sold to Mark Bellissimo, the Invitational was not financially viable. It used to be paid for by entries on the circuit, and Stadium Jumping no longer had a circuit.

Until Michael can find a way to make it return, the Invitational will be missed.

Michele McEvoy Grubb, who won the class twice with Sundancer, said, “It’s sad. It was one of the most important clases in the history of show jumping in this country. People talked about it. To go in that stadium every year, that was something everybody looked forward to,” she reminisced.

“But things change, life goes on.”

That’s all from me for this trip to Florida. I’ll be back later in the season for the dressage Nations’ Cup and the $500,000 grand prix. In the meantime, look at and for more photos from Wellington.

Until then,

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