Back in the day- there was a competitor on the Jumper circuit known as The Galloping Grandfather- real name Harry de Leyer. What made him memorable was not his skill or wins but his sheer joy and enthusiasm in just being in the game. Combined Driving is a little different than the jumper ring in that there are many ‘seniors’ out there competing and doing well at all levels. But none bring on the fun like Phillip Needs and Judy Fryer of Sarasota, FL.
Driving is one equestrian discipline that many retire to rather than from. The course walking is a little easier as it can be done by golf cart or ATV. You can be seated a little more comfortably than astride. A helper goes along to lend assistance when doing the marathon. And, there is no need to pack your tired old body into form fitting breeches.
Judy explains how she and Phillip got started in carriage driving. “We were in the restaurant business on the coast of Florida and had been hit by every hurricane right through the alphabet. So we decided to find a new location and discovered Sarasota. I wanted a larger house and the one I liked happened to be on a farm. So I thought, we’ll need to have a horse!”
So Judy went off and found a horse and started riding only to find that her knees just couldn’t take it. Ironically, the farm had formerly belonged to David Wharton who had competed for Canada in the 1993 World Pairs Driving Championships and is a licensed American Driving Society judge. David suggested that Judy try driving and helped her to get started. Meanwhile, Phillip was involved with his own passion- vintage car racing. But he began riding along with Judy as navigator and soon was bitten by the driving bug as well.
“Phillip was a wonderful navigator. But, once he started driving himself, we would get into terrible fights!” So, along came a few horses until Judy and Phillip ended up with their current pony partners, April Winnie and Miss Moon Shadow.
At the Black Prong Horse Driving Trial in Bronson, Florida, a dual erupted between the senior spouses in the Intermediate Single Pony class where Phillip and Judy found themselves the only two entries with their almost identical pinto ponies. But, if you think that they would have relaxed a bit you are very wrong. These two were quite serious in their pursuit of the blue and could be found walking and wheeling hazards separately and generally plotting against each other! In the end, Phillip’s blazing marathon was no match for Judy’s lower score in Dressage and double clear round in cones. So, Judy went home with the prizes!
But the fun doesn’t end with driving. Judy and Phillip own The Old Salty Dog restaurants in Sarasota Florida where they were voted best outdoor dining for their seafood and ambience. When the Old Salty Dog RV arrives at a Combined Driving Event, fellow competitors know that a good time is in store for all!