Names such as Ariana Rockefeller and Jessica Springsteen descended last week on Wellington, Fla., a small community of about 60,000, west of Palm Beach, that’s transformed into a playground for the rich every year when the horsey set arrives to compete in the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival.
Hermès, the new title sponsor of the Under 25 Grand Prix Series 2018, a bridge between junior- and professional-level equestrians, attracted equestrian star power with U25 participants Caitlyn Connors, Chloe Reid and Paige Bellissimo, and brand partners such as Nick Dello Joio, Ben Asselin and Daniel Bluman.
Riders weren’t deterred from their morning warm-ups at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Jan. 9 despite ominous clouds that stretched from the ocean to the Everglades. Nor was the weather a match for Hermès, which in addition to sponsoring the Under 25 Series, opened a cozy lounge for the nearly 75 young riders and unveiled a pop-up shop at the center.
“I’m going right into competition with a bang,” said Connors, as her Belgian horse, Blue, who was exhausted, surrendered to an Hermès saddle-fitting demo. “He just finished a three-day clinic.”
Connors, a 17-year-old Pennsylvania native, became the youngest Under 25 rider when she joined the group two years ago. Unlike most of her competition, which learned to walk in Wellington and shows up every season with as much personal staff as the entourage for their horses, she said she comes from a humble background and gets her hands dirty in the barn.
“I’m ready for this year’s bigger jumps. I’m only 4’11’’ so they’re bigger than me,” said Connors, during a luncheon at the critter-filled Rushy Marsh Farm.
“Our partnership represents our continuing commitment to promoting young, aspiring talent as the future of the equestrian sport, remaining true to the house’s equestrian heritage and sporting roots,” said Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermès U.S.
Coming from the barn in britches and boots, Rockefeller had been preparing her “boys,” Out of Beag and Riosco, for the ring. She and the horses recently arrived from Spain after a season of bouncing around Europe for shows.
“It’s just nice to be in one place for a while and catch up with friends usually on Sunday nights because we have Mondays off,” she said, eyeing the farm’s setup with envy. “It’s very special to have a grass field of this size in Wellington.”
Springsteen, the rocker’s daughter, boards four of her eight horses at Rushy Marsh Farm, so she gets to use the field every day, even on her day off. “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said of the landscaped grounds packed with orchids and impatiens and luxury amenities like a cold water spa for horses to heal sore legs. “I’ve grown fond of the mini donkeys, too. People are obsessed with them.”
Despite the tough months ahead, Dello Joio was relaxed after a holiday at his folks’ getaway in the Florida Keys. The avid spear fisherman scrolled through his phone to show secret Bahamian fishing holes and his new Rusty surfboard custom-painted with feathers and a tiger.
“My mom’s nickname for me is Tiger,” he said, adding that the surfboard was a Christmas present from his girlfriend, Hattie Gilpin, designer of Sea Dipped jewelry.
Reid was getting back into the groove and after arriving from Germany, the Florida sunshine was a welcome antidote to Europe’s dark, dreary days, said Reid, who finds time to work out between show jumping and attending English and political science classes at the University of Miami. “I go to the gym with a personal trainer, and Orangetheory opened here.”
If she qualifies during week two of WEF, she’ll compete against top riders such Kent Farrington in Saturday’s Grand Prix. Reid settles her nerves by wearing something blue, only it has to do with blue ribbons rather than wedding traditions.
“When I was a little kid, I’d wear blue underwear for good luck,” she said, delegating the custom as an adult since FEI dress code calls for white pants. “The blue shows through, so now my mom wears them.”