SPORTS — March 1, 2018 at 5:32 am

Annual Winter Equestrian Festival features horseback riding competitions

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On every Saturday from January to April, the annual Winter Equestrian Festival takes place at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, offering free entrance, activities and entertainment to the public. Participants must pay a $20 parking fee or a $30 valet fee. The events start at 6 p.m. and last until around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

Expert riders from around the world can lead their horses through jumping courses, with each jump reaching nearly five feet. The events range from equitation, which are judged based on the grace and elegance of the rider and the horse, to speed rounds, which test how quickly the rider and horse can move.

In the speed rounds, riders breeze past a starting point that sets off a timer. When a pole is knocked down, an extra four seconds are added to the rider’s time, which means they will need to increase their speed to make up for added time.

Other forms of competition include a relay race in which one rider lands a jump, another goes forward or two sides of the arena are set up to look exactly the same and two riders complete the speed rounds side-by-side doing the same jumps.

Each rider memorizes a course of jumps to complete, each trying to get it done more quickly than the last. The winning team with the fastest speed and least poles knocked down will be able to choose from a wide variety of charities, such as animal rescue organizations and hospitals, to donate the winning proceeds to.

The event is also inclusive of people who observe from the bleachers, with a kiss cam, t-shirt tossing and raffle. During the event, there is an all-inclusive carousel, petting zoo, face painting, pony rides and live entertainment.

Every Saturday holds a new theme for which the horses and riders dress up accordingly. Event themes include battle of the sexes, superhero vs. villains night or different color themes.

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