Welly World always induces in me an image of Disneyland for horse people, complete with a carnival (at times, three, four or ten ring circus) atmosphere. My annual pilgrimage this year put me in mind of a water park adventure, you know the kind I mean. Riding a log roller coaster while getting soaked, along with a handful of screaming pals.
The ‘wet’ theme of this year comes from the fact that I’ve never been there through so much rain. I think there were three rain day cancellations/reschedulings at both the jumping and dressage venues in January alone. And the ‘wild’ is always there in Welly World, a nonstop revolving door of the comings and goings of just about half the horse sporting world. The jumping – from FEI classes right down to the pathetic money-grab of the cross rail division – has been bursting at PBIEC’s seams for years, and now dressage is catching up. Sr. B should be giving away t-shirts that say ‘build it and they will come’. Because they have. In droves.
Entries for the CDI5*/3* last week were nothing short of staggering, with somewhere around 70 horses between the two Grand Prix classes. That’s more entries than there were Grand Prix horses on this continent not so very long ago. You really do have to see it to believe it, as I’ve said before. If you haven’t seen the crazy World of Welly yet, you have missed out on something truly remarkable. I guarantee you will be enthralled. And then exhausted by the social schedule.
In addition to grazing from my usual favourite Welly restaurants like Kontiki and Sushi Moto, I was introduced to some new places on this trip. A couple of Canadian friends showed me what fine all-day-breakfasts are served with a smile and a light touch on the wallet at Gabriel’s Cafe and Grill – a hopping- busy, no-nonsense joint that has lovingly preserved its Old School interior, from wood paneled walls to dozens of old polo photos. The Irish Eggs Benedict (corned beef hash!) was as delicious as it was generously sized.
Not quite so gratifying an experience awaited me just around the strip mall corner at Backstreet, which I would like to suggest change its name to Back Alley – since that’s what the ‘patio’ out back under a concrete overhang feels like. The drinks were cheap, I’ll give them that. And I believe I have figured out why Canada’s Captain L’Amazing reputedly enjoys a meal there now and again – escargot is a surprising item on the menu. I can’t say my first impression left me feeling confident to order escargot from Backstreet, but perhaps they rock the snails.
A couple of years ago I lamented the end of the Player’s Club when it was re-branded The Coach House – unsuccessfully as it happens. It’s been born yet again now as Suri West. I’ve heard reviews ranging from dismal to perfectly adequate, but with the proviso that the prices are rather steep. In my book ‘perfectly adequate’+high price=disappointment. I gave it a miss.
Enough about eating. How about that Eventing, Welly-style? I was fully prepared to hate its debut last year, but found myself falling in love in great surprise – sort of like the surprise charming Virginia Madsen must have felt when she fell for sad-sack frump booze hound Paul Giamatti in Sideways. They moved the date of the Eventing a bit later this year, which meant that I wasn’t able to see it live – though I’ve seen plenty of footage of the gallop through the VIP tent that was this year’s feature selling point.
And speaking of surprise, I was pleasantly so upon reading a thoughtful and not entirely uncritical blog about this year’s Eventing on CoTH of all places. I admire Allie Conrad for sticking her neck out in front of Sr. B. Thumbs way up there. But I don’t entirely agree with her position that Eventing in Welly World doesn’t serve much purpose beyond giving rich, bored people something else to throw money at. I believe that if you ask any Eventer interested in the growth of the discipline what they think, they’ll give Welly Eventing a hearty Hell Yeah. Just like Indoor Eventing, which has its share of detractors, it’s a platform for gaining new fans, and goodness knows Eventing needs more fans everywhere outside the UK, and maybe New Zealand.
I’ve got some more Welly reflections for you, but I’ll call it a day here and be back with more shortly.