Break out your visors and your sunscreen – the first day of competition at the 2015 HITS Thermal Desert Circuit kicked off yesterday, January 14th in Thermal, California. The West Coast’s biggest and best winter circuit will be the place to be for the next two and a half months.

So what’s new this year at HITS Thermal? What’s bigger and better? We’ve got your roundup of what you can expect in West Coast winter circuit action this year:

More of a good thing. Formerly a six-week long circuit, this year Thermal has expanded its schedule by two weeks, resulting in a solid two months of showing in the desert. This week’s Week 1 is beginning earlier than the circuits of the past, and with the traditional break week still on the schedule from February 10th – 15th, it makes for nine solid weeks in Southern CA.

Grand prix goodness. Those two additional weeks of circuit mean two more grand prix classes are on offer this season, beginning this weekend with the first of 18 total qualifying classes for HITS’ $1 Million Saugerties Grand Prix in September. The two FEI World Cup Qualifiers, valuable classes for West Coast World Cup hopefuls, are still on the schedule too, during Weeks Four and Five.

Money money money. HITS Shows are all about the money – the prize money, and the organization has attracted more attention and many more exhibitors these past few years with their high dollar classes. Over $3 million in prize money will be given away this season at HITS Thermal, including the $1 AIG Thermal Million Grand Prix. (Sidenote: while the Thermal Million is not yet FEI rated, HITS announced today that their 2015 Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix has been awarded an FEI CSI-5* rating. Here’s hoping that the 2016 $1 Thermal Million earns an FEI rating as well, as it will lend even more credibility and quality to this class.)

New footing was installed in the Grand Prix Stadium and schooling ring last fall in time for the National Sunshine Series. Exhibitors praised the new footing and the horses will surely appreciate this upgrade in ground surface during the most demanding competitions of the circuit.

An on-site pop up spa will debut at Thermal, courtesy of Skin Style Beverly Hills. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in the desert, you’ve experienced the “Thermal grime” layer of sandy dust that sinks into your pores and leaves you feeling like you’ve been rolling about in the Sahara. But for every problem, there is a solution, and Skin Style at HITS Thermal will offer the very welcome services of massage therapy, masks, peels, and a full range of skincare products. It’s located at the far end of the Go Rentals VIP Club – see you there!

Over 2,500 horses are expected to ship in each week to Thermal. The HITS Desert Horse Park’s abundance of space never makes it feel crowded, not even during its sold out weeks, which is expected for Week VI. Let the winter circuit begin!