Palema Trotting, a world class training camp and premier facility for harness horses, trainers, staff and guests is open and establishing head-turning credentials right here in Vero Beach. Located on the southeast corner of 66th Avenue and 53rd Street, the facility sits on 64 acres originally enhanced with a large estate home, 18 box stable and a large show horse arena under a roof.
Repurposed with the vision of training harness horses for at least six months of the year, the facility has been further enhanced and modified to now include an oval track designed by Charles E. Coon and Sons, Inc., ample high quality housing facilities for staff and guests as well as paddocks, boxes and pasture for some of the most beautiful standardbred horses in the sport of harness horse racing. There is even an underwater treadmill for these young equine trotters and pacers to use for strength training and treatment of muscle injury. The facility is breath-taking and the story behind what is happening right here in our midst is exciting for anyone who can appreciate the potential and the commitment of time and love put into operating such a facility and training some of the most spirited creatures on earth.
Swedish mogul Karl-Erik Bender/Palema Stables – owner of the late Alf Palema, the 1992 Hambletonian winner, owns and operates Palema Trotting along with Sweden’s number one harness horse trainer and driver, Ake Svanstedt and his wife, Sarah. Palema Trotting is a special and exciting new facility for Florida. Not only is this training camp home to White Bliss, the rare all-white standardbred who made headlines in May of 2012, it is now the part-time home to the Svanstedt family. And in the world of harness horse racing, it is said that there is only one Ake Svanstedt.
Having driven by the impressive facility on 66th and wondered what it was from a distance, it is most interesting to find out how Vero Beach became the home of such an international force and world-class talent. Now celebrating 30 years in Florida, award winning Helmet House Construction owners Jan and Rhoda Jelmby have been a driving force in bringing fellow Swedes to our unique town. Starting their U.S. business after originally owning and running a successful business in Sweden, the Jelmbys initially saw and recognized the potential and quality of life in Vero Beach. “It was easy to choose Vero as our new home base as it reminded us Swedes and our extended family of our Swedish environment. We wanted to go to a country that offered us the opportunity to expand. Vero reminds all of us of the cleanliness in Sweden and it is also not overpopulated. We had the opportunity to go anywhere in Florida – but other towns and cities did not have the quaintness of Vero Beach. Being qualified to build luxurious homes, in Vero Beach we had the potential to deploy the quality and workmanship we have become known for over the years,” states Jan Jelmby.
The Bender family, also originally from Sweden, had established a roof tile manufacturing plant in Ocala, Florida in 1986. Helmet House and the Benders worked together to establish their quality products in Florida. In 2008, the Benders wanted a vacation home in Florida so they contacted the Jelmbys about possibly building their US home thinking that the Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach area would be their first choice. Encouraging the Benders to visit their family living in Vero Beach, the Jelmbys set about convincing Karl-Eric Bender and his entire family to build not only their new vacation home in Vero Beach but to also build their new US equine training facility closer to their vacation home. The Benders, who already own a trotting facility in Sweden and have previously wintered horses in Florida thought it made sense to locate a future horse training facility closer to their home but still wanted to check out that area. Jelmby shares that, “A day after their originally planned 3-day trip to the Ft. Lauderdale / West Palm Beach area to scout land for a facility, they called me and said they were coming back to Vero Beach – this rat race down here is not for us!”
Helmet House was given opportunity to build the Bender family compound on the river. Karl-Eric then approached Jan about purchasing land in Vero to build his new horse facility. Jan researched the area and a few days later called the Bender patriarch, “there is a beautiful 64 acre plot that already has an existing facility with numerous buildings already in place …and it is up for sale.” With a large arena to show horses in competitive events and an 18 stall stable, it was very attractive. Notably interested in the new opportunity that Jan found for his Swedish friend, Karl-Eric then contacted Ake Svanstedt, in Sweden, to come “check out the property.” …And the rest was history.
Bender purchased and built what is now Palema Trotting and Svanstedt relocated his stable from Sweden to the American facility. Svanstedt currently owns 14 of the 53 horses housed and trained by the Svanstedt team at Palema Trotting. With the dream of slowing down their lifestyle, Ake and Sarah joined forces with Bender as one of four trainers working at Palema Trotting. The Svanstedts, who ran the most successful harness horse training facility in all of Europe, moved to Vero Beach this past November from Sweden, where harness racing is a year round event. In America, Ake will train 53 horses verses the 220 he trained in Sweden. Ake and Sarah brought one very special horse with them to America from Sweden, Sebastian K, who is nine years old and raced at the Meadowlands Racetrack on May 10th. The Svanstedts also bought a farm with stables in New Jersey so they can attend all the big events and races in New York, New Jersey and Kentucky area from May to October and then train in Vero Beach at Palema Trotting while living in Vero from November to April. This change in schedule will be a welcomed shift in pace from what has been an Autobahn lifestyle for the Svanstedts in Europe.
Harness racing, for those not familiar with the sport, is a form of horse racing where the horse moves at a pace or a gait that is more like a trot and the driver (not a rider!) is in a two-wheeled cart called a sulky which is pulled behind the horse. In the US, all harness horses are standardbred, having shorter legs than thoroughbred, and having a trot or pace for a mile that is standard time. The horses that Ake trains are pupils of a type of training that is not standard to the business. However, as the proven leader in harness training, Ake believes in his method and has the success record to back it. Ake, having worked with horses since he was a teen, got started in what would become his hobby and his passion early in life. And he loves everything about what he does, from breeding and acquiring, to training and riding and loving each one of his horses individually. Jelmby shares, “It is one of their secrets – becoming one with the horse. Each one of the horses has a personality, and they have the skills to determine the best way to train a horse. They have a special training program that is not common here.” Ake further explains, “Here in America they train for speed. But in Sweden I train for strength.”
In the United States, there are some 17 tracks on the Grand Circuit including some of the more famous tracks like the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey and the Red Mile in Kentucky. The Hambletonian, the race with the richest purse in America and the race that kicks off the 2014 trotting Triple Crown, will be run this year on Saturday, August 2nd at the Meadowlands.
Standing at the edge of a world or circle of owners and trainer-athletes that bring us such a beautiful, gentile sport with horses bred and trained to excel and achieve, harness horse training and racing is something new and unique for our Vero community to admire and watch now from a very close vantage point. There is even the possibly of becoming personally involved in the venture as Ake Svanstedt and his 15 horse caretakers establish a name on American turf. Because of their success story, Palema Trotting and the Svanstedts are considering offering the chance for individuals to “invest” partially, or participate financially. The idea would be that anyone interested in purchasing a share in a team of 5 or 10 horses would reap dividends or a percentage from any potential prize earnings. This would essentially make the investor a part-owner in set group of horses, opening up the opportunity to visit their horses, watch the trainer, invest in the team and share in all the subsequent glory of what is sure to be an amazing adventure in the international world of harness racing.
“This is a life with a hobby – a lifestyle and a hobby…and that is a very good life.” ~ Sarah Svanstedt
For additional information about Palema Trotting, visit http://www.palematrotting.com.