At Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 2, village staff presented the committee with statistics about the health of the horse sports industry in Wellington. The details were accumulated by data from horse show venues and include dressage shows, hunter-jumper shows and polo tournaments.
Equestrian Preserve Committee Chair Jane Cleveland stressed the importance of getting to this point in the process of accumulating data in order to understand how the horse sports industry is doing in Wellington.
“This committee has talked about a state of the industry report for more than a year,” Cleveland said. “It has been a part of the plan of action. There is not an economic development committee in Wellington, so this falls onto us.”
Cleveland noted the unique role that equestrian sports play in the local economy.
“The horse industry is certainly the economic engine of Wellington,” she said. “This committee has talked a lot about not relying on speculation as to what the real numbers are as far as population and horse show attendance.”
When discussing the Equestrian Venues Data and Horse Count Estimates, Cleveland thanked committee members Annabelle Garrett and Dr. Kristy Lund for their work in pulling the numbers together.
“This represents data we have never had,” Cleveland said. “It’s fantastic to have this data.”
In November 2018, the Equestrian Preserve Committee presented the Equestrian Plan of Action to the Wellington Village Council. The committee sought to have better data and to understand how the equestrian industry impacts Wellington, which, in turn, would lead to better short-term and long-term planning.
Garrett and Lund began accumulating horse show entry numbers for the last 10 years from the local venues. The data came from web site information online and information requests from equestrian associations. The information was then put together in a report by Wellington staff, led by committee liaisons Michael O’Dell and Ryan Harding.
The Winter Equestrian Festival has shown an increase in horse sports activity, from 3,007 horses entered in 2009 compared to 6,881 horses in 2019.
Wellington dressage shows have risen from three United States Dressage Federation-recognized horse shows in 2009 to 15 USDF-recognized horse shows in 2019. Horses entering these shows has increased from 148 horses in 2009 to 977 horse entries in 2019, but it is down from 2015, when 1,139 horses were entered at recognized USDF shows in Wellington.
While horse shows have increased, the data shows that polo has decreased in tournaments and teams.
The polo information was accumulated from the United States Polo Association and various polo clubs like the International Polo Club Palm Beach, Grand Champions, Outback, Gulfstream, Hobe Sound, Palm City, Palm Beach Polo, Port Mayaca, Royal Palm, Santa Clara and the Villages. The polo data accumulated includes national, circuit and sanctioned tournaments as far back as 2005.
The number of specific horses varies at each game, as each team does not always have the same number of competitive horses at each tournament. The data shows that a high-goal team may have as many as 50 to 200 horses, where a medium-goal team may have half the horses.
The committee data shows that in 2009, there were 27 local polo tournaments, and in 2019, there were 19. The highest year for tournaments was in 2011, with 37 local tournaments. The number of locally stabled polo team entries was at its highest in 2007 at 238 teams playing the season. In 2019, 105 polo teams took part in the tournaments.
Some of the additional information was accumulated from the stall counts and waste disposal amounts reported by manure haulers. The data shows at the height of season, there can be between 17,000 to 20,000 horses in Wellington. There are 10,000 permanent stalls and 3,000 temporary stalls in Wellington, according to O’Dell.
O’Dell and Harding presented the details of the information to the committee and answered questions about what was discovered.
Regarding polo, they cautioned that it was uncertain that all of the information in the report represented an accurate snapshot of the health of the polo industry because the numbers may have not taken into account leisurely polo games played on fields around the community, versus teams playing in competitions.
“This is another one of those areas, where the report highlights, we don’t have specific numbers on the number of ponies involved [in a tournament],” O’Dell said. “Any given team varies widely. So, there is another area that we don’t have solid information.”
Cleveland asked Committee Member Carlos Arellano, who is involved in the polo industry, where to get the information.
“It is very difficult to say how many horses a team brings in,” Arellano explained. “A player may have horses that he wants to play half a chukker, he brings 12 horses. The other player has two horses hurt so he only brings nine. Some horses are stabled at Port Mayaca but come over here to compete, and then go back.”
Lund said it might not be necessary to get an actual count of polo ponies.
“I think it would only be relevant if you are tracking actual horse numbers for manure,” she said. “But to track how well polo is doing, I think tracking the number of teams is fine.”
Vice Chair Glen Fleischer commented on the polo data from the report.
“The question that it raised for me is how do we feel about what the data says here,” he said. “Am I reading it right that the data shows, at least over the last five years or so, a decline in the number of [polo] tournaments?”
Fleischer said the data is showing a downward trend with a slight uptick in 2019.
“So, when I look at WEF and dressage, I see the upward trend, but when I look at polo, it’s showing a downward transition. So, something isn’t sitting right. What are we missing?”
Arellano said that polo is hard to track with teams playing at various levels and players sometimes playing on several teams.
“We have had more tournaments and games this past season than ever before,” he said. “What we may be missing is a high-goal player may be playing on an 18-goal tournament and may be playing in the 22-goal tournament with the same horses.”
The polo data shows tournaments, teams and horses in the statistics, but further polo data may be needed. The committee and village staff are looking into further exploratory ways of gathering this horse-related information.
“We have a way to go, but what a fantastic start,” Cleveland said.