Grand Oaks Hits a Grand Slam for Combined Driving In 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019
Posted by Mary Phelps


Gabriele Grasso and Hendrik.jpg

The Grand Oaks Equestrian Resort in Weirsdale, Florida named by the US Equestrian as an Elite Training Center for Driving stepped up to the plate the first week of 2019, and hit a home run on all levels. Beautiful show grounds, perfect weather, wonderful hospitality, superb management and quality judging accommodated an impressive roster of entries from Training Level to Advanced.

Combined Driving is a sport which was created by Prince Phillip (GBR) using rules based on Combined Training (Eventing) in the early 1970’s. Dressage, Marathon and Cones represent the three phases. Preliminary competitor Lynda Jowers made plans to begin her season at Grand Oaks, as the perfect place to start the 2019 season. “I love competing there, the marathon obstacles are inviting and open, the perfect place to start the year.” Grand Oaks, which is near the famed and growing retirement community of The Villages attracted spectators from the community throughout the weekend, as well as participants of the sport. It’s never a problem to round up the large amounts of volunteers needed to man the 6 obstacles on marathon day.

Competitors have plenty of choices for accommodations with on site lodging, a beautiful expanded RV Park, and plenty of nearby hotels. Every night food and drink was provided for the competitors’ briefing. A strong rainstorm hit on Friday night forcing the cancellation of the infamous “Obstacle Crawl” where host Tom Warriner brings in lighting and provides a signature drink for each of the 6 obstacles via the roaming Bar Cart. But not a problem at Grand Oaks where the party was moved into a large pavilion with plentiful pizza, salad, and drink choices.

Several competitors recently settled into the south for the season, while other year round residents welcomed cool dry weather and perfect conditions. Expansion continues on the perfectly manicured property where full time turf management as well as new structures being built to serve the multi purposes of the facility. Hosting business retreats, with a full time Bistro, and complete conference and event facility had a wedding, competition, carriage drives for visitors, and a spa, all features which co-mingled easily throughout the week.

None of this could work without the management expertise of Ellen Ettenger who takes multi tasking to a new level. Rapid fire results delivered with ease as well as handling stressed competitors while always upgrading technical issues, is a small fraction of what she does on a daily basis. 

US Team Gold Medalist at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2019, Chester Weber back in the USA during a break in the European Indoor Circuit entered one of his horses Hendrik with driver Gabriele Grasso. Grasso is a 20 year old Italian driver who recently won the Marathon in the 2018 Young Drivers’ Championship in Hungary. Part of Team Weber’s development program, he prevailed in a tough Intermediate Single Horse division to win the overall placement. “Grand Oaks is a wonderful facility to help develop horses for our goals at the top of the international sport. “ said Weber. “It’s inviting and friendly yet has the necessary atmosphere. Finally, their friendly staff and event organization makes going there a pleasure for all involved.“

Other highlights of the weekend included a nearly perfect dressage score driven in the Intermediate pony pair division by “Boots” Wright with a 35.53. Young driver Riley Wiltison managed to top the popular Preliminary Pony division by winning the marathon and besting his trainer, US Pony Team veteran Tracey Morgan. Another 3* driver, Leslie Berndl bringing along her lovely young Dutch horse won the Preliminary Single Horse Division, and then bested a field of hotly contested Advance Single Ponies, with Teresa Kandianis’s amazing Fjord Mare “Zoobie”. 

Along with hosting the event Tom Warriner won the Intermediate Pair Horse class. Jennifer Keeler who just missed the overall Advanced Pony win with her mare Amazing Grace, did claim victory with her Intermediate Pony collecting 2 lovely deck chairs and ribbons for having the best marathon in both divisions.

No rest for the weary at Grand Oaks who will be featuring a USDF Recognized Dressage Show, January 12-13, 2019 and Then the Grand Oaks Horse Trials “Extreme Jumping” Event January 18-20.