Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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


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

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

  1. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  2. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  3. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  4. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  5. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]