Live Oak International, which takes place from March 9-12 in Ocala, Fla., is unique. It’s the nation’s largest combined driving and show jumping competition, bringing these two disciplines together at a world-class level.
This year, Live Oak International will draw about 275 horses from 26 countries, as well as more than 300 volunteers and about 30 competition officials, according to Live Oak International manager Damian Guthrie.
Can’t be there in person? Catch all the action live at USEF Network. New to the sport of combined driving? Check out our video intro to combined driving in the Learning Center. While you’re there, go behind the scenes for a show jumping course walk with Olympic medalist McLain Ward.
And put Live Oak International on your equestrian bucket list. Here are six reasons why:
- The High Stakes
The $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Qualifier Grand Prix presented by Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club on Sunday, March 12, is the last chance for show jumpers to qualify for the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Omaha, Nebraska. With only a few remaining U.S. spots open, Charlie Jacobs, Adrienne Sternlicht, Leslie Burr-Howard, Callan Solem, and Todd Minikus will be in hot pursuit of valuable World Cup points with the hope of securing their spot for the World Cup Finals.
Meanwhile, the drivers will be contending for US Equestrian Federation national championship honors in single pony, pair horse and pony, and four-in-hand horse and pony divisions.
- The Cross-Country Thrills
Combined driving’s marathon – which takes place on Saturday, March 11, at Live Oak – is the equivalent to three-day eventing’s cross-country phase, but on wheels, over slightly rolling terrain. Fast-paced and highly technical for drivers and horses, the marathon sends horses and ponies (single, pairs, and in teams of four) through fiendishly complex questions that test teamwork and agility. Two iconic spectator favorites: the CBC National Bank water hazard, which sends teams splashing through a pond as part of the obstacle, and Cape Cod Wood Siding’s The Gulch, with its challenging slopes and turns.
- The Scenic Venue
Live Oak Plantation, which hosts the competition, is one of the country’s most beautiful properties, with Spanish moss-laden oaks, lush pastureland, and sandy horse paths that seem to lead straight to a bygone era.
Live Oak is only open to the public once a year, when it hosts Live Oak International. In the three weeks leading up to the event, Guthrie and his crew transform about 500 acres of cow pasture at the 4,500-acre operation into an equestrian paradise. Live Oak International features about 30 to 40 show jumps and eight available cross-country driving obstacles that challenge competitors and thrill spectators. The transformation involves 100 tents, 300 stalls, and 3,000 decorative plants, not to mention installation of internet and electrical service, all for four days. “Within 10 days after the event, we can turn the cattle back in there again, and you wouldn’t know it had ever taken place here,” says Guthrie.
Live Oak Stud, also located on the property, is a renowned Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation owned by Charlotte Weber, whose children Chester Weber (a four-in-hand driving champion himself) and Juliet Reid are co-presidents of Live Oak International.
- The Vendor Village
Live Oak International’s shopping and dining area attracts a diverse array of sellers offering everything from saddles to Live Oak International merch to South African excursions to Cuban-style sandwiches.
- The Live Oak International 5k
The best way to tour Live Oak? Put on your walking or running shoes and join the Live Oak International 5k on Sunday morning, March 12. The course winds through parts of Live Oak that the public only sees during this event, including the farm’s Thoroughbred racing division and the training barn of world-renowned combined driving champion (and Live Oak International co-president) Chester Weber, whose mother Charlotte C. Weber owns Live Oak Stud. For younger kids and families, there’s a one-mile walk.
- The Clydesdales
The flashy black-and-white Express Clydesdales will be performing in the main grass ring at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12. These friendly horses tower from 17 hands to 19 hands tall and attract a crowd wherever they go. Bonus: you can meet them, and they’re happy to pose with spectators for selfies.
Two to Watch at Live Oak International
Tune in to USEF Network’s coverage of Live Oak International and you’ll see a lot of great performances in both combined driving and show jumping. Here are two storylines to follow:
Jumping: For Chloe Reid, Live Oak Is a Family Affair
The backstory: Chloe Reid, 20, has good reason to love the Live Oak venue. The competition takes place on the 4,500-acre Live Oak Plantation in Ocala, Fla. that her grandmother, Thoroughbred breeder Charlotte Weber, owns. Uncle Chester Weber, the 13-time USEF Four-in-Hand National Champion who also will compete in combined driving at Live Oak International, has a training base there. And Chloe’s mom Juliet Weber Reid serves alongside Chester as co-president of Live Oak International.
“As well as a show jumping competition where I get to compete, it’s also a major driving competition where my uncle gets to compete,” explained Reid (Washington, D.C.). “It’s very special to me to have both disciplines in the family competing and to have my grandmother’s Thoroughbreds on the property at the same time. My grandmother and my uncle are who originally put me on a pony.”
Rising star Chloe Reid has earned numerous top placings at USEF championships and international competitions. Most recently, she rode on the Hermès U.S. Show Jumping Team that earned a silver medal on the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup at CSIO4* Wellington on March 3. Reid competed in four USEF Junior Jumper National Championships, winning individual gold in 2014, and helped the Zone 3 Young Rider team win gold in 2014 and bronze in 2013 at the Adequan/FEI Young Rider & Junior Championships presented by Gotham North. She earned team gold in the FEI Young Riders Nations Cup presented by Hollow Creek Farm at CSIO Wellington in 2015, and made her senior Nations Cup debut last year at CSIO3* Samorin in Slovakia. Earlier this year, Chloe Reid received the Lionel Guerrand-Hermès Trophy to recognize her as a young rider in one of the Olympic disciplines who exemplifies both sportsmanship and horsemanship.
The goal: She plans to bring two horses to the jumping competition: the stallion Codarco and a new gelding, Donald. “Last year I finished second in the grand prix, so I would love to keep that same success in the World Cup Qualifier,” she said, referring to the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Qualifier Grand Prix presented by Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club on Sunday, March 12.
Combined Driving: Suzy Stafford and Her Morgan PVF Peace of Mind Seek Fourpeat
The backstory: Suzy Stafford (Coatesville, Pa., and Ocala, Fla.) and her Morgan horse PVF Peace of Mind will be trying to clinch their fourth consecutive win in Live Oak International’s FEI Single Horse class – a win streak that has contributed to the mare’s title as US Equestrian’s Combined Driving Horse of the Year in 2016, as well as her award as USEF International Horse of the Year in 2015.
“It’s special partly because this is a horse that I own,” Stafford said of “Hunny,” whom Stafford has had since the mare was three and just starting in harness. “I’d like to say we have a great relationship, but you’d probably have to ask her what she thinks! She’s about 15.2 hands on a good day, and there’s a lot of personality stuffed in that little package. She demands a lot of attention, and if she doesn’t get it she can get a little aggravated. She’s quite a bold competitor, and the more atmosphere there is, the more she takes charge. That’s probably why she does well at Live Oak, because there is a bigger atmosphere there than you normally have in the States.
“Most Morgans are small if you compare them to warmbloods, but their power-to-size ratio is quite impressive,” Stafford added. “They have a lot of power and endurance for their size, and that’s always helpful when you’re in the hazards; you don’t have all that body to maneuver around, and yet they can keep up with the bigger horses. And all the Morgans I’ve known are a little bit of an overachieving kind of horse, so usually they give you sometimes even more than you want. But at this level, that’s important.”
The goal: “I always strive to have a personal best score in dressage, so to get my personal best with her I need a score 39 or under,” Stafford said. “And I’d like to improve in our hazard driving. I’d like to be a little faster, so I’ve been working on that quite a bit.”
By US Equestrian Communications Department