The Winter Equestrian Festival, fondly referred to as WEF, is by far one of the most anticipated, attended, and premier equestrian events worldwide. Competitors from all over the world participate, some simply for the experience, and others, for the ultimate title of best horse-and-rider team in their class.

This will be my 5th year in Wellington, which is synomomus with WEF, and by most standards you could say that I’m just getting warmed up. I’ve been an equine bodyworker for 10 years now and while I’ve learned more in the last four years at Wellington than at any other point in my career, there is one aspect of this phenomena called WEF, that stands out above all.

Imagine the moment when a rider is offered the chance to compete in Wellington. After perhaps years of training, the time is right, the horse is ready, the rider is committed. They make their way to the Sunshine State, set up temporary living quarters for horse and human, and go about preparing for what may be ultimately referred to as their ‘finest hour’.

I won’t pretend to know all of the intricacies of preparing for an event like this. I’ve had but a glimpse into this world of riders, trainers, owners, farriers, dentists, bodyworkers, braiders, vets, grooms, clippers, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, osteopaths, feed suppliers, tack stores, shippers, and security guards. But we all have one common goal … to provide the horse with the best care possible.

From January to March it’s as if the entire, global, equine community relocates to Florida. And while most of you are thinking that sounds like a great place to spend the cold winter months, the majority of these professionals will work 14 hour days, and 6 1/2 days each and every week. Coffee and Red Bull become their own separate food group, and sleep is a highly sought-after commodity. It cannot be over-stated enough just how long, and hard, each of these individuals work, each and everyday of this 12-week circuit. And in this arena, hard work does not always pay off. Only one horse-and-rider team (per class) will walk away with the blue ribbon.

So, we all play our part in supporting these elite, equine athletes. And I’m certain that everyone involved will agree with me when I say that I hope they all walk out of the competition arena, at the very least, FEELING like a blue ribbon winner.

All photographs are the property of Marie Riley.