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Wellington … The Equestrian Mecca of the United States

A lifestyle that puts 15,000 horses in 10 square miles for 10 weeks of multi-million dollar sport can only be found in one place - Wellington. Non-existent 30 years ago, today this Florida village is home to 50,000 residents and was recently ranked by Money Magazine as the seventh best place to live in communities under 100,000. The population swells during "season" when an elite flock of snowbirds from across the nation and the oceans settle in to compete in the Olympic disciplines of dressage and show jumping as well as the sport of kings - polo. This dynamic, and its effect on Wellington, is a story about money, power, sport, celebrities, and the love of horses.

The equestrian industry in Wellington generates $350 million annually to the community. The equestrian lifestyle has inspired fashion, décor, cuisine, a host of businesses and its own society. Why is Wellington the center of this equestrian explosion? How did it happen? Who are the movers, shakers, and kingpins who've built empires out of scrubland and attracted some of the most elite people in the world as seasonal and permanent residents?

John Goodman's International Polo Club Palm Beach
Facets of the Wellington tale include tracing its origin to pioneer Bill Ylvisaker who purchased 2800 acres for the Gould Company of Chicago to launch the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club in 1977. That story continues to unfold today with the January 2004 opening of the International Polo Club of Palm Beach - built and owned by John Goodman on his 120-acre property. Mr. Goodman, who operates a Houston-based company that manufactures heating and air conditioning systems, has played polo for 15 years, and is continuing the tradition of high-goal polo in Wellington his way. The new country club, built at a cost of $5 million, includes playing fields and a polo stadium, plus tennis courts, swimming pool, and a luxurious clubhouse now under construction. The club's first season boasts 15 weeks of high-goal polo with a record number of teams enrolled and will culminate in the 100th playing of the US Open Polo Championship - one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world. Who is John Goodman, why did he build such an elaborate facility, and how did he manage to entice the world's best players to compete at his club? All part of an intriguing tale that spans nearly 30 years and has placed Wellington on the map as the most prestigious polo center on the planet.

Gene Mische's Winter Equestrian Festival
International riders also arrive in Wellington each season to compete in qualifiers and selection trials for Olympic and Pan American Games as well as World Cup Finals and Nations' Cups - the top of the show jumping and dressage worlds. Gene Mische, founder and president of Stadium Jumping, Inc., launched his Winter Equestrian Festival series in Wellington with one Grand Prix on the grass field in front of the newly built polo stadium in 1979; he now operates a 165-acre world-class show grounds with eight rings in action for eight weeks and more than $3 million in prize money. The Winter Equestrian Festival is the longest running, and largest consecutively running, sporting event in the world. Mr. Mische has expanded his vision to include real estate - he is the developer of an exclusive barns-only community (the most expensive property in Wellington per acre) and a new seven-acre commercial property under construction for equestrian-related shops. A Cleveland native, Mr. Mische originally settled in Palmetto, Florida, in 1967 as a horse trainer with no intentions of running horse shows. Who is this self-made man who literally created the sport of Grand Prix show jumping in this country? How did he among so many vying to attract exhibitors, manage to create the most beautiful show grounds in America with the most elite riders and competitions? And why in Wellington?

The Celebrity Factor … And the Equestrian Society Set
Celebrities descend upon the horse world of Wellington from January through April - from parents like Bruce Springsteen, Glenn Close, John Cleese, and Lou Dobbs who are ringside whenever their children compete, to those who venture into the competition rings themselves - Tommy Lee Jones plays high-goal polo, Her Royal Highness Zara Phillips and Kelly Klein saddle up hunters and jumpers, best-selling author Tami Hoag competes at the FEI levels of dressage. For many of them, this is their private world, their hobby and respite from 'stardom' and for the most part, they are allowed to be 'regular' horse moms and dads and riders. But what is the attraction, how far do they intend to go, and why choose Wellington when perhaps a less high-profile show would assure anonymity? There are also professional riders who have become celebrities in their own right, many of whom now call their estates in Wellington 'home' such as Olympians Norman Dello Joio, Lauren Hough, Margie Engle, Robert Dover, and Sue Blinks. These riders have developed their own 'who's who' society in Wellington, and like Hollywood, being seen about town and invited to the right parties is part of this exclusive scene.

Phelps Media Group
The story is a fascinating one - whether one chooses to cover the overall picture or take a snapshot of one facet. At Phelps Media Group, we are ready to facilitate a feature story for your writer or we can supply a story of your choice, with photos. Please contact us with your requests - we are happy to help.


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