Wintering In Wellington, FL
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
From goat yoga to Grand Prix, my winter in Florida was a blast. For those of you ballin’ on a budget (99% of equestrians), I’m here to let you know that wintering in Florida is not out of reach. I explored it all—from free entertainment and affordable board to the obscenely expensive world of heiresses.
Board. If you live in an area where board is $300 per month, then you will find yourself experiencing some sticker shock. If you are paying for board or full training in the suburbs of a major city, then you will find that you don’t necessarily have to pay anymore than you currently pay. The standard options are full care or dry stall. I opted for a mix. Dry stalls are usually priced under $1000, but you must buy all of your own feed, bedding, and hay. You will also be responsible for all of your horse’s care. It is important to do the math. Hay is very expensive in Florida because it isn’t grown in state and since the grass has little to no nutritional value, you will need to supplement with more hay. I felt it was better to pay a flat rate than worry about the quality of hay that I could find/afford.
Since I lived on property, I had time to turn my horse out and do his stall. This shaved a few hundred dollars off of my full care bill that was initially almost exactly what I pay in the D.C. area for board AND training. This is an important distinction because the board in Florida is comparable to what I pay at home for both board and training (saying it again for the people in the back).
Care. There are number of things to consider with regards to care when your horse is in Florida. Allergies will be an issue, particularly when it starts to get hot. Many horses will have weepy eyes, but I also came across a few with severe skin irritation and I know of at least horse one that cannot tolerate the summers in South Florida and must be shipped north. I bought my horse in Wellington, so I had some idea of how he would tolerate the winter there, but even he had some allergy symptoms so don’t be surprised if you run into this particular issue.
Fly prevention is also very important. It does seem that some farms struggle more than others. My horse really didn’t have an issue, but be sure to ask the manager of the facility about their fly control system before you make your decision board there. The farm where I kept my horse had a spray system and a manure removal service that made a world of difference. You may consider starting your horse on a feed through supplement like Solitude to give yourself some peace of mind. I would also advise that you buy fly spray and a fly sheet before you arrive because Florida prices are inflated. I also found that it was worth shopping around for the best price for grain because my 17.1 hh Dutch Warmblood goes through a lot of it and a few dollars can make a huge difference.
There are a number of things you should do before you leave and clipping is one of them. It is kinder to clip a horse and ship them part of the way in a blanket than it is to have them arrive overheated. Acclimating to the heat is already difficult for the horses, do them a favor and make it as easy as possible.
Shipping. I have written about this at length in a previous article, but I will share my experience with long distance shipping on this particular occasion. Living in Maryland makes it easy to find a shipper because there are many scheduled trips up and down the east coast. Expect a bit more difficulty nailing down a shipper if you live in an area like Long Island. I knew it wouldn’t take just 14 hours for my horse to arrive, but I was slightly annoyed when it took a long 25 hours. When he finally arrived, it was hours after his scheduled arrival time and I had no way to contact the drivers because the office was closed. Having had similar experiences with other shipping companies in the past, I was probably not as irritated as I should have been. A friend had the same experience two months earlier. My horse is a good traveler, but I was grateful that I chose to ship him in a box stall and start him on Ulcergard before he left.
I chose Holly Hill Transport for the trip back and they were able to give me a firm date weeks before (the other company only confirmed the day before) and when it seemed like they might not be able to deliver due to inclement weather, they sent a rig from JR Hudson and they picked him up right on time. They gave me a good price and an accurate estimate of shipping times. My horse arrived home 18 hours later. I even passed him on the way and he managed to stick his nose out the window like an absolute goober (I expect nothing less from him). Bottom line: do your research on shippers. My research was more trial and error and at this point I have used many of the major companies. Holly Hill and JR Hudson provided the best service in my opinion.
You will probably want a car in Florida. I drove down, but an alternative is to ship your car from D.C. to Orlando on the Auto Train. You can get a ticket for yourself and then simply get off the train in Orlando and drive the 2.5 hours to Wellington. I am seriously considering this as an option for next season. Just pack your car and get on the train.
Competition. Competing in Florida is expensive. To compete at the national dressage shows at Global costs more than twice what I would pay to compete in the D.C. area. However, the show grounds are a great place to get your horse used to atmosphere. There are weekly schooling shows at White Fences for riders that need a more laid back experience. As many of you will consider boarding in White Fences, you should note that Global is about 20 minutes away. Even if you don’t plan on showing, it is good to know how long it will take to get to the weekend entertainment, but more on that later. I opted not to compete this year because of where I am in my training, but next season it’s on!
Housing. I found last minute housing through a Facebook group and it worked out that I was able to make arrangements to board my horse on property. Many of the Facebook groups focus solely on stabling so I created a group specifically for human housing. Facebook isn’t a bad way to go if you feel comfortable with that and your housing needs are uncomplicated. I only needed one bedroom and the ability to bring my dog—a cocker spaniel named Chowder (you didn’t ask, but I’m telling you anyway). If you have more complicated needs for your housing, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reach out to a realtor. I have found that rental listings are not always kept up-to-date so it is helpful to have someone navigate that for you. It should cost you little to nothing to do so.
Entertainment. During season there is plenty to do in Wellington. On Friday nights, you can catch the dressage freestyles at Global. The parking is $10.00, but the event is free. Saturday night entertainment is just across the street at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center where you can watch the top show jumpers compete for big purses and in charity events. You’ll want to get there early to find a good seat and there is free parking and a shuttle at Global for those who don’t want to pay to park. There is plenty of food at the venue and the kettle corn is addictive, but you will find that all of the locals will bring a cooler filled with goodies from Publix. If you’re feeling fancy, head over to the International Polo Club on Sunday to watch in a polo tournament. You can buy a meal or just wait until they give out champagne and ice cream on the field. Be sure to stay abreast of any clinics taking place because there will be many and we were lucky enough to take in a last minute clinic with Carl Hester.
All of these events are inexpensive and fun, but you may decide you could do without laying eyes on a horse for a while, in which case, there are plenty of other things to check out. The beach is never far away and the South Florida Fair is in West Palm in January. Lion Country Safari is fun for those of you with children (and for those without) and a day trip to Miami or Orlando is a nice change of pace. I certainly can’t forget to mention my experience with Downward Goat. I happened to stay with the couple that runs this business and I was invited to participate. On a sunny morning, I unrolled my mat surrounded by goats. In attendance there were yogis of all levels and a few participants chose to simply interact with the goats. I can’t lie—it was relaxing. A wonderful instructor and the presence of those funny little creatures is enough to make you forget the outside world for a little while. You can find Downward Goat classes all around town.
Shopping. So. Many. Vendors. If you were hoping to try a new brand of tack, apparel, or feed, know that you can find it all in Wellington. The show grounds are home to many vendors and the most popular tack store in town, the Tackeria, is just across the street. For non-equestrian shopping, you will find high-end shops in West Palm Beach.
In terms of weekly grocery shopping I did miss Wegman’s when I was in Florida, but I have to say that Publix is a worthy substitute. Their chicken tender subs are legendary and they sell fresh empanadas and croquettes in the bakery section. #heaven
Dining. Favorites include Don Ramon’s Cuban restaurant, Gabriel’s for brunch, Agliolio’s for Italian, Casa Tequila for Mexican, and Moon Thai and Japanese. There are also many places to eat in West Palm Beach. I love sushi and while Sushi Moto is a good choice, I also really like Sushi Fan. Morgan’s Country Kitchen is a really great alternative for brunch. It is in an industrial park so don’t worry, you’re in the right place. There will likely be a wait, but it won’t be long. If you like a ham and biscuits type of breakfast, then this is the place to go. If you need dessert, then Loxahatchee Ice Cream and Coffee is a few miles up Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and you should bring a friend because the sundaes are huge!
Wintering in Florida was an experience I will never forget and one that I am highly likely to repeat. Cost is often a concern, but ultimately, the expense of your trip will depend on your reasons for going in the first place. If you want to be in full training and compete, then you can expect to pay a pretty penny. If you just want to get out of the cold weather and ride, you can certainly find a way to do so.