BY ANNIE BIRMINGHAM
The USHJA Foundation’s Making a Dream Grant is a scholarship program for junior riders nationwide aiming to “offer unique opportunities in the hunter/jumper sport to USHJA members who face significant adversity, such as mental, physical or emotional challenges; resource limitations; or other challenges”. I was fortunate enough to be the 2018 recipient of the Making a Dream Grant, and attended the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida during the World Champion Hunter Rider week from February 14th to 18th. Here’s some of the amazing, once in a lifetime things I got to experience while escaping this brutal New York winter in Florida!
Day One: Tuesday
After a 4:30 AM wake up call and a 6:00 AM flight, we landed at the Palm Beach International Airport around 10:00 (admittedly sweating in our winter jackets… oops). After picking up our rental car, we headed to our hotel to unpack, change, and grab lunch before driving to the horse show and picking up our golf cart for the week. Our next stop was my first activity, and one of my favorites of the week, a tour and meet and greet with McLain Ward! I had the pleasure of meeting all of his horses (including his daughters minis!), seeing how his farm operates, and hearing his methods.
Day Two: Wednesday
On Wednesday, we got to watch some more of my favorite jumper riders go in the Global Arena during the 3* Grand Prix and get to know the showgrounds a bit better (special thanks to Debbie at the USHJA Foundation for making sure I knew where I was going, I definitely would’ve gotten lost throughout the week otherwise!). We also toured some of the farms in Grand Prix Village. After doing some shopping, we grabbed lunch at the Tiki Hut and watched the hunters go in the International Ring. Our final stop of the day was to Windcrest Farms in Loxahatchee, where I got to meet the amazing Clever and Smart, the horse that TPH Publisher Piper Klemm graciously organized for me to ride and show for the week.
Day Three: Thursday
On Thursday, I headed back to Grand Prix Village to spend the morning with Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill. There, I got to shadow Stacia and learn how her farm runs behind the scenes. I also set jumps for her professional riders schooling back at the barn, and helped her in the warm up ring for the schooling jumpers. I’ll definitely be putting some of her organizational skills to work back at home! Afterwards, we attended the Lunch and Learn in the Wellington Club. The weeks’ event was a discussion with Tonya Johnston titled “Mental Skills for Success in the Show Ring,” and taught me so much about the importance of adding visualization and positive thinking into your routine for success. I was able to implement these new techniques in another afternoon lesson with Teri Knowlton and Michelle LaSalandra at Windcrest Farm, and even got to meet Tori Colvin back at the showgrounds afterwards!
Day Four: Friday
Friday was one of the more relaxing days, starting with a tour of the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Wellington. We were able to take a look behind the scenes of the newer facility, which was opened in early 2017 and houses five patient stalls, an induction and recovery stall, transfer area, two surgical suites, viewing room, and a treatment room. Though small, the facility is fully staffed and equipped year round to cater to both the seasonal and year round client. It’s so organized and well put together! Afterwards, we had some downtime before going back to the barn to ride, and headed back to the show to grab lunch at the Farmstand (which is absolutely amazing, by the way!), and watch some more of the fancy hunters in the International Ring. Later that night, we went back to the Global Arena to catch the Rushy Marsh Farms Grand Prix, where I got to meet the legendary George Morris!
Day Five: Saturday
We kicked off the weekend with a causal morning, grabbing breakfast at the hotel and heading to the show to shop around and watch some of the rings. I had an early afternoon lesson with Teri as our final show preparation for Sunday morning, and hung back after to bathe and graze Clever and clean tack for the horse show. After that, we headed to our hotel to get ready for the star event of the week, the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Hunter Spectacular! My mom, trainer, and I got to sit in the International Club at the USHJA Foundations VIP table to watch up close, which was an absolute dream come true (and much cooler than watching from home on the livestream!)!
Day Six: Sunday
My last day in Wellington may have been my favorite. We went straight to the grounds early in the morning to get ready to show! Clever met us there, and after warming up and studying our courses, Clever and I finished up 5th, 6th, and 7th in our division. It was a surreal feeling to ride around the ring and see my name up on the scoreboard, and receiving ribbons was just the icing on the cake. After taking care of Clever back at the barn and sending him home, we got to enjoy the Florida sunshine for a few more hours before we had to go back to the hotel and pack to head home.
Special thank you’s to McLain Ward, Piper Klemm, Sissy Wickes, Stacia Madden, the entire team at Windcrest Farms, the USHJA Foundation, and everyone else that helped to make this week possible. It has been an absolute dream come true. Until next time, Florida!
About the Author: Annie Birmingham is an 18 year old equestrian from Long Island, New York. A freshman at Long Island University studying equine management, Annie can usually be found spending time at the barn and grooming at horse shows up and down the East Coast.
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