Ocala, Florida (March 23,2015)— Nowhere else in North America are combined driving and show jumping presented at a venue so world class in quality as to attract Olympic, World, and National champions before miraculously returning to a quiet, beautiful pasture for its 361 other days of the year. The 23rd edition of Live Oak International, March 18-22, rose from those misty fields to rewrite its record books once again with new and returning champions playing their part in making the show that has been called the ‘Horse Capital of America’s Favorite Equestrian Event.’
Two-time Irish Olympian Cian O’Connor, who earned Bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games, won the 2015 Live Oak International CSI2*W Grand Prix (a qualifying event for the World Cup) on Good Luck, and compared its grass stadium to those in Europe— thus offering a good foundation for up-and-coming European Championships hopefuls. O’Connor also won earlier in the week— with the intent of building grass field experience— on Quidam’s Cherie, an Oldenburg mare he rode to the win in the $10,000 Waldron Private Wealth Management 1.40m Welcome Stake. He also placed second on Chandon Blue in the $5,000 Pasmore Stables 1.35m Power & Speed.
Germany’s Andre Thieme, who won the $34,000 Hollow Creek Farm Winning Round, expressed respect for course designer Leopoldo Palacios’ balance of “gentle” lines and “crazy short” time that asked exactly the questions he was looking to answer with his 11-year-old Holsteiner, Conthendrix. “He was too wild, too forward, when we first started, but it feels like he’s turned a corner and is giving me a really good year,” Thieme said of Conthendrix.
“I see this as a serious show that has grown a lot in the four years it has offered two-star jumping,” said Palacios, whose has built a two-decade career creating courses for the largest shows in the world. Show jumping was added to the Live Oak International program in 2012.
Juliet W. Reid, who joins Chester C. Weber and Charlotte C. Weber as presidents of the Live Oak International show, said Palacios is right in predicting continued growth: “Next year we plan to be a three-star.”
Already offering the greatest prize money and titles of any combined driving event in America, the Live Oak International driving program included the USEF National Championships for Single Pony, Pair Horse, Pair Pony, and Four-in-Hand Pony.
“This is the first big win I’ve ever had,” smiled Steve Wilson of Louisville, Kentucky, after accepting the USEF National Pair Horse Driving Championship from U.S. Equestrian Federation president Chrystine Tauber. Wilson piloted a grey Lipizzan pair to his first national driving title on a final cumulative score of 164.92.
USEF Pair Pony Driving Champion Amy Cross, of Aiken, South Carolina, confessed she knew she “needed a good dressage score. I just kept reminding myself we were prepared and we knew what we had to do.” Cross earned her USEF title on a 134.40 final score.
USEF National Four-in-Hand Pony champion Heather Schneider of Palm City, Florida, credited her Live Oak International host (and 11-time US National Four-in-Hand Horse champion) Chester Weber with advising her that it would “take six years to get a team to come together— and he was right! But I’ve also been really blessed with good ponies.”
Florida’s Triple Crown Award— for posting the lowest combined scores from the Sunshine State CDE, The Kingdom of the Sun CDE, and Live Oak International— went to Intermediate Single Pony driver Doris Leacy of Oro Valley, Arizona, with her German Riding Pony, Katydid Baroness.
Chester Weber, too, continued to live up to the expectations of his fellow whips with an FEI Four-in-Hand Horse victory, posting one of the best (33.45) dressage scores of his career before continuing his lead through marathon and cones to a 147.49 win.
FEI Single Horse honors went to Suzy Stafford of Wilmington, Delaware and her Morgan, PVF Peace of Mind, who lived up to its name by turning in first-place after first-place for its whip across the phases to the final 139.46 score.
In keeping with the Live Oak International mission to encourage and promote horse sport, the driving program also offered a second consecutive Intermediate Pair Horse title for Georgian Grandes whip, Max Montoya of Hebron, Kentucky (159.68); an Intermediate Four-in-Hand Horse win for Craig Grange (238.39) of Morriston, Florida; and Intermediate Single Horse title for local favorite Ellen Epstein of Ocala and her bay KWPN, Alex.
“Every win feels as good as the first,” concluded Intermediate Pair Pony champion, Boots Wright, of Ocala, who has been competing faithfully at Live Oak International since the show started 23 years ago. “It was pretty ‘rustic’ that first year,” she said with a smile. ‘Today, it is a world class venue that has done so much to better our sport as a whole.”
Presented and sponsored by Michael Freund was the Jean Keathley Memorial Award, to Chester Weber as the FEI driver with the lowest dressage score; the Anne Bliss Memorial Award to Misdee Wrigley-Miller for most elegant lady driver; the Katie Williams Memorial Award (donated by friends of Katie Williams) to the best-conditioned entry; the Hanzi Award (donated by Chester Weber) to Ellen Epstein and Alex V, determined the best horse or pony of the competition in the opinion of the judge; the Omega Alpha Healthy Horse Award, donated by Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals Inc., to G. Wilson Groves; and the HORSE GYM USA® Top Equine Athlete Award to Alison Stroud for the admirable fitness of her team.
Between spectating the daunting jumps and the fast-paced excitement of the marathon driving phase, attendees of Live Oak International enjoyed being part of the action with a kids’ horseless jumping competition, the Sleepy P Ranch Leadline Class, a Parelli Natural Horsemanship demonstration, miniature horses to pet, a pirate-themed Competitors Party, and plenty of the horse world’s favorite vendors. Premier Equestrian and Breyer Horses made Live Oak International’s first kids’ horseless jumping competition possible, and the event was a hit among the aspiring future jumpers and drivers on the show grounds. Parelli Natural Horsemanship’s impressive demonstration of working with nearly-tackless horses further added to the show’s eclectic equestrian atmosphere.
In 2016, the Live Oak International will be approaching a quarter century as the only event of its kind in the nation to bring horse lovers and families alike to an international program, featuring both combined driving and Grand Prix show jumping champions. And next year, its stellar reputation may add another “star.” For complete results and more, see www.liveoakinternational.com.