There is no doubt about it – the finale of the Longines North American League World Cup Qualifying season couldn’t have found a better home than Live Oak International in Ocala, Florida.
Held on a private plantation and racehorse breeding and training farm that is larger than the eye can reach, Chester Weber and his family have organized their annual combined driving event at Live Oak Plantation for going on 25 years now. Six years ago, they added show jumping, opening up their vast property to a whole new crowd of riders. The live oaks that give the property its name add unique character to the event, and whether you were there to watch driving horses compete, to stand next to the Budweiser Clydesdales, or get close to the rail to see the show jumping, more often than not the view was framed by the curve of a live oak hung with Spanish moss.
With three days of competition and just four jumping classes, the show jumping co-existed nicely alongside the three days of combined driving. When two disciplines successfully work hand in hand, they attract new fans to both sides. That was proven through and through at Live Oak. In the big picture of show jumping, Saturday’s $35,000 1.50m class wasn’t a critical competition for riders, but the enormous crowd of several thousand enthusiastic spectators created a level of excitement and true sporting event feel. Attracted to Live Oak in the morning to watch the marathon phase of the combined driving, the crowd stayed for the show jumping, and both sports benefitted.
That schedule was very intentional, explained Chester Weber and his sister, Live Oak International President Juliet Reid.
“The drivers were super thrilled. The crowd yesterday was maybe even a record for the whole sport of combined driving in the United States,” Weber said, “There’s always more to do. I think our family lives kind of by this motto that constructive feedback makes you better. Juliet and I often talk about the CHIO in Aachen as a model for the best annual horse competition in the world. That’s something that we look to. When we started the show jumping we did that together with the team from Spruce Meadows because we felt like they could help bring us some knowledge. We learned a lot from them. We still call them if we have questions.”
By using Spruce Meadows and Aachen as their models, Live Oak hopes to grow even more. 2016 was the first year the show jumping was awarded CSI3* status, and the event has the capability to continue to expand even more. The grass jumping field didn’t show a pocket of wear at the end of the last class on Sunday afternoon, and Venezuelan course designer Leopoldo Palacios crafted well-balanced tracks that produced exciting jumpoff rounds.
Weber hinted that there is much more to come at Live Oak, adding that his intention is to add even more disciplines in coming years.
“We are talking back and forth about perhaps adding eventing. There are about 2,000 eventing horses in Ocala in the winter, so this is kind of mecca for eventers in Ocala,” he said. “With that said we have some date challenges and that sort of thing to work through so whether 2017 is the right time, the right time will come. I think not unlike Aachen we’ll see some other sports happen here, but they have to come at their own logical time. We’ve had a number of the jumper riders who seemed very happy here this weekend.”
It seemed that all of the jumper riders were very happy at Live Oak. And there wasn’t a horse that didn’t look pleased during the weekend of riding in the wide-open spaces and sharing spotlight time with driving teams. Live Oak continues to return each year, and there’s no doubt it will continue to become even bigger, and better.
See more photos from Live Oak International at this link.