I am writing now from my comfortable bed in a condo in Vero Beach, Florida, reminiscing on what might possibly have been one of my best vacations ever. A good friend of mine works at the beautiful Thoroughbred training facility, Payson Park, outside of Stuart, Florida, and visiting her I got the chance to see some of the finest Thoroughbreds in North America work.
There’s nothing quite like the sight of a shiny, muscular two year old colt breezing past you as the early morning sun slants across the training track. Everything starts early there; by five AM the track is bustling, and before the sun has even crested the horizon you can hear the rhythmic pounding of hoofbeats flying past you on the dark track.
My best friend, who gallops and works horses for a proficient trainer over the winters at Payson, showed me around and let me feast my eyes on some of the finest young horses the racing world has to offer: colts and fillies that are headed for the Kentucky Derby, the Breeder’s Cup, and Grade I stakes races on both coasts.
By ten o’clock, things are winding down, before the heat gets too intense. The shedrows are raked and the glossy animals are contentedly eating hay in the shade of their stalls– and I’m off, heading down the I-95 on my way to Wellington, Florida, to catch a glimpse of one of the best shows that United States has to offer: the Winter Equestrian Festival.
The grounds are beautiful, breathtakingly so, and are only overshadowed by the beauty of the horses. Where Payson Park had its lithe, shiny racehorses, WEF offers up powerful jumper after graceful hunter, each groomed to the nines and more enviable than the one before. Spectators and competitors done for the day escape the heat under the canopied viewing areas; warm-up rings and competition arenas stretch as far as the eye can see, with flawless jump courses being navigated by flawless horse and rider combinations.
Florida has been an experience to remember, and a welcome respite from the snowstorms that are brewing back in Winnipeg, Manitoba, forcing riders indoors for months on end. It’s a privilege to see the best riders and the best horses compete in two different disciplines within an hour of each other, and to admire the clear planning that went into the creation of these kings of venues. It truly is an equestrian paradise, designed and built by those in the know and completely centered around that finest of the four-legged mammals, the horse. I’m already penciling in another trip for next year– and perhaps one day in the future I’ll have the chance to show here!