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Live Oak Plantation in Ocala hosts jumping event for 32nd year

Competitors and their horses compete for points and prize money at Live Oak International (Photo courtesy, Natasha Benyon)
Competitors and their horses compete for points and prize money at Live Oak International (Photo courtesy, Natasha Benyon)

Chloe Reid, 26, has always had a passion for horses.

When she was 4 years old, her uncle asked her mother if he could put Reid on a pony. "The rest was kind of history after that,” she said.

At the age of 11, Reid watched her uncle, Chester Weber, horse drive at Live Oak Plantation, Weber’s family’s farm in Ocala, Florida. Weber hitched his horse to a carriage to practice his horse-driving skills.

Reid, who by then was an active jumper, stood at the fence around the horse field and asked Weber, “Why can’t we use this field for jumping also?”

Weber liked the idea, and that’s how Live Oak International came about.

Live Oak International began as a horse-driving event 32 years ago and is now a world-class equestrian competition. It's the only tournament in the United States to offer both international combined driving and show jumping in the same competition.

“It was an opportunity for both Chester and I to host both of the disciplines we’re so passionate about at our family farm,” she said.

This year’s four-day tournament, which started March 15 and ended March 19, welcomed more than 15,000 spectators.

The event this year had the most entries in its history, with 46 competitors for combined driving and 74 competitors participating in show jumping.

Live Oak International is the final leg of the Longines FEI Jumping qualifier, an annual international competition that's among the world’s best show-jumping horses and riders. It consists of 14 leagues on all continents. The final will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, April 4-8.

Natasha Beynon, Live Oak International media relations representative, said 19 nations were represented for jumping.

Show jumping competitions are ranked on a scale of one to five stars, and the competition is a four-star world cup qualifier.

“A jumper wants to go clear and be the fastest,” Benyon said. “The more points the better for the standings to qualify for Longines FEI.”

The international competition awards $322,600 in prize money, the highest amount for drivers and riders in North America.

“I think that attracts a lot of very good drivers, not only from America,” Reid said.

Reid, a former competitor and Live Oak International's current co-president, oversees media, sponsorships, events, merchandise and social media.

Ainsley Hayes, 41, the event director and director of sponsorships, works alongside Reid, managing the event and promoting it to Marion County.

Hayes has been part of the team since the competition introduced show jumping 20 years ago, and she said the competition continues to grow every year.

“Our footprint here in the county is large,” Hayes said.

It is Marion County’s largest spectator event with a mix of horse people and general spectators.

“We get people out,” she said. “They know we’re one of the top shows, and they come back year after year.”