Bigger, better, faster, stronger.

That’s right, I had the lyrics to a Kanye West song in my head during this year’s opening press conference at the Winter Equestrian Festival, one day before competition began on Tuesday, January 6th. The annual event kicks off the WEF season, and also gives Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo the chance to address the assembled press and tell them how he’s gotten bigger, better, faster, stronger. And hats off to him, because every year, WEF indeed becomes bigger, stronger, etc. So what’s new this year?

Four weeks of five star competition. That’s twice as many as last year and with the exception of the Longines LA Masters in California, the only venue in the United States to offer FEI five-star rated classes, where riders can earn the most FEI ranking points per class.

48 FEI World Ranking Classes. Even more FEI ranking classes have been added to the 12-week show schedule. It’s the reason that WEF is such a draw for riders around the world. They can enjoy the Florida weather and keep chasing a higher world ranking, all season long. Rider Kent Farrington was in attendance at the press conference, and commented that “More important than the number of classes is the quality of classes. Rolex (as a partner and major sponsor of the circuit) raises the prestige of the sport and quality of the classes.”

Staggered schedule. Speaking of quality of classes, the high performance schedule has been staggered, so that bigger rated weeks aren’t stacked together, which will hopefully help to prevent the all-too-familiar WEF burnout that tends to sneak in around Week 9.  The first CSI5* week is Week 4 of WEF.

More parking! Yes, this deserves an exclamation point. 150 parking spaces have been added to the facility, somewhere near or behind the temporary stabling. For all of you who have circled the parking lots incessantly or angled your car across a ditch to find a spot, any additional parking is good parking.

Video clips/live streaming. Via ShowGroundsLive, (which has a new look and redirect, check it out here) will offer video clips of each show round. This feature is said to be undergoing testing during Week 1, and will be available Week 2. Last year, every Saturday night class was streamed online; this year that will happen again, along with the livestreaming of some Thursday WEF Challenge Cup Classes. No word yet on if those classes will be overflowing with 110+ riders almost every week, as they were last year.

Three day eventing. Yes, three day eventing. ESP President Michael Stone has organized an exhibition event during Week 4 of WEF. It will be an Invitational with $50,000 in prize money and the top 30 eventing riders in the USA will be invited to compete over an advanced course designed by Captain Mark Phillips. Held at The Stadium/Global Dressage Festival Grounds, the cross country will be held between the derby and polo fields, with a line of sight of the cross country jumps for everyone who wants to come out and watch. Each year WEF outdoes itself with a new spectacle of interest, and this certainly fits the bill for 2015.

The Winter Equestrian Festival runs from January 7th through March 29th, 2015 and offers over $8.2 million dollars in prize money. Bellissimo noted that it has a greater economic impact in South Florida that golf, tennis, or baseball spring training events combined. Today is the first day of showing, and something like 1,600 horses are entered to compete. Today. That’s 1,600 horses just for today. Don’t worry everyone, it was announced that more stabling has been added to accommodate the ever-increasing, bigger, faster, stronger, demand. And away we go. . .