It is only November but Wellington is already kicking off the 2019 equestrian season! Hosted by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Victor Connor of Connor Financial Group since 2010, Wellington Chamber members and business owners gathered at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) for the annual Kick-Off to the Equestrian Season Luncheon. New members were inducted and representatives Michael Stone and Mark Bellissimo of Equestrian Sport Productions and Noreen O’Sullivan of Gold Coast Classic Dressage spoke regarding what’s to come this season for their respective venues.

Victor Connor of Connor Financial Group
Victor Connor of Connor Financial Group

As a resident of Wellington since 1979 and former polo player turned hunter/jumper rider, Connor reminded the audience why Wellington is so special. “What started as a polo club by Bill Ylvisaker in 1978, has grown into an international equestrian destination,” stated Connor. “The equestrian industry is the single largest private sector economic industry in Wellington and the impact covers everything from our restaurants, gas stations, dry cleaners, landscapers and our real estate industry.”

Connor introduced Michael Stone to the podium and spoke briefly before introducing Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP) who own and operate the three biggest equestrian venues in Wellington. In a surprise appearance, a svelte Mark Bellissimo took to the podium to address “the elephant in the room”, alluding to the rumors that the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) was sold or up for sale, and that the other venues, and therefore the entire equestrian industry in Wellington, may be in jeopardy. Bellissimo quickly squashed the accusations.

Mark Bellissimo
Mark Bellissimo of Wellington Equestrian Partners

“Obviously a lot has gone on in the last year, and I’m just amazed at how many rumors can get created so quickly and so inaccurately,” Bellissimo said. “The bottom line is, what I want to talk about today is that we’re very excited about Wellington and about all of the different properties–International Polo Club (IPC), Global Dressage Festival (GDF) and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).”

Most notably, Bellissimo broke the news that there will be between 16-18 22-goal teams, a record for IPC. “We have a record-breaking sponsorship with the USPA who has come in for a significant investment, we’re doing prize money, we’re changing the sport,” said Bellissimo. “Another benefit is that last year there was only one American in the US Open, this year there will be 16 because there’s a rule that says an American has to be on every team. So essentially we’re re-establishing people’s interest in polo and getting to a point where we’re really going to energize the sport.”

Since WEP’s investment in the three equestrian facilities, they’ve had record years in terms of revenue and anticipate that record being broken again this year. “So from our perspective, Wellington is a community that we love, we’ve invested $350 million dollars in that community, it’s the largest investment in history,” said Bellissimo. “No, it’s not for sale. We will do our best to make this as an engaging and open environment as possible and we’ll make mistakes along the way, but one of them isn’t lack of commitment.”

Michael Stone
Michael Stone for Equestrian Sport Productions

Michael Stone spoke to the impact of the equestrian industry in the United States and the controversial World Equestrian Games at WEP’s North Carolina equestrian facility–Tryon International Equestrian Center.

“Even though there were lots of problems and lots of issues that are well-documented,” laughed Stone, “by the end of it all, the teams are happy, the spectators, 90% of them were happy because we made every effort to help them and change and fix it, we made it happen. And that’s because of Mark [Bellissimo] and his leadership, what he believes in, what we have to do for customer service and what we have to do to make things correct for the customer.”

The event concluded with remarks from Noreen O’Sullivan who reiterated the efforts of Gold Coast Classic Dressage that includes a year-round horse show series and educational programs, clinics, shows and seminars aimed at promoting and upgrading classical riding, and to offer a framework in which individuals can progress with the schooling of themselves and their horses.

To learn more about the International Polo Club, click here.

To learn more about the Global Dressage Festival, click here.

To learn more about Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, click here.

To learn more about Gold Coast Classic Dressage, click here.