A Combined Driving Revival is on the Horizon for 2011 in New Jersey

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Prospects are picking up for combined driving competition in New Jersey next year, despite a questionable outlook following June's World Equestrian Games selection trial at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown.

Heather Walker, the manager of the Garden State Driving Event that drew a record 11 four-in-hand teams for the trial, announced she would retire after decades at the helm of successful fixtures in the state. That left Garden State's future up in the air.

The Gladstone Driving Event in Somerset County wasn't held in 2009 and didn't run this year either, when its dates conflicted with the WEG, making it a question mark as well.

Meanwhile, this year's Lord Stirling Stable event in Basking Ridge, hampered by a lack of stabling, was cancelled due to insufficient entries.

Then people started stepping up to the plate, reluctant to let go of a sport with deep roots in the state. Liz Kwasnik of the Garden State Horse & Carriage Society was the point person for a contingent from that organization pitching a revival of the Garden State event to the board of the Horse Park of New Jersey.

"There were several of us who were very adamant about keeping driving alive and well in the state of New Jersey, particularly because we're a central state," the Allentown resident said.

With New Jersey convenient to many individuals who can come to compete from states to the south and north, the state is "a perfect place to hold a combined driving event," she said.

Kwasnik, who drives a single and a pair of horses, explained the park is putting on the Oct. 8-9 event while the club is "providing sweat equity, the volunteers."

There are no plans to host advanced drivers this year, but Garden State is offering an Intermediate II division in addition to Training, Preliminary and Intermediate levels. Intermediate II uses an advanced dressage test and cones course, along with an intermediate marathon route. The event will stage dressage and cones the first day and the marathon the second day.

Karey Manner of the venerable Green Mountain Horse Association in Vermont has been hired as manager of the event.

"My dream is that there will be a better connection between the Horse Park of New Jersey and GMHA, because there are a lot of things we can learn from GMHA," said Kwasnik.

Those interested in sponsorship can contact her at carriagecoach@optonline.net. Potential volunteers or those seeking more information may reach Manner at karey139@gmail.com of (802) 356-0160.

Former Jerseyan Judy Canavan, who now lives in Pennsylvania, has put out a call for volunteers and organizers help to stage the Gladstone event April 30-May 1 at Hamilton Farm.

"We have some of the best hazards on the East Coast at Gladstone and great facilities. We need to focus on that. There's been great enthusiasm for having another event there," she said, but noted that if people don't come forward, it would be difficult to make it happen.

Canavan, who has competed at Gladstone, said she realized that ``if we don't start working to have events, there won't be any events.

"I had lengthy conversations with several of our local organizers to understand what is needed to continue having a robust competition schedule in the mid-Atlantic states. They all said the same thing - more help,'' Canavan observed, noting it is important to get a head start on the work, rather than waiting until the spring.

While she acknowledged it is difficult to work, drive, compete and help out too, there is no choice for those who want driving events in the area. Many people have retired or moved away since the glory days of Gladstone, which culminated in the World Pairs Championship in 1993, yet there is still interest, especially if drivers from nearby states are drawn in.

Jobs available include organizing help that needs to be handled before the competition, from hospitality to fund raising and grounds prep. Canavan noted people who live far away can participate in some jobs via the internet. Volunteers also are needed during the show.

She is asking people to respond via the internet on surveymonkey.com/s/Volunteer-Gladstone-CDE, noting that respondents are free to offer other ideas if they don't see anything they'd like to do on the survey.

Margie Margentino, Lord Stirling's manager, envisions her stable concentrating on recreational driving outings, such as this month's successful Great Swamp Monster Census Fun Day.

She explained that in hosting a more complex combined driving event, "to keep entries affordable, there is a great dependency on sponsorships. Unfortunately, with the economy, sponsorships are down for all types of equestrian events. To raise entry fees to cover the deficit would lessen even more the number of drivers able to participate.

"We were in a no-win situation,'' she commented.

Since the price of stabling is prohibitive for Lord Stirling, "this greatly limits the pool of combined drivers that we can pull from - thus not being able to cover operational costs."

She added, "The majority of the drivers that we are now seeing in this area are not into serious competition. Why, I don’t know. It could be anything from the economy to those of us who have had our share of competition and now just want to settle back and enjoy our animals without the pressure and financial outlay.

"I think I can safely speak for the committee in saying that this is the audience that we want to be reaching out to. The Somerset County Park Commission/Lord Stirling Stable has a wonderful venue. We want to share it with as many people as we can, and this is an audience that has long been over looked as a viable part of the driving community," she said.

"I am confident that we will be planning some type of fun recreational drive for the spring, but as far as a combined driving event or even a horse driving trial, I believe the answer is no."

Margentino, the selection trial marathon course designer, has volunteered to help both Garden State and Gladstone in any way she can, noting they both have a big advantage because they can make stabling available to attract people from further afield.

ON THE RAIL- Get a head start on the 2011 show season with the Dec. 5 U.S. Dressage Federation seminar on the new U.S. Equestrian Federation dressage tests, presented by the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association. Panelists set for the 9 a.m.-3 p.m. session at the U. S. Equestrian Team Foundation library in Gladstone include judges Marilyn Payne and Sara Schmitt, as well as other experts. The presentation will include videos of the tests. The fee is $25, including lunch. Register with Kem Barbosa, 282 Carter Rd., Princeton 08540 and make checks payable to ESDCTA.

Rutgers' Office of Continuing Professional Education is offering an equine nutrition course for the next semester beginning Jan. 18. The course may be taken in person in New Brunswick or on-line. The instructor is Sara Ralston, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. To register, call (732) 932-9271 or fax (732) 932-8726 or go to www.cpe.rutgers.edu.

It wasn't the world championships, but World Equestrian Games individual eventing gold medalist Michael Jung of Germany beat WEG show jumping gold medalist Philippe LeJeune of Belgium in a class at the Stuttgart, Germany show this weekend.

Of course, both were riding different horses than their WEG mounts, but it's still an interesting footnote. Jung won several classes, including the indoor eventing competition.

Sunday: Turkey Trot Pleasure Ride/Drive, Horse Park of N.J., Route 524, Allentown. (9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., tack sale also on premises); Tewksbury Stables at Hidden River Farm Show, 745 Amwell Road, Neshanic Station; Princeton Winter Circuit, Hunter Farms, 1315 The Great Rd., Princeton.
Friday: CJL and Snowbird Show, Hunter's Crossing Farm, 121 E. Valley Brook Rd., Long Valley (through next Sunday).
Saturday: Changewater Stables Schooling Series, 483 Route 519, Uniontown Road, Lopatcong.
Nancy Jaffer may be reached at nancyjaffer@att.net.