A driving competitor enjoys the scenic competition venue of Live Oak International. Photos by Mark Astrom.
Ocala, Florida – Competition is underway at the Live Oak International in Ocala, FL. The only equestrian event in North America to feature both world-class driving and show jumping, the Live Oak International takes place at Live Oak Plantation from March 20 to 24.
For the first time, live coverage of Saturday and Sunday’s events from the Live Oak International will be available to view on the USEF Network, www.usefnetwork.com.
In show jumping, Todd Minikus got the weekend off to a strong start by winning both featured show jumping events on Friday, March 22. In the $5,000 1.30m Waldron Wealth Management Power & Speed competition, Minikus was clear through the power phase to immediately advance to the speed phase. Riding Edulcee d’Hulst, a mare he’s only had the ride on for a couple of weeks, he was again clear in a time of 22.53 seconds to easily overtake the lead from Colombia’s Daniel Bluman, who finished second with Cantando Lyngriis in a time of 24.97 seconds.
Of his mount, the nine-year-old Belgian-bred mare Edulcee d’Hulst, Minikus noted, “Friends of mine in Belgium sent her to me to be sold. I’ve had her for a couple of weeks, and she won two classes in Wellington before coming here. She’s pure winner, so that’s good news!”
While Edulcee d’Hulst was a winner, Quality Girl also lived up to her name by carrying Minikus to victory in the $10,000 E2 Show Jumpers Welcome Stake. Two-time Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios set a track in the John Deere Arena that saw nine of the 26 entries jump clear. With time being the deciding factor, Minikus was once again untouchable, posting a time of 56.60 seconds that no one else could catch. Fellow American Brianne Goutal came closest, stopping the clock in 60.10 for second place, while Daniel Bluman settled for third this time out, again riding Cantando Lyngriis.
With two wins to his credit, Minikus is enjoying his Live Oak International debut.
“I have not been here, this is my first time, and I didn’t realize what I was missing,” said Minikus of Wellington, FL. “It’s fantastic. It’s nice to get away. We’re in one spot for six months, really, and that’s a long time, especially when you have a little gypsy in you. The family here at Live Oak, and all of the people behind the scenes that I don’t even know about, are doing a great job. It’s beautiful, and has excellent footing.”
In driving, the FEI divisions competed in the opening phase of dressage with U.S. drivers sweeping the top spots. Tracey Morgan currently leads the field of seven entries in the FEI Single Pony division with a score of 49.28 penalty points while Wendy O’Brien is out in front in the FEI Pair Pony division with 39.94. Allison Stroud with her FEI Pony Team is at the top of the leaderboard after posting 55.87.
Leslie Berndl topped six other competitors to take the lead in the FEI Single Horse division with 43.39 penalty points while Misdee Wrigley Miller is leading the FEI Pair Horse division with an impressive 41.41. Two-time World Championship individual silver medalist Chester C. Weber came out on top in the FEI Horse Four-in-Hand Team with the best score of the day, a 37.22, to place ahead of Casey Zubek with 53.98% and Canada’s Darryl Billing with 71.84 penalty points.
“The team was fantastic, we set a new world record with test number 11,” said Weber in reference to the new driving dressage test released by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) at the beginning of 2013. “It was great because we have a jury comprised of officials that have all judged at World Championship events. It was a real international jury, and a real world record. It’s always a pleasure to do it at home in front of our local fans and sponsors.”
Offering the highest amount of prize money of any driving event in North America, Live Oak International is also hosting the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) National Championship for Pairs. Zenon Gal is currently eying the honor, having earned a dressage score of 47.58 over Peter Harding, who lies second with 62.47. Bettina Scherer leads the Intermediate Single Pony division while Boots Wright is out in front in the Intermediate Pair Pony division. Attracting a total of 12 entries, the Intermediate Single Horse division is led by Canadian Tina Sully with 52.66 penalty points.
In addition to being one of the world’s foremost four-in-hand driving competitors, Weber is one of the driving forces behind the Live Oak International, acting as Co-President alongside his mother, Charlotte C. Weber, and his sister, Juliet W. Reid.
“It’s fantastic,” said Weber of this year’s event. “The horses all seem to be doing well, and it’s so much fun to see the jumper horses standing outside the ring with their heads down, eating grass. It was a special view. You don’t see that in many places. I think this is paradise for horses, and my mom had a lot of vision many years ago in creating Live Oak.”
Saturday brings the thrills of marathon driving, beginning at 9 a.m. Competitors will negotiate seven obstacles conceptualized by course designer Hartmut Kaufmann of Germany. Following the driving marathon competition, the $50,000 CSI2* Live Oak International Grand Prix will begin at 2 p.m.
A total of 14 nations are represented in the show jumping competition. Featured show jumping events include Saturday’s $50,000 CSI2* Live Oak International Grand Prix at 2 p.m., and Sunday’s $33,000 CSI2* Hollow Creek Farm Winning Round at 2:30 p.m. As an added incentive for competitors, G&C Farm will offer a $10,000 Leading Rider bonus while Jerry Parks Insurance Group will reward the Leading Junior Rider and the Leading Amateur Rider.
While show jumping is being offered for the second year, Live Oak International has hosted international driving competition for more than 20 years. Sanctioned as a CAI-B driving event by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and offering single, pair and four-in-hand divisions for horses and ponies, Live Oak International attracts the top driving competitors from across North America.
Held at Live Oak Plantation, the private 4,000-acre farm of the Weber family, the Live Oak International is produced by nine-time winner of the USEF Four In Hand Driving Championship Chester C. Weber of Ocala, FL, and his sister, Juliet W. Reid, who led the Washington International Horse Show as President of the Board for the past four years. Offering unparalleled hospitality, competitors will enjoy the fun and excitement of Saturday night’s Denim & Lugano Diamonds Exhibitor’s Party.
In addition to the competition, spectators can enjoy the Classic Car Show, sponsored by Palm Chevrolet & Kia, as well as a vendor village and the Signature Brands Kids Zone featuring pony rides and a bounce house. Admission is $10 per person, $5 for children under 12, with proceeds benefiting the Marion County Therapeutic Riding Association.
Live Oak International wishes to recognize its generous sponsors for their support, including 14 Hands Vineyards, ABBA, Adequan, American Invitational, Michael Ayers, BB&T Chazel Insurance, Beloved Farm, Ned Bliss, Brandywine Tent, Camping World, Cannon Carriages, Cape Code Finished Wood Siding, Charles Owen, Cheney Brothers, Jane Forbes Clark, The Clothes Horse, Coast to Coast Truck & Trailer, Connollys Nursery, Dever, Don Stewart Stables, Dutta Corp, E2 Show Jumpers, Equine Journal, Fidelity Investments, Dr. Rae and Nancy Fischer, Florida Express, Freund, G&C Farm, Gloria Austin, Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, Grand Oaks Resort & Carriage Museum, Great American Insurance Group, Hermitage International Training Center, Hillcroft Farm, Hilton, Hollow Creek Farm, Wayne Humphreys, Insight Credit Union, Iron Spring Farm, Jerry Parks Insurance Group, Joan Pletcher Realtor, John Deere, Johnson Horse Transportation, Pixie Keating, Kentucky Classic, Kentucky Equine Research, Mary Mott-Kocsis, John Levy, Louisburg Farm, Lugano Diamonds, Marion County Visitor and Convention Bureau, Mark’s Steak House, Mid State Electric, Morgan Stanley, Ocala Star-Banner, Palm Chevrolet & Kia, Party Time Rentals, Pine Flakes, PlaneSense, Peterson & Smith, RBC, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, The Sanctuary, Seminole Wellness, Shepherd Kaplan LLC, Signature Brands ,Sleepy P Farm, SmartPak, Christine Smith-Byerly, Stella Artois, Stonecliff Farm, Tequestrian, Trout Walk Farm, Waldron Wealth Management, Harley Waller, Waterside Environmental Care, Woodside Stables, WR Ranch and Dave and Boots Wright.
For more information on the Live Oak International, including VIP Hospitality seating and sponsorship opportunities, please visit www.liveoakinternational.com.
Contact: Jennifer Ward
Starting Gate Communications
Cell: (613) 292-5439