It may no longer be the Year of the Horse, but it was a big season for ponies at the 2015 Live Oak International. The March 18-22 show, hosted at the Ocala, Florida equestrian estate of 11-time USEF National Four-in-Hand Horse champion Chester Weber, presented United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) National Championships for Single, Pair, and Four-in-Hand Ponies, sponsored by Hillcroft Farm. Seven-time USEF Pair Pony Driving National Champion Tracey Morgan of Beallsville, Maryland, was quick to give credit for her 2015 USEF Single Pony Championship title where credit was due: to German Riding Pony, Fuego 88. “Singles have to do every bit of the work, every step of the way, while remaining both calm and cooperative, yet aggressive in phases like the marathon. This pony and I are on the third year of our relationship together.”
The harmony between Morgan and Fuego 88 was consistently evident as they topped the Live Oak International dressage leader boards (43.84), stayed near or at the top of their marathon sections, and dropped just a single tennis ball for three additional points to their final 130.17 winning score after cones.
Fuego 88 (Famos x Nagold) is a 14-year-old gelding who joined Morgan as one of two Single Pony combinations named by USEF to the 2013 FEI Pony World Driving Championships in Pau, France, where they finished as the highest-placed American entry (13th). The duo had qualified after winning the 2013 U.S. Single Pony National Championship in Southern Pines, North Carolina. The pair has also been honored with the Touch of Class Award— presented by the Chairman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board— during the grand opening of the Woodstock Equestrian Park neighboring the Morgan farm, where Tracey and Fuego 88 have trained throughout their titles-winning partnership.
Defending USEF Pair Pony Driving Champion Amy Cross, of Aiken, South Carolina, confessed she was nervous going into Live Oak’s dressage phase with Wendy O’Brien and Trout Walk Farm’s Welsh Cobs, Braakmoor Clowny Clark (who is blind in one eye) and Braakmoor Conan. “I knew I needed a good dressage score. We had a few bobbles in marathon, then came back with a nice cones test. I kept reminding myself we were prepared and knew what we had to do.”
If Cross was anxious though, it never translated through her lines, as her geldings delivered in dressage (42.82), led through much of marathon (save for the “bobble” that briefly dropped them mid-phase into second-place), and had a flawless cones performance to accept the USEF title on a 134.40 final score.
The 16- and 17-year-old Welsh Cob geldings and brothers were first discovered by U.S. Combined Driving coach Michael Freund in Germany. Freund introduced them to Wendy O’Brien, who drove them to the 2012 USEF Combined Driving Pair Pony Championship at the Kentucky Classic.
USEF National Four-in-Hand Pony champion Heather Schneider of Wind Chase Farm in Palm City, Florida, said that time was the biggest investment she could put into her USEF National Four-in-Hand Pony champion team. “Chester Weber said it would take six years to get a team to come together and he was right!” She commented.
Schneider and her team of Section B Welsh ponies held an uncontested lead throughout their division, topping the dressage standings with a superb 58.40, and holding the lead in marathon and cones to finish on a 233.44 cumulative score.
“I’ve been really blessed with good ponies,” she said. “With all the physical and personality characteristics of Section A Welsh, the Section B ponies are known for elegant movement and athletic ability while retaining the substance and hardiness of their foundation, the Section A.”
Team Wind Chase Farm boasts eight Welsh greys whose roles have contributed to the team and are affectionately known around the barn as Cloud 9 (wheel and lead), Cruise (retired), Grey Goose (lead), Jazz (lead), Patrick (wheel and lead), Rambo (wheel and lead), Supreme Court (lead), and Stoli (Schneider’s “rock star in the making”).
Seizing Florida’s 2015 Triple Crown Award after posting the lowest combined scores at the Sunshine State CDE, The Kingdom of the Sun CDE, and Live Oak International were Intermediate Single Pony driver Doris Leacy of Oro Valley, Arizona and her German Riding Pony crossbred, Katydid Baroness.
Six year-old ‘Nessie,’ as she is called around the barn, and Leacy have been together for two years: “Her breed is German Riding Pony, Thoroughbred, and Welsh cross.” Nessie’s German Riding Pony sire, DannyLoo, owned by fellow whip, Jennifer Matheson, of Aiken, South Carolina, was honored at Live Oak International with a retirement ceremony after his last career appearance in its dressage phase. Her dam, Bessame, is a crossbred daughter of Welsh stallion Cymraeg Rain Beau (Farnely Luster x Upland Riddle) out of the mare Celestes Holme.
Small in stature but large in appeal at Live Oak International were two Miniature Horses, who starred outside the arena as equine ambassadors of goodwill for children and families to meet while browsing its vendors’ row and taking part in festivities including a Kids’ Horseless Jumping Contest, sponsored in part by Breyer Animals Creations/Reeves International and Premier Equestrian.
Mary Phelps of Ocala, Florida and Columbia, Kentucky, drove into the Intermediate Pair Pony division with the smallest equine duo in the competition — her own pony pair known as “The Gangsters.” “I was very proud of how we did,” Phelps said of the Classic American Shetlands, five-year-old Al Capony and nine-year-old Bugsy Maloney. Competition was tough, but Phelps and her ponies held their own. “It was my first Intermediate, and it was Live Oak. I am still learning so much — when and where to go fast (which they are always happy to do), and when to slow down in order to make the turns needed in the obstacles.”
Although The Gangsters are small, they seemed to want to take on the bigger competition. “Because of their size, my ponies do small pony times— but I don't think we need to!” Explained Phelps. “I have to slow them down to stay in the window. That said, I am careful with them because of their size. We do the Aqua Pacer for conditioning at The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, so they are not always having to pull a carriage to get fit. They get acupuncture from Carlos Zamora from the Chi Institute, and body work by the well-known team therapist Dougie Hanum. They have received great training from the start, with Gary Yaeger, Suzy Stafford, and Joe Yoder all playing an integral part of this past year.” Phelps also credits Wayne Humphreys, her navigator (and more). Humphreys is the owner of the now retired Cefnoakpark Bouncer, who— with Suzy Stafford— won the first gold medals for the USA in the Pony Driving World Championships in 2005. “We also do lots of walking at a slower speed for training,” Phelps said. “We know they can go fast— I just need to put my hands forward!”
Now that Live Oak International is over for another year, Phelps and the tiny two will continue driving towards the ribbons. “We are training in Ocala for the month of April before heading to my farm in southern Kentucky, and the Gayla Combined Driving Event in Georgetown, KY on May 15-17. Then if all goes well the Kentucky Classic and Hermitage CDE in the fall. It’s all about training and conditioning, and having fun.”
The 2015 Live Oak International was proud to host so many pony champions and competitors, and is ready to welcome them all back next year. “I believe I’ve found my perfect pony partner,” Tracey Morgan grinned as the 23rd edition of Live Oak International came to a close. She, and thousands more pony (and horse) lovers who attended and competed there would surely agree: Pony power “reined” supreme.