The First Day of Spring Blooms with Stellar Driving Performances at Live Oak International

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The Intermediate Four-in-Hand dressage phase was won by Craig Grange with a score of 61.63 (Photo:
The Intermediate Four-in-Hand dressage phase was won by Craig Grange with a score of 61.63 (Photo:

Ocala, FL — A historic and international flair was apparent on the second day of driving performances at Live Oak International. The competition runs through Sunday, March 22, in Ocala, Florida. Impressively low scores, narrow margins, long time competitors, and a returning champion gamely defending his title were among the highlights in today’s driving competition. NFL Super Bowl veteran Max Montoya of Hebron, Kentucky, wowed crowds as he and his piebald Georgian Grandes came down centerline to defend their 2014 title in the Intermediate Pair Horse division. Montoya handily won the dressage phase with a 51.71 score, definitively ahead of closest contender Sarasota, Florida whip, Scott Adcox and his Dutchbreds.

The weekend at Live Oak International also promises a challenge in Intermediate Four-in-Hand Horse. Anne Okkema of The Netherlands drew a 89.15 dressage score today with a Friesian team, and was beaten by the Dutch fours driven by Morriston, Florida entry Craig Grange (61.63). Watching these magnificent teams and their whips seek the lead in marathon will surely be one of Saturday’s big highlights, as both whips swap their elegant carriages and turnouts for modern, high-tech, streamlined carts masterfully designed to navigate the cross country challenges of Marathon.

Live Oak International’s exceptional decades-long tradition as the most premier combined driving show in America has been built on the talented performances of its horsemen— and none have graced its stadium for longer than Ocala, Florida’s own Boots Wright. Today, Wright showed her comfort with her hometown terrain by turning in a 46.66 winning dressage phase score with her German Riding Ponies. “No one has competed at Live Oak International more, or with more consistency, than Boots,” said Live Oak International event director, Susan Gilliland. “It’s always a pleasure to see her and her great teams return.”

West Coast whip Carina Crawford of Redding, California— also driving a German Riding Pony pair— was reserve behind Wright with a 58.69 dressage score.

Boots Wright of Ocala, Florida and her German Riding Ponies took first place in the dressage phase with a score of 46.66 (Photo:
Boots Wright of Ocala, Florida and her German Riding Ponies took first place in the dressage phase with a score of 46.66 (Photo:

The Intermediate Four-in-Hand may have had the closest of margins, but to the delight of a grandstand filled with spectators, the greatest number of changes to a leader board were no doubt offered in Intermediate Single Horse. The division saw its top spot thrice change ownership before Ocala local Ellen Epstein and her 10-year-old KWPN bay, Alex, set an astounding 39.23 dressage score that proved impossible to beat today. Not that other drivers didn’t try. As nifty in turnout as in her name, Alva, Florida whip Nifty Hamilton turned up the heat with her own KWPN, Macari Design, to turn in a 50.30 finish that would not catch Epstein but did secure them reserve honors. Early leader Janelle Marshall, of Williston, South Carolina and Hackney-Dutch cross, DaVinci, fell only a point behind Hamilton (51.14) for third-place from the judges.

So it was on the first day of spring at Friday’s Live Oak International driving arena. Saturday the Driving Marathon will begin at 9 a.m. and will offer up close and personal excitement for spectators— and of course, the famous tailgating soirees will be in full swing.

Saturday will kickoff an exceptional World Cup qualifying event for show jumping— the $50,000 CSI2*-W Live Oak International Grand Prix at 2:00 p.m. A Horseless Jumping Contest for kids with jumps provided by Premier Equestrian and prizes provided by Breyer/Reeves International will commence at noon under the shade trees in the vendor village. Then the evening’s mood will turn “Arg, matey” festive with a pirate-themed Competitors Party, sponsored by Hermitage Farm and Lugano Diamonds (advance ticket purchase required).

The 23rd edition of Live Oak International will conclude on Sunday, after a 9:00 a.m. opening Yellowframe Farm Driving Obstacle competition, Parelli Horsemanship demonstrations at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., a Kids’ Horseless Jumping Contest, the timelessly popular Sleepy P Ranch Leadline Class, and— last but far from least— the 2:00 p.m. $34,000 CSI2* Hollow Creek Farm Winning Round of show jumping.

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