Economy ends decade-long steeplechase
By Kyle LoJacono
DADE CITY — The economy has ended many traditions in the past year, but that void is an opportunity to start new annual rituals.
“This is the first year we will have the Little Everglades International Combined Driving Event,” said Bob Blanchard, co-owner of Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. “Really I’m excited about it.”
The combined event is Jan. 28 to 31 at 9 a.m. each day, and consists of three types of events: dressages, cross country marathons and obstacle competitions.
For each of the events, two to four horses carry two to three people who stand in a carriage. Each carriage has a driver and a navigator, who helps the driver guide the horses while they run and go through obstacles.
“It’s just incredible to me what those horses and drivers can do,” said Sharon Blanchard, co-owner and Bob’s wife. “They are beautiful animals and I love seeing what they can do.”
There will be three divisions at the competition. The most difficult level is the Federation Equestre International, followed by the Intermediate and Preliminary divisions.
While the combined event tests different skills of the horses and the riders, the dressage combines everything together.
“The horses will start off running (6 kilometers) around the ranch,” said Katie Carris, ranch general manager. “After two (veterinarian) checks to make sure the horses are all fit enough to continue, the whole team will run through six obstacles.”
Carris said the horses will run a total of 15 kilometers during the dressage this year.
“That’s why we have to make sure the horses are completely healthy,” she continued. “I takes a lot of energy to run that far while pulling two or three people. Horses get injured when they are fatigued and that’s the last thing we want to see happen.”
Teams accumulate points throughout the event for how quickly they maneuver through the obstacles with the least number of mistakes.
“They take these carriages and drive them through posts with a 10-foot gap between them,” Sharon said. “It’s amazing they don’t crash each time. If I drove through the obstacles I’d rip the front or back off my car.”
This may be the first such event at the ranch, but it will not be an ordinary combined event.
“What’s so exciting is it will be one of the (U.S.) Equestrian Federation’s selection events,” Sharon said. “That means the U.S. teams competing will be trying to qualify for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. We’ll have only the cream of the crop.”
The games will be in the fall in Kentucky. It is the first time the games have come to the United States, and 800 teams from around the world will be competing for the championship.
“There will be 55 teams, several international, who will be coming out to the event,” Carris said. “Chester Weber and Susan Gilliland of Live Oak Combined Driving Institute in Ocala will be at the event. Weber is actually the reigning world champion.”
The four-day event may grow into an annual ritual for the ranch, but another tradition fell victim to the down economy. The steeplechase at the ranch, which had been scheduled for March, has been cancelled and it is unknown if it will ever return.
The main reason for ending the steeplechase is a lack of sponsors, including last year’s primary sponsor Mercedes-Benz.
“You have to understand it costs people a lot of money to bring all their horses, equipment and people to the steeplechase,” Bob said. “We had six steeplechase races with a purse of about $100,000. Then we had stabling charges and everything else to put on the steeplechase.”
The couple said roughly 15,000 people attended last year’s one-day steeplechase, which included spectators from as far south as south Tampa, as far north as Ocala and from across Pasco County.
“We don’t really know how many people will come to the new event because it is the same weekend as the Kumquat Festival and Gasparilla,” Sharon said. “We’re thinking anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people will come from across the county again.”
The Blanchards have owned the ranch since 1997 and have a house on the property. There are 25 horses on the 2,000 acre ranch.
“When those horses are pulling the carriages and going through the obstacles it is truly amazing,” Carris said. “It’s great to see those feisty little horses battle for the finish line.”
Carris will be the driver of the ranch’s team at the event with an old friend leading the team.
“One of the horses I’ll be driving is Feine Dame,” she said. “She is a 17-year-old Hanoverian who is just the toughest girl out there.”
Tickets can be bought prior to the event or at the gate.
If You Go
- WHAT: Little Everglades International Combined Event
- WHEN: Jan. 28 to 31 beginning at 9 a.m.
- WHERE: 4 miles north of Dade City on Gould Road off US 301
- HOW MUCH: $10
- CALL: (352) 521-3661
- WEB SITE: www.littleevergladessteeplechase.org.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.