Combined drivers of all levels had the unique opportunity to train with three World Champions at the beautiful Cranewood Farm, a 63 acre private facility located in Ocala, Florida in the Meadowlands Equestrian Community raising funds for the United States Driving For the Disabled, Friday January 10, 2014. 2013 FEI World Cup Driving Champion Koos de Ronde (NED) , 2010 Single World Horse Individual and Team Gold Medalist, Thorsten Zarembowicz (GER) , and US Individual World Pony Driving Gold Medalist Suzy Stafford spent the day working with a selection of drivers, ponies and horses, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. With three full sized driven dressage arenas, a complete cones course, there was ample room for all three trainers to spread out and share their knowledge and expertise. The event organized by Jeff McCarthy of Combined Driving USA and supported by Stride Dressage of Ocala, was hosted at Margaret Mayer’s Cranewood Farm. Attracting auditors, neighbors, drivers and trainers all were clearly impressed and thankful for the venue located in a large deeded equestrian community where farm owners share a right of way allowing owners to enjoy over 400 acres of some of Ocala’s prime limestone nourished land.
Mayer who raises sport ponies took advantage of working with Zarembowicz and her 4-year-old in a long lining lesson. Disappointed at first she did not have a pony in training in harness she took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about ground work, and was glad she did with her young pony, Michael by the Section C Welsh Stallion Wilson the Florida State Driving Champion out of a Dutch Dressage mare. She saw an instant turn around in her pony’s way of going when Zarembowicz took the reins, made a few adjustments and explained the use of the outside rein to control the circle and assist the bend. Rather than having the long reins go behind the pony’s hocks, Zarembowicz brought it over the back along the “saddle” of the harness, establishing a direct connection and better understanding of containing through the outside rein.
“I am so glad I had the chance to work on this lesson.” Mayer exclaimed. “I needed to learn this technique for working my young ponies and it was so cool to watch him go under Thorsten’s expertise.” All participants continued to thank Mayer, who has hosted a few STRIDE shows at her facility. Both Margaret and neighbor Charlotte Trentleman spent the night baking cookies and cakes to add to the incredible luncheon sponsored by Florida Fresh Meats and Mel’s Island Café part of the fundraiser for attendees and auditors. All lessons were filmed with studio quality equipment and audio by Combined Driving USA.
American World Champion Suzy Stafford had a full day of lessons working mostly in the dressage arenas with a line up of drivers eager to get her skilled advise. Stafford has a keen eye and ability to zero in on the horse and driver’s ability and offers hands’ on instruction, literally. She is often seen riding on the back of the carriage and reaching around the driver’s back, putting her hands on top of theirs to give them the “feel” of what they need to be doing. Just as in dressage, driving required half halts, and intricate use of the reins and bend. In Florida for the winter, Stafford from Bear, DE, also rides and competes in Dressage and has a full barn of horses and ponies in training.
Central Florida is a mecca for combined drivers, where there are three recognized FEI Combined Driving events held in the winter months, along with several pleasure shows, HDT’s, and club events and clinics. With 2014 being the year of the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games to be held in Normandy, France, the four-in-hand drivers will be at their peak for the International Live Oak Combined Driving Event in Ocala in March, a selection trial. Drivers from across the country gravitate to Florida each year where competition, training and location is key for a sport which required large land parcels.
Bob Koopman brought his pony Mssyhus to work with Koos de Ronde. De Ronde had set up an intricate and challenging cone course, first walking it with the drivers, explaining the angles and approach to each obstacle. At the upper level competitions, it is rare that drivers can have a “double clean” round, with no balls and making the required time.
Koopman had done a dressage lesson with de Ronde earlier in the day, and then changed his bit to a Mullen Mouth, the one he uses for cross-country and cones. De Ronde immediately noticed the change, and after he did one round, sent him back to change into his dressage bit, a French Link Snaffle and decreased the time by 15 seconds on the second try. “It was an incredible day,” added Koopman who competed as an individual in Italy at the Single Horse World Driving Championships in Italy in 2010.
De Ronde also pointed out the rule which adds 3 penalty points if the driver dislodges a number next to a cone, not just the ball set on the top of each cone in the course. He brought that up when describing how to drive close to a set of cones, which had already been negotiated and to be careful not to knock down the number.
With the Nature Coast HDT (Horse Driving Trial) coming up January 17-19, several drivers planning on competing took advantage of the opportunity for a tune up from a selection of some of the top trainers in the sport of Combined Driving for a worthy cause. “Awesome clinic yesterday with Thorsten, Koos & Suzy.” Said Lyn Brooks who brought her pony and spend the day. “Many thanks to Margaret Mayer who hosted the clinic at her beautiful farm and Jeffrey McCarthy for organizing. Now to replicate the drive I had yesterday next Friday at Black Prong.”