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Great Charity Challenge raises $1.7M for local nonprofits

Horse and rider participate in the Great Charity Challenge at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center

Photo by Great Charity Challenge

The Great Charity Challenge, a show that combines equestrian sport and philanthropy, returns Feb. 5 as part of the Winter Equestrian Festival.

People from all over the world come to the festival in Wellington, known as the “Winter Equestrian Capital of the World.” Sponsored by Fidelity Investments, this year’s 13th annual Great Charity Challenge is providing $1.7 million to nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County.

The father/daughter duo of Mark and Paige Bellissimo founded the challenge in 2009 to increase funding to local nonprofits after the 2008 economic crisis.

Charities are randomly selected for the event. This year 33 nonprofit organizations are paired with equestrian teams and sponsors to receive shares of the $1.7 million purse.

The competition is relay-style jumping, with the teams consisting of two junior/amateur riders and one Olympic or world-class rider.

The champion team’s nonprofit will receive $100,000; all the selected nonprofits are guaranteed a minimum grant of $15,000. To view a full list of participating charities, visit

Last year’s Great Charity Challenge was held virtually. The theme amid the COVID pandemic was “heroes,” allowing horses and riders to dress in impressive, sometimes patriotic garb.

“Seeing the level of need in our community and knowing how difficult the past year has been, we quickly realized that we couldn’t turn our backs on our most vulnerable neighbors,” Mark Bellissimo said. “We are truly grateful to see that the community was able to adapt to this format while stepping up to provide crucial funding to local organizations.”

Over the years, creative costumes have included a horse painted like a zebra for a “jungle” theme and Paige Bellissimo dressed as Princess Elsa from “Frozen” for an “animated movies” theme.

Feb. 5, the riders and horses will compete as characters from children’s story books to highlight the importance of literacy and capture the imagination of attendees.

The festival also provides a variety of food, shops, a carousel and carnival games.

Postage Stamp Farm Foundation is hosting the inaugural Pet Parade Contest for children and their pets.

The costume contest begins at 6:30 p.m. in the International Ring. The nonprofit organizations supported by the first 15 preselected contestants will share $25,000 in prize money. Each child entered is guaranteed $1,000 toward a chosen cause.

General admission and parking are free. The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is at 3400 Equestrian Club Drive.


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