Dade City, FL - New Year, new event! Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, FL kicked off the New Year for Combined Driving with a new Combined Driving event on the ADS calendar. It wasn’t just a new event - it was an approved FEI USEF show. Not something you would normally see for a first timer, but if anyone can pull it off - it’s Susan Gilliland of Live Oak International fame.
Driving in from the highway, you wouldn’t have known anything was happening at Little Everglades Ranch. But once you arrived and snaked your way past the competitor parking, that all changed. As you crested the hill, large white tents appeared into view along with vendors lined up all along a bank giving a view and selling everything from the latest in harness to the best kettle corn ever!
Spectators and sponsors were treated like royalty with reserved tables along the fence line facing the hazards. There was fabulous food in the sponsor tent and mobile eateries surrounding the perimeter of the track. Cattle fencing formed a barrier to a dirt lane across which were all of the six hazards- in a row and in order! So if you wanted to watch a particular competitor, you could easily move along the lane from One to Six with plenty of time.
The hazards were beautifully decorated in themes borrowed from the various sponsors. A fruit stand was glorious even in the rain on Saturday with its boxes overflowing with oranges and grapefruit. With the exception of one technical hazard made from a line of tightly interspaced telephone poles, the hazards were a dream come true for those four-in-hand drivers that needed to qualify less experienced horses in their teams. There were nice galloping routes through most that allowed the horses to be forward and bold.
The stabling lay-out was horse friendly for even the four-in-hands with plenty of room to maneuver. The way the hazards were set up made it easy for anyone to get out and walk them all in a tight timeframe. The arena for dressage and cones was a dream for an International jumper, much less a driver! The emerald green sod put a spring in all of the horses’ steps and for many was the first time they ever competed on a completely level surface!
Ann Sullivan, mother of Junior competitor Maggie remarked, "This is a wonderful venue for spectators. The prettiest dressage court I've seen in a long time, and very well planned out for optimum hazard viewing on marathon day."
The atmosphere of hospitality was not lost on the competitors. Vivian Creigh who won the Advanced Single Pony class said “It was wonderful to have real food available & good coffee in the morning." US Team Coach Peter Tischer (Germany) agreed though tongue in cheek." For the US the Coffee was amazing!”
Muffy Seaton competed with a Preliminary Single Pony. “I thought it was a wonderful venue. There was so much space for the campers that you never felt crowded at all. I had my trailer up with my camper and it was the easiest show to work at. I agree with Vivian about the great coffee! What a wonderful thing that was!"
Betsy Cowperthwaite came in from Aiken to navigate for Sybil Humphreys. She “thought the venue was wonderful and it was really competitor friendly. Thank you to the owners for allowing us to be there and to Susan for taking on just one more competition."
Salt Dog restaurant owners and Intermediate competitors, Phillip Needs and Judy Fryer from Sarasota summed it all up!
“This is the way to do it!!! Hazards close and easy to walk, find and watch. The food vendors in the Hazard area on Saturday, the ability for us oldies with bad knees and hips to use golf carts to run hazards on Saturday. All a huge plus. The exercise areas were great, two warm up rings one 80 x40M and one 100M. Fantastic Dressage and Cones footing. Everyone was very friendly and helpful to competitors, notice board at barn, great camper and trailer parking. Ponies put before 4 in hands on Saturday, wow. Section A was a ride in the park. Thanks to all who put this wonderful show on for us drivers. We are so lucky here in Florida, now we have 3 top notch shows to go to, no other state has this! We also have the best judges at these shows and some of the best drivers in the world down here for the season, making Florida THE best driving state in the USA!”
If you missed this show, whether as a competitor or spectator, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year! The coffee and kettle corn alone are well worth the trip!