Based in the equine heartland of Wellington, Florida, for close to nine years, Australian dressage rider Kelly Layne has built a successful business surrounded by her close-knit team. Their newest addition, a horse named Samhitas, is turning heads on the Global Dressage Festival circuit. Could this be the next name to appear on Australia’s Olympic selection radar?
Kelly Layne is no stranger to the international stage. As a young rider, she competed in New Zealand and Hong Kong, before going on to represent Australia at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, and later winning the Hermes’ Cup Small Tour championship at the Tokyo CDI3* in 2013.
Over the years, she has notched up numerous wins at CDIs in the United States and competed multiple horses at Grand Prix level with success. With her superstar Udon P, she was nominated for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, however, complications stemming from a recurring injury meant she ultimately decided to withdraw.
For the past nine years, Kelly has rented stables at Palm Beach Equine Sports Complex in Wellington, Florida, a region known for its plethora of equestrian facilities and events.
“We started out with four stables and have gradually grown the business; we now rent 16,” explains Kelly. The complex is extensive, providing tenants with everything they need to coach, train and ride at the highest level. “Palm Beach Equine Sports Complex has over 300 stables on 50 acres. There are three dressage arenas with mirrors, one covered, three jumping arenas and a three-quarter mile track. We also have a vet clinic with 28 veterinarians, an MRI machine, CT scanner and the best surgical team in the USA. Grand Prix feeds is also on the premises for hay, feed and shavings, straw, supplements and grooming supplies, plus there are many tack shops within a five-minute drive.”
The complex is located in the heart of Wellington’s equestrian hub. Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre is just down the road, and events such as the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) for show jumpers and Global Dressage Festival (GDF) are just a six-minute hack. From January to March, both WEF and GDF concurrently run their winter events that attract competitors from around the globe with a plethora of competitions to choose from and very lucrative prizemoney on offer. The GDF typically offers an incredible seven CDIs in the space of 12 weeks, and the venue hosts as many as nine per year with additional competitions such as the Fall Series.
“We are a six-minute hack to the warm-up on the Global showgrounds,” says Kelly. The close proximity to elite level competition is a huge upside to life in Wellington; alongside access to nine CDIs in a year with virtually no travel, Kelly says equine enthusiasts could watch world-class show jumping or polo just about every weekend. Over the winter months in particular, it’s the place to be.
“Many top trainers and judges from Europe are here in the winter. There are about 100 dressage horses at our barn in the winter (the rest are jumpers). In recent years at least nine of those horses have been competing in the CDI Grand Prix. I think surrounding yourself with this level of training and competition drives and motivates you to a higher standard. This has always been my motto.”
Kelly explains that the weather in Wellington is not dissimilar to her home state of Queensland; summer in Wellington is very hot and humid. Despite three months of unbearably hot weather (July, August and September), Kelly says she’d take it any day over a winter anywhere else in the northern hemisphere, except perhaps San Diego! “We have three months of very hot weather, but we also have seven months of the best weather imaginable for training horses… and then two months that have heavy rain and lightning. If there is a hurricane coming for us, we just pack up and leave. Last time we went to Tryon for two weeks and it was a fun vacation!”