Welly-Welly Wonderland: An Adult Amateur’s First Winter in Wellington

Kimberly Maloomian and Light It Up. Photo © Sportfot


As I sit here facing 30 hours of travel time en route to a ‘real world reality check,’ I can’t help but reflect on my first three weeks of a much-anticipated move to winter in Wellington. So many people asked me if I was excited about wintering in Wellington. If excited is synonymous with terrified… then yes, I was excited.

Wellington is a whole new world for me, one I had always read about in magazines a child. WEF is the big time. Wintering at the WEC (World Equestrian Center) is something I had down pat, but switching just one letter for WEF changed the game completely. To avoid a full blown panic attack, I needed the help of Wellington veterans, Three Wise [Wo]Men.

Fellow ‘amateur annex’ buddy, Margot Peroni, got the ball rolling. “You know the area and the players,” I said on our phone call. “We want to ride to the show and have plenty of turnout. Pick the place, and tell me where to send the money.” Margot passed along a place, and I sent my assistant (ahem, wonderful husband) to check it out. Problem #1 solved.

A few months pass, and getting within the 30-day window of “go time” started the panic all over. Who will braid? Where do I get hay and shavings and do they deliver? What about a farrier? Who do I get to help me at the ring? How do I do the entries if I don’t have a prize list? How do I even get to the ring from the farm? There was also the laundry list of “sure to get” ailments in Wellington: scratches, sunburn, summer sores, hives from the sand, sore feet and chronic tripping from the footing, heartworm from the flies, colic… wasn’t winter in Florida supposed to be easier?

Enter wise [Wo]man #2: master-horseman, self-proclaimed ‘palm beach point tour guide,’ and most of all long-time Masshole counterpart, Cathy McEnroe. She had an answer for all it, and the panic calmed again. Except for her final tip, “Don’t fall off at the show, you’ll break your back. It happens all the time!” ACK!

Next came the packing, oh the packing! I had never moved five horses before, and succumbed to just packing everything I owned with the ‘leave no man behind’ mentality. Pretty sure the Fairway drivers have put a red flag on my account with a note that says ‘BEWARE OF ALL HER CRAP.’ They were exceptionally polite, but did start with, “You’re lucky the two horses in Rochester didn’t have the right paperwork and we had to leave them behind, because otherwise there would never have been room.” Oops. Message received.

Once everyone is unpacked and settled in, I decide the first ride should be a nice trail ride to the show. My horses love trail riding. We do it all the time at home throughout the nearly 1000 acres of our Apple Knoll Farm. So off Finch and I went with the instructions, “Just go straight. In 25-30 min you’ll be there.”

Easier said than done.

The most terrifying of the hot walkers. Photo © Kimberly Maloomian

It was a straight line geographically, but the route Finch chose was more like a drunk driver, swerving down the canal with wheelie donuts thrown in for fun. Most of the spinning was due to the terrifying hot walkers at almost every farm. Swerving was due to waterfowl, dogs, change in terrain (grass to sand) and the occasional piece of litter. I never thought we would get there.

Offending waterfowl. Photo © Kimberly Maloomian

40 minutes later, I arrived at the Grand Hunter Ring. 40 MINUTES!!! Panic set in again. How was I going to manage that? I’d have to rearrange the whole prep schedule for the horses to account for the walk. Do the rings run on time? How true is the online timing? A phone call to the third Wise [Wo]Man, Ellie Toon, eased that pain.

“It’s ok, they have posted orders of go. We have all the starters’ phone numbers and you can get them too. They’ll let us know if we need to move faster or slower. Everyone is getting into the rhythm weeks 1 and 2, no one will be mad. I’ll walk you through it all.”

I told Jimmy [Toon] from the get go that I like to go first when I show, he replied, “No problem you just tell me what to time to be there and I’ll be there.” Yes! I’m loving this!

On the first day I showed (during the Holiday Finale), I flew up to the ring at warp speed on my ATV and introduced myself to Pat with “I’ll go first in younger 3’6”… EVERY time you see my name on the list.” I’m doubtful he believed me. I’m sure he’s had lots of people volunteer to go first and never show, but there I was at 7:45am in an empty schooling area getting ready. He was talking over the loud speaker pretty much in vain as there was barely a sole in sight, “Ok younger amateurs, time to get going, I have a Kimba out there looking fierce and ready to go, who else is coming?”

Kimberly Maloomian and Finch Hatton. Photo © Sportfot

Day two was the same. The following week (week 1 WEF) there was a posted order, I was listed to go midway but I showed up at 7:45am anyway and told Pat that I would go first since everyone else was clearly in a different time zone and missing from the schooling area. By the time WEF week 2 started, Pat had put me first in the posted order. He made himself a new BFF for the circuit, and I didn’t even have to cut the nonexistent line!

After three weeks of showing, I’m on a two-week break and reflecting on the experience so far. Has it been fun? Yes. I always had so many friends who wintered here and getting to see them so frequently and have smiling supportive face at the ring means so much to me.

Have I learned a lot? Far more then I ever imagined. Having a new perspective on your riding, on your horses, and new exercises to improve the partnership have made a world of difference.

Have I adapted to a new workflow? Amazingly so.  I like to do everything myself, but geographically here that is impossible. I have had to relinquish control over prepping all the horses, and hand half those duties over to my super groom, Meg. Successful people in business surround themselves with exceptional people, and I have always tried to do the same in the horse world. However, you don’t know just how exceptional someone is until you let them have some independence and I’m so glad I did.

Long, long walks to the ring. Photo © Kimberly Maloomian

Have we already had our share of ‘Wellington medical complications’? Scratches – check, hives – check, fly masks on 24/7 to prevent heart worm – check, sore feet – check, sunburn – check on the horses and hell yes on the humans. Being creative with therapies is important, remembering that what works up north might not work here and adapting is key, and never getting stuck in the ‘this is the way we have always done it’ rut, have been the mottos.

So far would I do it again? You bet, and I might just stay all summer too!