Ah, Wellington. My home away from home. I first discovered Wellington, Florida when I was 13 years old. We had just purchased my first “real” competition horse, and my trainer told my parents and me about a magical place where horse people unite. My mom and I decided to check it out and head south for a few weeks of warmth for training and competition. The second I arrived, I fell in love. The entire town is farms. Now, when I say farms, I don’t mean out in the country horse and cow farms. I’m talking million dollar barn, after million dollar farm, after million dollar farm. Barns so pristine you could eat off of the floor. There are tack stores everywhere, and every single person is walking around in breeches and riding boots. Growing up in a small town in Tennessee, you get pretty weird looks if you’re walking around in tight pants and knee high leather boots. I walked into a Publix in Wellington and thought, I have arrived, these are my people. Everyone is walking around the grocery store in riding pants, and there was an aisle devoted to horse treats and fly spray. As a horse crazy 13-year-old, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Wellington is the home to primarily jumpers, Dressage riders, and polo players. There is a Dressage show every weekend, a huge jumper show every Saturday night and polo matches every Sunday. All known as WEF, aka Winter Equestrian Festival. Riders from all over the world flock to this small town in south Florida every winter. At the jumper show on Saturday’s, you will see last names “Springsteen, Bloomberg, Jobs, and Gates,” just to name a few. “Season” typically starts in late November and continues through April. The town is jam packed for the winter months and a ghost town in the summer. The first time I just went for a few weeks, but I was hooked. I knew right away this was the place for me. Every Dressage trainer I could ever imagine was right in front of me. I could sit at the horse show and watch whoever I wanted. I was fascinated by walking through barns, and hearing languages from at least 3 different countries as riders were coming from all over the world. So much culture in one small town and they were all there for one reason, horses.
For the next few years, I still went only for a few weeks during the winter with my mom. Once I was old enough to go by myself, I found myself a working student job and made plans for my first real Florida season at the age of 17. For those of you who don’t know, a working student job is (basically child labor) where a person offers to work (endless hours) in exchange for a stall and training for their horse. I worked 6 days a week generally from 7am-5pm to pay for my horses stall, and I received lessons every day. Most horse people work ridiculously long, hard hours from Tuesday-Sunday. Pretty much the entire town is dead quiet on Monday’s. Whether the riders are exhausted from showing over the weekend, or they are recovering from a Sunday night out at the Players Club, everyone rests on Monday’s, including the horses. This became my life, and my 3-month stay turned into a year. I came home for a few months then decided I had to go back. Then a 4-month stay turned into 3 years. I love this place, and it truly feels like my second home.
It’s an interesting world, and I’m lucky to say I’ve been apart of it. I have gained friends from all over the world, seen (and trained with) the best of the best riders, and let’s just say it, being 20 minutes from the beach is pretty awesome. It’s also a tough world. So many trainers in one small town can only mean one thing, competition. You have to have tough skin to be here. The season is stressful. You pray that your horse holds up through the season and even better, competes well. You work your booty off for generally not much pay. You quickly learn (usually the hard way) who your real friends are. But all in all, it’s worth it. It’s an unbelievable place for learning and gaining experience. If you want to be the best of the best, you have to go to where the best of the best play.