Photos by Andrew Ryback
This past fall I once again traveled to World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, Ohio. The trip from California to Ohio is an annual excursion that I cherish, and the people at WEC have truly become like family. I am continuously amazed by the ongoing improvements to the facility and new, innovative ideas that enhance the experience for both horse and rider. And, with the highly anticipated WEC Ocala location coming in 2021, I’m certain the same high level of thought and expertise are currently being poured into WEC’s newest venue.
The heart of World Equestrian Center lies in their indoor vendor village, where every detail is executed to perfection. Lush leather couches and thoughtfully located seating areas are surrounded by tack stores, a salon and spa, an apothecary, a dog grooming studio and a chapel. Each morning while I was there, the executive chef put out donuts and cider, and even amongst the hustle and bustle, everyone stopped for a moment to grab a donut and a cup of cider, and to say a quick hello to their fellow competitors. The atmosphere of the vendor village is warm and welcoming, and I would often find myself settling into one of the cozy couches to catch up on work and connect with people, or perhaps taking a break to do a bit of vendor shopping myself!
You get a car, you get a car!
One of the most exciting things that emerged at WEC in 2019 was the addition of the WEC Premier Cup, where the winners are each awarded a car (yes, this is true) – not just a lease, but their actual own car. Horse show managements have certainly upped their prize game over the last decade, but WEC truly outdid themselves with this class. Yet, somehow the stories of the winners were even more engaging than the classes themselves; like one rider who impressively catch rode a horse and went on to win the Premier Equitation Championship Class! This new series further proves how dedicated WEC is to elevating the sport.
The Cadets are Set
Each week during the show seasons, young riders meet at 7:00am on Saturdays to partake in the Cadets Horsemanship Program. Riders are introduced to industry professionals, learn valuable hands-on horsemanship skills and have the opportunity to subsidize the cost of competing at World Equestrian Center through participation in the program. The Program provides a community where young riders can learn, connect and further develop their horsemanship skills from a multitude of seasoned professionals, from vets, to photographers, to stewards, who are eager to give back and support the next generation. In the past few years since the Cadets Program was started, WEC has donated enthusiastically to young riders who participate in the Cadets Program. In the spirit of community, WEC knows how valuable the future of our sport is and takes the extra steps to ensure the success of these young equestrians.
Perfect Paddock Club
In the evenings, horse show competitors, trainers, spectators and their families migrate to the Paddock Club. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a long horse show day and to connect with friends. The menu at the Paddock Club continues to be enhanced as does the wine list. For me, raised in Sonoma, CA wine country, I love a horse show with a good wine list! While leaving WEC is always bitter-sweet, I know that upon my return there will be new amenities, often new buildings and new surprises. I am always grateful for my time in Ohio and for the relationship I have developed with the people at WEC!
The Future is Ocala
The much anticipated opening of World Equestrian Center Ocala is just a little under a year away. When the doors open in 2021, WEC Ocala will be the largest equestrian complex in the U.S. The inaugural schedule, which includes twelve weeks of World Equestrian Center hunter and jumper horse shows, begins in January and runs through March 2021. Prize money for the weekly events is proposed to top $400,000 per week with overall circuit money and prizes projected to reach nearly $5 million – and that’s just the beginning. WEC Ocala will have its own hotel on grounds with 18,000 square feet of attached retail space, a 3-acre outdoor stadium arena, climate-controlled stabling, climate-controlled arenas, a variety of restaurants including fine-dining options, and much, much more. WEC Ocala looks to be the Disneyland of show jumping in the U.S., and I will be waiting with bated breath to catch my first glimpse inside the gates of the future of equestrian sport at WEC Ocala.
For more information, visit World Equestrian Center’s website at worldequestriancenter.com or follow along on Facebook and Instagram @worldequestriancenter.