Every winter, the small town of Wellington, in southeast Florida, experiences a tremendous influx of some of the wealthiest people in the world.
From the Springsteens to the Bloombergs, to the families of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, to Arab sheikhs and South American billionaires, it’s a congregation of people with spectacular quantities of money.
No, they aren’t gathering for some sort of business affair. They’re coming for WEF: the Winter Equestrian Festival, which takes place every year from January to April on the hallowed grounds of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. The 12-week WEF has been the longest equestrian event of its kind for several years running, and it attracts riders at all levels of the sport.
Because of the costly nature of all things equestrian, it’s no surprise that rich people and horses go hand in hand. But while some wealthy riders and owners are just in it for the glamour and prestige, some — like Georgina Bloomberg and Jessica Springsteen — are serious and successful competitors.
As WEF has grown over the years, it has turned Wellington into a winter oasis for the upper crust, who come to ride, mingle, and bask in the warm weather. But while the human amenities are nothing to sneeze at, the real luxuries are reserved for the horses. Here’s an inside look at this star-studded fantasy world, where celebrities come to play and their four-legged companions reign supreme.
Wellington, Florida, is a community of about 60,000 people in southeast Florida, about 15 miles west of West Palm Beach. And without a doubt, horses rule in Wellington.
Bill Gates owns several properties in the area, and in 2016 he reportedly completed a $38 million purchase of An Entire Wellington Street, totaling six properties and about 20 acres. His daughter Jennifer is a seasoned WEF competitor.
In a fitting continuation of the rivalry between Gates of Microsoft and the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Laurene Powell Jobs reportedly purchased a 3.5-acre ranch on Wellington’s Quarter Horse Trail for $15 million in July 2016. Her daughter Eve is also an accomplished rider and has competed against Jennifer Gates.
Grand Prix Village, an exclusive, horse-focused development within walking distance of the show grounds, is famous for stables that look like this.
The festival takes place on these sprawling grounds, which include 18 competition arenas and 256 permanent horse stalls.
More than 5,000 horses with a net value of well over half a billion dollars compete within the circuit.
Jeremy Jacobs, billionaire owner of the Boston Bruins and chairman of Delaware North, used to effectively rule the Wellington scene from his 21,000-square-foot mansion on the sprawling Deeridge Farm.
But then, in 2006, a wealthy Boston developer named Mark Bellissimo arrived on the scene and bought the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center for $135 million. He’s still the owner and has expanded the festival into the grand event it is today.
Fancy boutiques can be found along the horse paths that connect competition rings and practice areas on the show grounds.
Events at WEF are often sponsored by luxury brands. Hermes’ line of horse products includes saddles that cost around $8,000.
Famous names and faces are common in the competition rings. Here, Georgina Bloomberg celebrates a good round in a Nations Cup event. Bloomberg is the 33-year-old daughter of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Susan Brown.
Jumping on the Nations Cup team for the USA here in Wellington was a life goal of mine, and last night I got to accomplish that goal. Being able to do so with a clear round and with such an amazing group of women as my teammates, made it even better than I could have imagined. I’m so proud of this amazing horse, to ride for this country, and to be a member of this team. #girlpower #likeagirl #teamusa #Lilli @usequestrian ( : @musejumping )
Jessica Springsteen, daughter of rocker Bruce, and her horse Cynar VA sail over a fence while judges watch.
Actor Tom Selleck’s daughter, Hannah, dresses up as Alice in Wonderland to ride in a competition for charity.
Congrats to #Ambassador @hannahselleck on her big win at the #LAMasters ! She rocked it in the charity class as Alice in Wonderland with teammate Jane Richard Philips as the Queen of Hearts ! Thanks for sharing your ❤️ for #justworldinternational ! #lamasters #longines #LIVEmasters #mastersgrandslam #repost @chronofhorse
As if the majorly rich weren’t wealthy enough, prize money for some of the events at WEF can top $500,000.
“Do you guys take checks?” A fitting victory for Boyd Martin at the Wellington Eventing Showcase during Ariat Week! #TeamAriat #Ariat #AriatWeek Repost @ariatinternational ・・・ Boyd Martin is Packing for the return trip from Wellington: Prize money ✔️ Gear bag ✔️ Ariat Terrains ✔️ and a big congratulations from #Ariat!!
Riders in traditionally glamorous white competition clothes prepare for their class by walking a course of jumps. A high-end competition outfit can easily cost upward of $1,000.
The horse show grounds are not the only place to host high-profile guests in Wellington. Prince Harry has been known to play in polo matches at the nearby International Polo Club.
Even President-elect Donald Trump has tried to get in on the action. In recent years, he has hosted the Trump Invitational show jumping event at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach property that’s located within a few miles of the Wellington community. Here, he poses in front of a jump with country singer Hunter Hayes.
As crazy as “Welly World” is, though, the horses really do come first. Owners spend a tremendous amount of money to ensure that their equine companions can perform their best in competition. Here, a horse and rider train in front of an equine palace.