Ocala, Florida – Good footing draws dressage competitors like a magnet and that’s why this past weekend’s Ocala Winter Dressage, held Jan. 19-20 at the Florida Horse Park, was so popular with those who braved the cool, chilly weather to compete. Just ask Melissa Vanacore who, when asked what she most liked about competing at the Horse Park answered without hesitation, “the footing. It’s amazing.”
More than a year ago, the Horse Park put Polytrack footing in all its rings and the investment sure paid off when it came to winning over competitors. The 500-acre Horse Park was created in 1996 and is working toward becoming central Florida’s key venue for equestrian competitions. Its dressage competitions are already drawing a growing list of top competitors who are setting up their winter bases in the Ocala.
Among those setting up winter shop in the Ocala area are members of Mary Alice Malone’s Iron Springs Farm team and Belinda Nairn-Wertman, of the farm’s leading riders and trainers couldn’t be happier. “Mary Alice bought a beautiful farm here and when you’re there, you don’t want to go anywhere else. We’re now based in Ocala all winter and I love it. It’s so good for the horses. There’s real grass and good turnout and it’s cooler, which is maybe not great for us but wonderful for the horses. It’s just a more realistic environment for the horses. I love the country up here.”
At this past weekend’s Ocala Winter Dressage, Nairn-Werman was showing one of Iron Spring Farm’s future stars, the five-year-old mare Watch Me, sired by Sir Sinclair. The mare was purchased last year with hopes that she would show the talent of offspring by Sir Sinclair and she seems to be living up to that hope. Although she had a successful showing last year in Training Level and in the Four-Year-Old classes, Ocala was the mare’s first outing at First Level.
"She’s just starting, but I think she has all the capabilities in the world,” Nairn-Wertman said. “She really gives me the feeling that she could be a really good FEI horse. She’s careful and sensitive, but has a wonderful work ethic and she wants to do things right. She doesn’t like to make mistakes. When you go to turn, you realize you’re on a young horse but when you just sit on her, you feel like you’re on a Fourth Level horse. She’s very smooth, very well-balanced, very easy to put together.”
Although Nairn-Wertman does travel southward to the Wellington area for shows from her Ocala base, she’s become a big fan of the Florida Horse Park. “I like the fact that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere if you’re going to spend the winter. And it’s easy enough to get to Wellington. I don’t mind the drive because we’re used to driving to shows all year, so going to Wellington is no different.”