Two years to the day my pony pair "The Gangsters" Al Capony and Bugsy Maloney did their first event at Training Level at the Black Prong Equestrian Center with the trainer who started them, we continue our journey immersed in the sport of Combined Driving, now at the Intermediate Level at the Nature Coast HDT. We reached new heights in our training with our best dressage score and cones course on the the first day. Sunday we tackled the marathon in a new carriage, driving 7 obstacles, with 5 gates, winning some, and gaining experience in others. Learning to focus, all those details to remember and getting a handle on my nerves as well as the ponies nerves, are all part of the world as a hands on competitor I never really appreciated in my years in equestrian sport from another approach.
For most of my careers with horses, I have been a photographer, journalist, equine insurance agent, traveling the world covering National and International Equestrian events. The first time I ever photographed a Combined Driving event sometime in the 1980's I was "hooked". The sound of the clanking metal, multiple hoofbeats on the ground, the glamour of dressage and the excitement of the marathon, it has always captivated me.
So when I had the chance to buy a small pair of ponies, who had just started in training as a pair, I chucked my original plan of 2014 to slow down, travel, enjoy more of a personal life, and stepped into a journey to have the opportunity to learn and grow in the sport I had always been drawn to. With the guidance an input from longtime friend Wayne Humphreys owner of the 2015 Pony Driving World Champion Cefnoakpark Bouncer, each event became a little less daunting.
Now together with a great assistant, Kate McIntyre a graduate in equine science with a concentration in rehabilitation, we make do with our little red trailer. Often making multiple trips to nearby events, one with carriage, the rest with ponies, we are managing in a sport that can run into the 6 figures to compete internationally with a four in hand.
Now we have our FEI Pony Passports in the works, are part of the USEF Developing Driver Program, and have trained with some of the finest trainers in the sport including USET veterans Suzy Stafford, Joe Yoder and Bill Lower, we are currently working with USEF Team coach Thorston Zarembowciz, and three time Pony Driving World Champion, Bram Chardon.
We are gaining sponsors, Equiotic, YSNutrition, and bartering our web services with companies we have worked with for years; The Sanctuary, Premier Equestrian, Back on Track Products. We get to work with the best veterinarians, physical therapists and farriers (when they wear shoes). Our life here in Ocala, Florida on Margaret Mayer's beautiful farm Cranewood South is where camaraderie with other drivers is an encouraging community. My farm is south central Kentucky has hills, trails, and enough flat ground to train in between events we keep to a 2 hour distance.
For those who say "When I get too old to ride, I'll try driving," this is not what you think. Each day at an event I clock about 10KM in walking courses, and all that goes with this sport.
This sport is the best memory exercise ever is the sport of Combined Driving , and it's way more fun than crossword puzzles to keep you mind sharp.