March 2017 - Why Florida, and Why Not
Written by Genay Vaughn
Tuesday, 28 February 2017 03:05

“Welly World” is part of the progression for high performance horses and riders.

by Genay Vaughn

Why travel all the way from California to Wellington, Florida for the winter? It seems like more and more Californians are making the journey, and this year, I made the trip with my two horses, “DW” Donarweiss GGF and “Whinny” Winchezter.

Why Florida?

Genay and her 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF, aka “DW” are in Florida for training with Debbie McDonald as Genay pursues her goal to qualify to compete in Europe again.

For me, it was to train with Debbie McDonald and compete in the U25 Grand Prix with the goal of qualifying to compete in Europe again. For this column, I wanted to look at the different reasons equestrians travel to Florida, as well as some of the pros and cons.

They Call It “Welly World”

Wellington, Florida, IS a world all its own. Everywhere you go there are equestrians whether it’s jumping, dressage or polo. You can’t go to the grocery store or a restaurant without seeing the majority of people in breeches or running into someone you know from the horse world. Events are going on constantly: shows, charity fundraisers, high stakes classes, you name it.

The Adequan Global Dressage Festival is the world’s largest international dressage circuit, with seven FEI Dressage events, including a 5* and the only FEI Nations’ Cup Series CDIO in the Western Hemisphere, in 11 weeks. The Winter Equestrian Festival is the largest and longest-running circuit in horse sport, a 12-week showjumping competition for hunters, jumpers, and equitation.

High performance competitors move to Florida because of the competition and, especially for the show jumpers, the prize money. There can be 30 or more entries in a single Grand Prix class, and some of the best riders in the world regularly compete against each other. Sponsors support the shows with more prize money every year. You can really see dressage, and other equestrian sports, treated as a legitimate sport.

People from Europe are also coming because of access to the shows, prize money, great facilities, amazing footing, nice stadium and lots of fans. Everywhere you look there are top trainers and riders, along with the vets and farriers who help keep the horses at the top of their game.

Some riders come to Florida to try to qualify for a team, such as the World Cup or the Olympics. Others are here to give their high performance horses exposure to a big environment in preparation for European competition.
It may be a long trip from California or New York, but once you are in Wellington the show grounds are so close. For instance, the drive to both WEF and Global is about five to seven minutes from our barn. A lot of people trail ride their horses over to the show grounds because they live so close.

Because of this close proximity, the horses can go home and sleep at night if you wish. Trainers can go back and forth, teaching clients at home and at the shows – they don’t have to worry about clients feeling left out if they don’t show.

People back east who, at home, would be in really bad weather get to enjoy Florida’s ideal winter weather, where most of the days are in the high 70s and low 80s.

On the Other Hand

One of the most obvious downsides to traveling to Florida is simply the cost. It is expensive! The average cost of a season in Florida is about $30,000 per horse.

Dressage Life: Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS,and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at:

It’s a long trip by trailer from California to Florida, or an expensive but shorter trip by air. Last month I talked about what air travel is like with horses, and I’m glad I was able to ship mine by air as I think it’s easier.

Because of the warm and humid Florida weather, there is a lot of fungus. Maintaining the horses is more difficult than in California. We are constantly washing them, and they have to dry in front of a fan. They can never be put back in their stalls when they are still wet because you are most likely asking to get fungus.

Most trainers don’t stay in Florida during the summer months. They typically have a home barn in another part of the country, and move to Florida just for the winter competition season. As a result, they usually have an assistant at their home barn to take care of clients who don’t travel to Florida for the season. It’s a lot to manage one barn in Florida and another barn long distance, even with the help of an assistant.

Coast to Coast CDIs

Having been fortunate to compete in California CDIs before I came to Florida for training and competition, I have to say that CDIs in my home state helped prepare me for the atmosphere in Florida and the exposure that goes along with it. I know that my horses and I are gaining some great experience as well as great training here.

There is good reason for CDIs in California – we need shows where high performance riders and horses test themselves in a CDI atmosphere and prepare to move on to even bigger challenges. Dressage is a progression of training, and being able to go from showing in national-level shows close to home, to showing at California CDIs, is preparation for CDIs in Florida or Europe.

Luckily for we Californians, show dates are scheduled so that it’s possible to ride in California and Florida CDIs. We can be strategic about which CDIs we choose for our horses, taking advantage of shows closer to home throughout the year as well as those concentrated within the Florida circuit.