Live Oak International, which takes place from March 9-12 in Ocala, Fla., is unique. It’s the nation’s largest combined driving and show jumping competition, bringing these two disciplines together at a world-class level.
This year, Live Oak International will draw about 275 horses from 26 countries, as well as more than 300 volunteers and about 30 competition officials, according to Live Oak International manager Damian Guthrie.
Can’t be there in person? Catch all the action live at USEF Network. New to the sport of combined driving? Check out our video intro to combined driving in the Learning Center. While you’re there, go behind the scenes for a show jumping course walk with Olympic medalist McLain Ward.
And put Live Oak International on your equestrian bucket list. Here are six reasons why:
1. The High Stakes
The $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Qualifier Grand Prix presented by Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club on Sunday, March 12, is the last chance for show jumpers to qualify for the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Omaha, Nebraska. With only a few remaining U.S. spots open, Charlie Jacobs, Adrienne Sternlicht, Leslie Burr-Howard, Callan Solem, and Todd Minikus will be in hot pursuit of valuable World Cup points with the hope of securing their spot for the World Cup Finals.
Meanwhile, the drivers will be contending for US Equestrian Federation national championship honors in single pony, pair horse and pony, and four-in-hand horse and pony divisions.
2. The Cross-Country Thrills
Combined driving’s marathon—which takes place on Saturday, March 11, at Live Oak—is the equivalent to three-day eventing’s cross-country phase, but on wheels, over slightly rolling terrain. Fast-paced and highly technical for drivers and horses, the marathon sends horses and ponies (single, pairs, and in teams of four) through fiendishly complex questions that test teamwork and agility. Two iconic spectator favorites: the CBC National Bank water hazard, which sends teams splashing through a pond as part of the obstacle, and Cape Cod Wood Siding’s The Gulch, with its challenging slopes and turns.
3. The Scenic Venue
Live Oak Plantation, which hosts the competition, is one of the country’s most beautiful properties, with Spanish moss-laden oaks, lush pastureland, and sandy horse paths that seem to lead straight to a bygone era.
Live Oak is only open to the public once a year, when it hosts Live Oak International. In the three weeks leading up to the event, Guthrie and his crew transform about 500 acres of cow pasture at the 4,500-acre operation into an equestrian paradise. Live Oak International features about 30 to 40 show jumps and eight available cross-country driving obstacles that challenge competitors and thrill spectators. The transformation involves 100 tents, 300 stalls, and 3,000 decorative plants, not to mention installation of internet and electrical service, all for four days. “Within 10 days after the event, we can turn the cattle back in there again, and you’d wouldn’t know it had ever taken place here,” says Guthrie.
Live Oak Stud, also located on the property, is a renowned Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation owned by Charlotte Weber, whose children Chester Weber (a four-in-hand driving champion himself) and Juliet Reid are co-presidents of Live Oak International.
4. The Vendor Village
Live Oak International’s shopping and dining area attracts a diverse array of sellers offering everything from saddles to Live Oak International merch to South African excursions to Cuban-style sandwiches.
5. The Live Oak International 5k
The best way to tour Live Oak? Put on your walking or running shoes and join the Live Oak International 5k on Sunday morning, March 12. The course winds through parts of Live Oak that the public only sees during this event, including the farm’s Thoroughbred racing division and the training barn of world-renowned combined driving champion (and Live Oak International co-president) Chester Weber, whose mother Charlotte C. Weber owns Live Oak Stud. For younger kids and families, there’s a one-mile walk.
6. The Clydesdales
The flashy black-and-white Express Clydesdales will be performing in the main grass ring at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12. These friendly horses tower from 17 hands to 19 hands tall and attract a crowd wherever they go. Bonus: you can meet them, and they’re happy to pose with spectators for selfies.