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LIFEofpessoa by Alexa Pessoa

The Gloves Are Off For a sport that struggles as it is to compete with giants such as golf and tennis, it is a shame to have a conflict within show jumping hindering the increase in prize money.

both individual equestrians and also some of the most prestigious events throughout the world. Longines is newer to the game, but has swiftly snapped up major show jumping sponsorships to make their presence known. After a conflict over the FEI World Cup series last year (which Longines eventually won) as well as the title sponsorship of the Global Champions Tour, the two brands have established a hearty rivalry. Here we are again! The Pessoas are back in Wellington, Florida for another action-packed winter season of show jumping at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. I may not have been around in the 1980s when the show grounds were being built, but I can attest to the tremendous growth that it has undergone over the past 15 years. In that time, Wellington has become nearly unrecognizable. For better or worse, what was once just open (swamp) land is now home to some of the sport’s most competitive horses, riders and owners. Where every farm being built seems to be bigger and more elaborate than the last, Wellington has cemented its reputation as the place to be from January to March. With the steady growth of infrastructure at FTI WEF throughout the years, the one piece of the puzzle that was becoming hard to ignore was the prize money. The powers that be had been promising to raise the purses for years, but they had yet to come up with a big splashy sponsor to fill such a tall order. Until now… As 2013 came to a close, FTI WEF’s Mark Bellissimo managed to sign a deal with Rolex for the Winter Equestrian Festival that would finally be the answer to their prize money woes. Unfortunately, the deal was concluded after the FEI mandated, October 1st cutoff date for submitting the star level for each week of the season. The procedure to increase your star level to 5* after the October 1st cutoff date is based on the conflicting 5* events throughout the world signing-off of the change. This is where the gloves came off. Our sport is witnessing one of the most intense sponsorship rivalries of all time. Rolex and rival watchmaker Longines are competing not only in the world of the luxury timepiece market, but also in the world of show jumping. Rolex has been a longtime supporter of all equestrian sports; they sponsor

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And now, that sparring has landed right here in our backyard in Wellington. The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival approached three separate 5* events all taking place on the other side of the Atlantic to see if they would consider allowing the events in Florida to be raised to 5* status as well. All three said “No.” Two of the three shows are directly supported by Longines and were directed to not make any compromises to a Rolex sponsored event. The third show, which takes place in Paris, France does not have a connection with Longines but felt that the WEF prize money being raised would take riders away from Europe and thus away from their event. For a sport that struggles as it is to compete with giants such as golf and tennis, it is a shame to have a conflict within show jumping hindering the increase in prize money. But one thing is for sure, Mark Bellissimo and the Winter Equestrian Festival aren’t giving up on their quest to raise the bar, and next year will see more 5* events in Wellington than anyone ever thought possible. And Wellington is sure to continue on its steady march towards becoming the undisputed premier winter circuit destination in the world.

Writer Alexa Pessoa, an amateur rider and business owner, is profiled on page 8.

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