With the 32 nd annual Winter Equestrian Festival set to kick off tomorrow, topnotch riders representing hunters, jumpers and dressage, along with Eugene R. Mische, president of Stadium Jumping, Inc., met with the press for a luncheon conference. On the dais were show jumpers Beezie Madden, Chris Kappler, Jimmy Torano, and Danielle Torano, along with dressage riders George Williams, Susan Dutta, and Arlene ‘Tuny' Page. The Winter Equestrian Festival runs from January 28 through March 21 in Wellington , and March 24 through April 3 in Tampa , FL.
Mr. Mische pointed out the significance of this year's Nations' Cup, which will be held on March 12. With eight teams entered, he believes it is a record number for the US . He also pointed out that WEF has expanded the classes for five-, six-, and seven-year old horses from one class per week to a division each week. “That's a major factor for our riders to develop young horses,” said Mr. Mische, adding that some of these talented horses can then move on to become Nations' Cup horses. “Hopefully we have given them the format to do that and that they will take advantage of it. That's a very big plus for our circuit.” Mr. Mische added that riders from nine to 70 years of age are participating in the 2004 WEF. “For the first show, the entries are up about 10%.”
All the riders on the dais, with the exception of Danielle Torano, declared their intentions to make the Athens Olympic Teams in their respective disciplines. Chris Kappler, who won the American Invitational for the past two years, and won Team Gold and Individual Silver at the Pan Am Games, is a prime candidate for the Games and hopes to compete in the Selection Trials in California. “It's been a long break and everyone is starting out with a clean slate,” said Kappler. “The most important thing is you have to come out and show everyone that you and your horses are back in form for the season. But more importantly, Gene has provided us with a fantastic venue here in Florida in order to be able to prepare and train all of our horse for competition and international showing around the world. Every year I see great improvements with good footing and great jumps. He brings in world-renowned course designers and that's why the circuit keeps getting bigger and bigger. He's getting people from all over the world flying horses here and that does nothing but help improve the standards of our country and ourselves. It's really what makes this event so fantastic.”
Beezie Madden, the Leading Lady Rider on the World Computer List, noted that WEF is the last stop for the show jumpers before the Olympic Trials in May. “This is where we're going to have to try to get our horses peaked. To be able to have the prize money that Gene offers and the facility and the American Invitational, it's just a great asset for our country.”
Dressage rider Arlene ‘Tuny' Page noted that competing on the grounds along with hunters and jumpers is a plus for her sport. “Without this venue, it would be difficult to prepare dressage horses for an Olympic Games or any international championship,” said Page. “You train and compete in this environment, your skills at being able to focus and keep your horse's concentration improve. It's absolutely the mileage they need to represent the team. There's no place better in the world.”