The festival atmosphere started early as tailgaters prepared to welcome their expected guests. Tents were raised, tables set with colorful clothes topped with trays and baskets of food, coolers were filled with ice and beverages to keep everyone hydrated and happy during the warm day. With thousands of spectators expected, many arrived early to ensure a seat with a good view of the 80 some competitors who would fly though the obstacles.
Volunteers took their places to wait patiently for the first competitor. When the roar or the crowd at the water obstacle – the first of seven was heard, the 19th CAI-A Live Oak marathon was truly underway.
Sunny skies in the morning gave way to clouds and a very welcome breeze. There was another kind of cloud – dust – raised by the competitors as they flew through the obstacles.
Young Jacob Arnold, driving his Morgan mare Shadow, tipped over in The Gulch, the second obstacle. He continued on to drive obstacle three and then chose to retire before obstacle four. Horse, driver and navigator are all ok, and Jacob returned to dance the night away at the competitor’s party.
Junior driver Jan Jan Hamilton won every single obstacle in the FEI Single Horse class, besting her elders and veterans of World Championships such as Lisa Singer, Donna Crookston and Robin Groves. Nonetheless, Marcie Quist, fourth in the marathon, held onto her lead going into cones, about two points ahead of Robin Groves.
Joe Yoder, driving Jack Wetzel’s pair, is well on his way to his first USEF National Championship, winning the marathon decisively and with a 15 point lead over Kathrin Dancer of California.
Shelly Temple will go into Sunday’s cones competition with a narrow lead over Suzy Stafford in the FEI Single Pony class. Temple was seventh in the marathon, but her lead after dressage keeps her on top.
In the FEI Pair Pony class, Katie Whaley won the marathon, but Jennifer Matheson retains her lead going into cones, with a 12 point lead over her closest competitor, Elizabeth Keathley. Chester Weber won the marathon on home soil, but second place finisher Josh Rector was not far behind. Rector’s disappointing dressage test is what gives Weber a 30 point lead going into cones.
The Preliminary competitors handled the world class marathon obstacles with skill and enthusiasm. Live Oak has not offered Preliminary level for several years, so drivers were quick to fill the available slots when the opportunity arose.
President of the Jury Diana Brownlie commented on the condition of the horses and ponies as they finished the marathon, “The course had been adjusted because of the promised hot weather. All horses and ponies finished satisfactorily in good condition.”
USEF National Championships will be awarded on Sunday to the best FEI Horse Pair, and the best FEI Single Pony, Pair Ponies and Pony Team. Richard Nicoll is the course designer and the course will include a bridge and two zig-zags for the competitors to negotiate. It is sure to be a nail-biter.