The 25th Live Oak International Combined Driving Event also combined with world class show jumping on the Longines tour is one of the premier events in the Florida winter season, and we were a part of it for our second year, competing at Intermediate level. The smallest ponies with the biggest hearts just make everyone smile. We hear the word "cute" a lot, and I just keep thinking, "Just you wait and see what they can do." Half brothers Al Capony and Bugsy Maloney are the only Classic American Shetlands competing at this level after just two years together. Now a part of the USEF Developing Driver Program, we will be moving up at the next event, Kingdom of the Sun, at The Florida Horse Park to do our first 1*, and advanced marathon beginning the qualification process to become ranked at the FEI Level.
While we are still eluding the blue ribbon, each event we keep getting stronger and faster. We dominated in three of the marathon hazards as the fastest in the division. Proud of my little hotties for handling the international arena in dressage, we put in a respectable dressage test in front of a tough panel of European judges. Kate McIntyre who was riding on the back seat as the groom couldn't help herself and kept looking at us on the Jumbotron. I even mastered the one handed loop without dropping a rein or having to reach to adjust. Kate said she kept thinking "Hang on Mary, hang on," as it was a little hairy in the first loop. A broken finger that never healed right has been my nemesis for this movement required in most Intermediate Tests. The test demonstrated 3 trots, collected, working and lengthening, and transitions need to be clearly defined. My ponies have Hackney blood, and because of their size and breeding it has taken work to develop a trot that look correct and not hectic.
At one point I got a bit close to the rail and we hit it, but the ponies did not miss a beat. Then when I came around to M (where I had hit the rail) to make the walk transition, I noticed a small piece of my carriage lying in the arena. A small round metal piece that is used as a step. I lost my concentration for just a second, at a point where Al needs my support. We had finally mastered the walk, but Al jigged which cost us in our score (X2 penalty points). After I got back to the barn I sent one of our team, David Getz up to the arena. In between tests, he retrieved it. It was still laying in the arena at M. I wonder if anyone else who followed me noticed.
My ponies will never be the big flowy movers of some of the German breeds, so accuracy is key. Three time World Pony Champion Bram Chardon (NED) has been here twice in the past year to work with us and we made huge advancement with his help. His pony team always wins dressage even though he said there have been some judges that do not agree. He knows his small welsh team (four) of ponies do not have the movement of larger ponies, so accuracy and clear definitions of the transitions are even more critical.
The sport has its challenges, and no amount of planning, help, or training can prevent some of the things that can happen. After our last event where I hit a post with the carriage pole, I noticed it was twisted, and a bearing was broken. Not a simple fix either, a new pole had to be shopped from where the carriage was build in Poland arriving the day we were moving ponies and equipment to the show. A special thanks to Jack Alvarez of Driving Esentials who made it happen. A week before, my other carriage used for dressage and cones needed brake pads replaced, which also needed to be imported. But Dana Banfield at the Gayla Driving Center in Georgetown, Kentucky came to the rescue overnighting a pair he had on hand. With both vehicles fixed within hours of the event, and multiple trips back and forth to our winter home base just 30 minutes from Live Oak, we didn't get a chance to take a good look at the marathon course until Friday afternoon after Dressage. Normally competitors begin walking the course of 7 obstacles or hazards as they are also known as soon as they arrive at the show, beginning Tuesday or Wednesday. It can take that long to learn the routes, and determine the best and fastest way to navigate in our case 5 gates, A-E.
In only the second marathon in my new Glinkowski carriage which added another 250 pounds to the pulling package, "The Gangsters" know their job. With my groom and navigator, pony sized at 100 pounds Kate McIntyre, we aced most of the marathon, our third together. All I need to do is give them a kissing signal and they launch into a gallop. We rocked the water in record time, and did the same at the infamous Gultch, following the course recommended by our trainer USEF Team Coach Thorston Zarembowitz. I could hear the cheering of the large crowd of spectators. The Gangsters have a growing fan club, and some wonderful friends came out to cheer us on.
In one major snafu I missed a gate in one of the obstacles, and struggled to find a way to it that would not get me eliminated. But I have learned to shake it off and get on with the next one. All in all we continue to improve and pick up speed. Think of having to remember 5 gates at 7 obstacles going fast. It sure beats doing crossword puzzles to work on memory skills!
We were the first to go in the cones course, entertwined with show jumps, huge flowers, in the impressive arena. There was already a crowd in the stands. My "spare mare" Kimba gave Al the day off and went with Bugsy. As we trotted into the International Arena, I was mouthing the words "Oh Wow" . After 35 + years of photographing and covering many of the major competitons in the world, I was on the other side of the lens, and it feels great.
My horse show nerves are getting better and I went in there aiming to make the time, something that had eluded me in the past. I sacrificed 2 balls in the process. Kimba is taking her job very seriously, and as we exited the arena to the cheers of the crowd, she reached over to Bugsy attempted to give him a bite "Come on and stop making me do all the work!"
Next event, will be the Kingdom of the Sun CDE, at the Florida Horse Park, March 17-20. It will be the first step in qualifying for FEI status. We need to compete in 2 1* events, to qualify us for the three 2* events requred. That will take a year, and we are ready to take it on.
What an incredible priveledge to be a part of this wonderful sport. I had no idea or intention of getting even this far, but the ponies, all those who support and encourage us, have made me realize, "We can do this."