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Equestrian meets Broadway for a cause

The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center hosted the 11th annual Great Charity Challenge on Feb. 1 in Wellington, Florida. While some would believe this evening event under the lights was a Broadway spectacular, it was actually a team of three horses and three riders wearing theatrical costumes to support their charities.


Riders Jessica Mendoza, Caroline Mewhinney and Ana Sofia Rodriguez galloped into the ring as one of the last teams to compete on Saturday night, dressed up as the cast from the musical “Chicago.” They crossed the finish line with the fastest time and secured the win, earning a $150,000 donation for their chosen charity, Spirit of Giving Network .


“This charity is a collaborative nonprofit, and we have 72 other nonprofit organizations underneath us,” Executive Director Lindy Harvey said. “Not only is this win helping us but it is helping so many other charities and thousands of local families as well.”


Riders; Jessica Mendoza, Caroline Mewhinney and Ana Sofia Rodriguez reflect on their winning round in the Great Charity Challenge.

Harvey was thrilled to see her team at the top of the podium, but her heart was filled knowing that every charity represented that night took home money for their cause.


Each charity represented by a team was awarded a minimum of $15,000 for participation. The event also gave out many other grants, including best team spirit, best-dressed horse, and a raffle that randomly selected several charities to receive money.


“Over 60 charities were represented here tonight. It is so amazing that we can just show up and we are able to take home money for our charities,” Harvey said. “We all work so hard for our money and to get grants and donors and this is just an amazing event to benefit local charities.”


Over the past 11 years, the Great Charity Challenge at the Winter Equestrian Festival has provided over $14 million to 256 organizations across Palm Beach County.


The three equestrian Broadway stars also won the best-dressed award, granting another $3,000 to the Spirit of Giving Network.


“We took a lot of time preparing our costumes and the horses,” professional rider Mendoza said. “It was amazing to go out there and win and especially to do it all for charity.”


While the horses were decked out in flashing lights, pearls and even suits and ties, the team of women dressed as flapper girls and businesswomen. They captured the spirit of the night's event and had the crowd cheering for them from beginning to end.


“This is my second year competing in this class, and it was amazing to represent this charity and of course win for them so we could donate money and hopefully make their year,” Junior rider Mewhinney said.


The Great Charity Challenge offered families a night to watch riders compete in fun costumes, eat delicious popcorn and take a ride on the carousel but also to remember that there are always ways to give back to the community.


By Kristen Franz

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