Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Practice makes Little Everglades equestrian event a show of grace, speed

DADE CITY

With no words, just a click of his cheek and a feathery crack of a switch, Chester Weber guides a pair of Dutch Warmblood horses over the grassy terrain of Little Everglades Ranch. The exercises that warm up his world class steeds for this weekend's Little Everglades International Combined Driving Event are exact, intricate and just rigorous enough to have both driver and horse pouring sweat into the reins.

This weekend isn't about winning or losing for Weber, a national champion driver for eight consecutive years. It's about preparation. While other drivers see the competition as an opportunity to take home a prestigious trophy or qualify for national competition, Weber uses this time to get his horses comfortable with travel and work on communication.

"To get a horse ready for this type of competition takes about 3,000 hours of training, or three years in terms of overall time," Weber said. "This is our first event of the season and traveling to an event like this is good to get them adjusted to going to events and seeing how they react. It's all part of what goes into their training so that they are ready for the big events."

Combined driving became a recognized discipline of the Fédération Equestre Internationale in 1969 and has grown dramatically over the decades, adding single and pair driving (one and two horses). But the four-in-hand (four horses) carriage driving portion of competitions is still considered to be the most spectacular.

Weber won a four-in-hand individual silver medal last year and a bronze with the U.S. team at the International Combined Driving Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany.

This year, he will be running a slightly different four-horse team, and the Little Everglades event is a chance for him to polish that group and work on the chemistry among horses.

"It's interesting because each horse weighs about 1,300 pounds, so trying to make them do anything is a concept you have to get out of your head," Weber said. "It's about the synergy of groups and understanding their personalities and seeing which horses work well together. I think of our team as the old Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, where they're vastly different types of personalities, but together they're great."

Among competitors this weekend, there is no one whose name rivals the international recognition of Weber's. With nine national titles, he's heavily favored in any competition.

"He's accomplished so much and done so much for the sport," said Little Everglades organizer Susan Gilliland. "He's not just the best from Florida, he's one of the best in the world."

Weber's disciplined work with the horses at his Live Oak Stud in Ocala is a big part of his winning streak. But according to four-time world champion Michael Freund, who beat Weber at the World Cup of Combined Driving in 2001, his success also hinges on his improved understanding of the animals' needs. A good example is Weber's horse Boris, who gets anxious in the stall. Weber provides him with a pet bunny that helps him stay calm.

"The quality of his horses is on par with the highest level horses in the world," Freund said. "The reason for that is his personal discipline and in recent years, he has begun to learn how to read the horses better and pay attention to how they are reacting to the work. Working with animals is not always easy, but if you look at how he runs his entire program, no one does it quite like that."

. Fast facts

If you go

The Little Everglades International Combined Driving Event kicked off Thursday with dressage, an equestrian form of figure skating in which a horse and carriage team attempts to complete a routine as smoothly possible in front of the judges. Dressage competition continues today. Saturday will include the marathon competition, in which teams traverse an obstacle course as quickly as possible. Sunday will have the cones competition, in which drivers must precisely thread the horses through a series of cones and a mere hundredth of a second can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

Little Everglades Ranch is off U.S. 301, a couple of miles north of Dade City. The gates off Gould Road, east of U.S. 301, open at 8 a.m. each day of the competition. Admission is $10 per person, per day; children younger than 12 get in free. Guests may bring lawn chairs and food; no pets allowed.

For information visit www.littleevergladessteeplechase.org.

Practice makes Little Everglades equestrian event a show of grace, speed 02/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 8:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash

    Accidents

    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle

    World

    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators

    National

    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.