WELLINGTON, Fla.--Global Equestrian Group bought the Winter Equestrian Festival and its facility, Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, last July, with vague promises of changes that will enhance current offerings and improve the facility, but six months later and two weeks into WEF's FEI competitions, exhibitors and spectators see little changes.
There are many questions about why the group bought the facility and the shows at all, and trainers and exhibitors ask, does anyone know what is going on with the biggest show in the world?
Global Equestrian Group is a private equity company based in Denmark that has a number of shows in Europe and includes CEO Andreas Helgstrand, a top dressage competitor and largest dressage horse dealer in the world, and Ludger Beerbaum, an Olympic medalist show jumper.
“We wanted to have events in both dressage and jumping," said Helgstrand at a press conference at the beginning of WEF shows. "If we don’t create events, we won’t create sport or sales of horses or equipment."
But Mark Bellisssimo, who sold most of his shares in WEF to the Group, has retained ownership of the Global Dressage facility and the dressage shows as well the International Polo Club.
And Bellissimo has bought the land on South Shore Boulevard, adjacent to Global Dressage, where the Player's Club used to be, reportedly for $18 million.
Neil Hirsch, who owned that land before he died last June, tore down the Player's Club after a number of people died in automobile accidents after leaving the Club.
HELGSTRAND bought 79 acres on South Shore Boulevard that had been owned by disgraced financier John Deuss, who is serving a jail sentence, and is now selling 35 acres while retaining the rest for a sales and training facility.
That property was originally listed at $46 million but Helgstrand bought it for $17 million.
So what did Helgstrand mean by his statement, "We wanted to have events in both dressage and jumping."
While show jumping at WEF equals and perhaps even surpasses the quality of show jumping shows worldwide, dressage competitions in quality and quantity fall far below the standard in Europe.
It's agreed that Helgstrand wants to raise the standard of dressage in Wellington, but the question remains, how is he going to do that.
He can't start a dressage competition in opposition to Bellissimo.
Or does he just want to use Wellington as a vehicle to sell more horses.
Meanwhile few changes have been made at the Equestrian Center despite the Group's vague promises.
One change is that, as per exhibitors wishes, there will be four weekends of jumping on the grass field instead of just one.
All of the schooling rings are way too small, but, although a few have been enlarged by a few feet, little can be done because the Group is hamstrung by the size of the grounds.
The Group bought two more lots on Gene Mische Road, so they’ve extended stabling tents and parking to that part of the property, and with a shuttle system and a new, big parking area, that may ease part of the parking problem.
But no one wants to show in rings that far from the main grounds.
And none of this answers the big question - why did the Group buy WEF.
While WEG reportedly grosses $90 million a year, the purchase price therefore must have been huge.
It would be hard to see how the Group could gross more money, given the constraints of size for show jumping and no ownership of dressage shows.
Did they buy it as a tax dodge to take a huge loss against the very high European taxes?
Did they buy it just for Helgstrand and Beerbaum to sell more horses?
They'd have to sell a lot of horses to recoup those costs.
Did they buy it for business interests?
The tent at WEF is filled with tables owned by the richest men in the world whose wives and/or children compete at WEF, and a lot of business is conducted between those tables.
"No one gets the why, no one gets the financial," said one trainer. "There's no clear picture."
Meanwhile, there are more horses and more monied exhibitors than ever in Wellington, and more properties sold and more expensive barns being raised.
Bellissimo still retains some shares in WEF.
Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone is still president, while David Burton is still the show manager and runs the days to day operations.
Will they stay, or is the Group just using them to ease its own people into charge.
And back to Helgstand, CEO of Global Equestrian Group.
Helgstrand Dressage has just entered into an agreement with one of the dressage sport's biggest profiles of all time, the successful dressage rider and trainer, Lars Petersen, who was born in Denmark.
“We are very proud to welcome Lars to Helgstrand Dressage," said Helgstrand. "Lars has an in-depth knowledge of the USA and has built up a large network over the past many years. It is really big for us.”
Over the past 17 years, Lars and his wife, American Melissa Taylor, have built a successful business in Wellington, Florida, where Helgstrand recently announced the acquisition of the area's most attractive show venue, the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
He has achieved many victories and competed well-known horses such as Uffe Korshøjgaard, Mid-West Ibi-Light, Blue Hors Cavan, and much more.
He has competed at the World Cup Final, European Championship, World Equestrian Games, and Olympic Games over time and has built up valuable experience and most recently helped to develop some of the USA's most successful and upcoming riders - skills that now benefit Helgstrand.
“It takes time to make a name for yourself in the U.S., but we are well on our way. Lars is respected worldwide for his achievements as both rider and trainer, and it has great value for us in the desire to expand our activities in the U.S., where we see a huge unfulfilled potential,” said Helgstrand.